The next in Bespoke: Footwear

The rise of independent designers and retailers within the Artisanal/Avant-Garde niche satisfies an obsession for all things meaningful and handmade.

Craft, technology and personalisation are shaping the bespoke footwear sector.

Bespoke shirting, then suiting…what’s next? For most who become hooked on bespoke it’s footwear. The revival of bespoke tailoring within the last decade has been the gateway to a renewed interest in one-of-a-kind footwear.

Once the reserve of European artisans, bespoke tailoring and shoemaking have been passionately adopted in Asia by those in pursuit of craft excellence. In Tokyo the number of bespoke shoemaking workshops alone has risen to around 40, testament to the revival of craft which has often been overshadowed by design and fashion. An increasing number of bespoke shoemakers across European and Asian cities point to a larger appetite for variety, from the diverse and timeless black calf Oxford to truly unique creations that place emphasis on style and individuality.

Part of the appeal with going bespoke is an understated sense of luxury, compared to flashy fashion counterparts. The process which involves several fittings also answers to an increased demand for personalised luxury. It requires the wearer and shoemaker to work closely together, catering to the wearer’s preferences and distinctive anatomy in order to achieve the ultimate in fit, construction and style. But not all are willing to invest in the lengthy affair, which can take up to 8 months in total.

Luxury fashion for one has certainly responded to increased demand for instantaneous personalised goods, with Louis Vuitton enabling clients to customise and stamp initials onto phone cases, bags and wallets—while Gucci launch an online customisation platform for audiences to personalise their iconic products, the Ophidia bag and Ace trainer. Technology has enabled brands to satiate consumers’ growing thirst for personalisation more quickly and easily—seemingly the opposite of bespoke footwear which requires time consuming techniques and is tied to a lineage of tradition. 

Milan based Design Italian Shoes has found a harmony between craft and technology, bringing together the old and the new. The company provides footwear retailers with tech they’ve coined the Totem Touch Screen, which scans clients’ feet. Clients can customise a style of shoe in detail with the touch of a finger, and the data is then passed onto craftsmen who make the pieces in Le Marche, also nicknamed the Shoe Valley. While providing an expedited customisation service, the system also preserves the craft of shoemaking in the eastern Italian region.

Technology has enabled brands to better serve their diverse audience, through data and consumer segmentation. John Lobb amongst others has a ready-to-wear line alongside a bespoke service, offering those drawn to the legacy brand an approachable access point. Bespoke footwear has become as much about the brand, as service and product.

The bespoke sector has long relied on return custom and a select group of clientele, but advances in technology and increasing demand for personalisation (regardless of added cost) spells an opportunity for bespoke shoemakers to find an equilibrium between old and new, in terms of branding, offering and clientele. That doesn’t mean forgoing craft for machines and automation, but rather using technology to enhance the appeal of a heritage craft and better understand brands' new and existing audiences.

It all comes back to a sensitive approach to branding, creating a brand that’s approachable yet exclusive while communicating a heritage craft and personalised service. Whether that be modernising an emblem or logo, or revisiting a website that needs a breath of fresh air, the brand is the look and feel of any company’s soul.

A huge draw to bespoke footwear is the intimacy and theatre of the experience. Technology can be used to enhance and create theatre, both in-store and online—whether it’s translating the excellence of service and quality, or telling the story of a heritage brand. Creating content and narrative that celebrates heritage while simultaneously looking to the future is key for modern shoemakers, who straddle a pool of return custom and a world of new audiences who are increasingly interested in bespoke.

A number of people are ditching fashion for bespoke, whether it be an opportunity to possess something unique and made especially for one’s feet or the reliability of service and comfort, bespoke shoemakers fill a void left by uncomfortable fast-fashion. Craft has found a new lease of life, and bespoke shoemakers can extend their reach further than they had imagined if they were to capitalise on the demand for personalised luxury goods, using technology to complement their craft and brand. 



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