The difference between cheap and expensive leather shoes

Never skimp on a pair of leather shoes. It’s a saying you’ve probably heard before but never really wondered why. Today we will answer this question.

Whether it’s a classic lace-up dress shoe or a pair of casual driving shoes, there is a craft that can make all types of men’s leather shoes. What we’re exploring here is why some can cost well over $ 1,000 while others can retail for around $ 60.

Isn’t a leather shoe just a leather shoe? Not enough.

Gabi Levi, founder of driving shoe brand Eve & Kane and Kaz of Kazuna, helps us on this journey to understand the leather shoe game, the only label providing custom made Japanese leather shoes and boots to the Australian market. .

How to spot a quality leather shoe

Before you drop your hard-earned coin on a leather shoe, it’s important to understand the qualities that make it a good one.

According to Gabi Levi and Kaz, these are the features you should always look for when looking for the perfect leather shoe.

  • Softness of leather and suede – the softer the leather, the more comfortable it is on the feet. The downside is that it doesn’t last as long as thicker leather constructions which can also be cheaper to use.
  • Smell the inside of the shoe – if it smells like glue, you know it was made inexpensively with glue rather than stitching
  • Smell the leather – a good quality leather shoe should smell good quality leather (i.e. a non-synthetic smell)
  • The soles of leather shoes are essential components – Kaz explains that high-end luxury shoes often have “hidden channels” where you cannot see the seams at the bottom of the shoe. It is a more elegant look which can increase the final cost of the leather dress shoe (see below)

  • Leather grading is important – good quality leather should last longer and hold its shape longer, especially in a deconstructed shoe like moccasins
  • When trying on leather shoes, try to feel the firmness of the insole. This will determine the comfort of the shoe and its overall quality.
  • Expensive shoes will use a better quality sole designed to last up to three times longer than the average lifespan

How to spot a shoddy leather shoe

Levi explains that for driving shoes or leather moccasins, it is always important to check the fragility of the finished product.

If the shoe is too soft and flexible, it will likely be more comfortable, but it will last less and not hold its shape.

Visually, you can also check things like:

  • Tightening the seams
  • Consistency of seam spacing
  • Stitch depth (one lower than the other or loose)

Hand sewn vs machine sewn

All leather shoes are handcrafted to some extent as there is not yet a machine that can do the whole process independently from start to finish. In other words, if a leather shoe claims to be “handmade in Italy” or some other fancy country, it is probably more of a marketing game than a reflection of the quality.

When approaching the point of manufacture, Kaz and Levi agree that the comparison should always be between a hand-sewn leather shoe and a machine-sewn leather shoe.

This is where their divided opinion ends, however.

Levi of Eve and Kane said …

“There’s this perception that if it’s hand-sewn, it’s better. In my opinion, this is not the case. Personally, I think the machine stitching is more precise and the stitch itself is tighter. I think machine seams can last longer as well. Hand sewing can be more expensive because the shoemaker has to sit there and sew it, but that doesn’t necessarily equate to better quality.

“Some shoes that are hand-sewn in Italy and Portugal are not nice shoes because you can spot imperfections in them. Some people like it and call it ‘character’, but personally I call it shit and I would go with machine-sewn.

“If you’re spending $ 300 to $ 500 on a ‘handmade’ Italian shoe, you want it to be accurate. “

Kaz de Kazuna says …

“If it’s really a hand-sewn product, you can avoid the tension. This is how it creates the softness and comfort of the leather shoe. I think it is much better than machine sewn.

“But the real question is the quality of the stitch. Is the point a straight line or a crooked line? Italians might say that imperfection is only character. The Japanese will say we have to do it again.

“Just between the machine-sewn and the hand-sewn, I think the hand-sewn is better because of the tension control.”

Does it matter where it is made?

Ah, the million dollar question. While there is no doubt that “Made in Italy” has a premium connotation for leather footwear, Kaz and Levi warn that this label alone should not be the determining factor in your purchase.

In fact, while Italians have earned their reputation for making high quality footwear, customers should be vigilant against those who exploit the perception of “Made in Italy” these days.

What Levi says …

“Most people have the stupid impression that if it’s made in Italy, it’s great. It really depends on the individual plant.

“These are amazing factories in Milan and also crappy factories. The same goes for Portugal and China. Wherever it is, there is always good and bad. It depends on the experience of the factory and I don’t think where it is made matters anymore.

“The shoemakers in Italy, the artisans there are very traditional. They’ve been making shoes the same way for generations. Yes, they like to stick to their ways, but the Chinese are far superior in shoe-making technology. They have CAD renderings and they can laser engrave any kind of material.

“When it comes to dress shoes, the British also make a good pair but again, it depends on who makes the shoe. I think some countries are superior.

What Kaz says …

“I don’t think the country of manufacture matters. It goes in anything – not just leather shoes, but suits and fabrics as well. I wouldn’t hate the Chinese build quality, just because it’s getting better and better now.

“As for the made in Italy, I think it is a bit over the top. People think Italian manufacturing is still good, but I’ve seen terrible shoes, terrible costumes, and disappointing Italian fabrics.

Construction processes that increase the price

Made in England. Made in Italy. Made in Japan. Made in China. Although we have established that the country of manufacture does not matter as much in terms of quality, there are construction styles adopted in these regions that can differentiate leather shoes based on how they are worn.

What Ross Poulakis, founder of Harrolds says …

“Like everything in fashion, investing in durable and timeless footwear is key. A well-made pair of shoes can last a lifetime, if not generations.

“Goodyear piping, hand painting, hand sewing and premium leathers are common techniques that speak of the craftsmanship that goes into building luxury footwear. “

What Nick Schaerf, co-founder of Double Monk says…

“High quality shoes, if fitted properly, will adapt to your foot over time and provide you with support and comfort as they wear down. “

“Full grain leather can be conditioned and processed to stay soft and supple for decades.”

“Most of the high-end Italian shoes are Blake stitched, designed to hang out in squares rather than commuting or wearing several days a week for years to come.”

“English shoemakers are unbeatable for their sturdiness. The English bench shoe has its origins in the manufacture of military boots, so durability has always been paramount, with refinement spanning many decades. The basic component is a stitched Goodyear sole.

The Goodyear sewn method

Kaz of Kazuna explains that the Japanese way of making leather dress shoes is closer to English.

“The only difference is in the types of leather, what goes inside and the quality of the cork. The method is the same.

This method he is referring to is the aforementioned Goodyear Welted leather shoe manufacturing method. It takes over 200 steps to complete which adds to the higher final cost, but the advantage is that the shoe is designed in such a way that it can be repaired and resole countless times.

“Glued shoes are cheap, but you can’t fix them. And it depends on how often you will wear it. You’re pretty much stuck with something that you can’t wear for a very long time, ”says Kaz.

“Once you like the fit of a shoe, you’ll want to keep it on for as long as possible and fix the sole and heel. This is the Goodyear Welt method.

“As for the Blake seams that you find in expensive Italian shoes, you can fix them but maybe two or three times at the most. After that it is irreparable. The Goodyear Welt is a semi-life construction method.

The reason why most Italian shoemakers use Blake sewing? Lightness. The end product is lighter than the shoe produced by Welt because there is no upper and no cork – a point made by Schaerf above.

In other words, it’s more for fashion than everyday wear.

Maintenance questions for cheap or expensive shoes

More money equals less maintenance, right? Wrong. An expensive leather shoe is by no means easier to maintain than a cheaper shoe. The same level of care should be applied to any leather shoe if you want it to last.

The price factor only plays into the option aspect once the wear and tear takes its toll: can you fix it or is your only option to get rid of it?

An expensive leather shoe will give you the ability to repair cheaply compared to buying a brand new shoe every time it breaks. Then there is the math.

That’s why people like Levi and Kaz have seen their businesses thrive in recent years.

Levi is focused on providing affordable luxury where its driving shoes and leather moccasins made in China and Portugal target big names in Italy like Tod’s. He claims his shoes are superior to those made in Italy at less than half the price.

Meanwhile, Kaz is focused on providing quality English leather shoes to his customers without the scary English price tag. He admits that $ 1,000 for a pair of leather shoes isn’t a viable option for the average person, and that’s why he does what he does – bring Japan-made Goodyear Welted shoes to half the price of their English counterparts.


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