Shoes lovers, take note. Ben Earley and Evan Fript, the founders of the men's footwear brand Paul Evans are about to change the way you look at your kicks.
After tracing the wildly successful paths of other direct-to-consumer brands like Bonobos and Warby Parker, Earley and Fript spotted an untapped business opportunity. "With our target price range of $300 to $500, we felt there a bit of a gap," says Fript. "If you want a real luxury shoe for those prices, you typically have to wait for a sale. We didn't feel that a lot inhabited that price range, so there wasn't too much competition. But just enough."
Once Earley and Fript made it their mission to bring luxurious footwear directly to guys—without the middleman to jack up prices to maximize profit—they explored the world's most storied shoe producers in Portugal, Spain, and Italy. Choosing a manufacturer was a no-brainer, after they received samples from a small, family-owned factory in Naples that also happens to turn out shoes for some of the most respected names in the industry in the $700 to $1,000 price range.
"Once we got them in our hands, we couldn't resist doing the nicest shoe," says Earley. "Everyone now is competing on price and quality, trying to make the most money while maintaining an acceptable quality. We use our cost savings to give our customer better shoes."
Paul Evans' lineup is small and based on the founders' own shoe preferences. "The styles are pretty classic, making them easy to purchase online," says Earley. "However, the colors, like our Oxblood, you won't see everywhere. Also, our shoes are really comfortable, from the first day you wear them."
Here, Earley and Fript share the rules they follow when it comes to selecting and caring for shoes.
1. You want to be in stitches.
Look for stitches attached to the uppers of your shoes, not cement or glue. "Stitches give you the ability to resole the shoe," says Fript. If shoes are cemented together, resoling simply isn't an option. Invest in a pair with stitching, so you'll have your pair for life, and not just a year.
2. Look for flaws.
"Quality of the leather is key," says Earley. "And you'll see that if there's depth in the leather. There will be subtleties in shadows and shine, like in the toe box and heel. And these small things indicate a higher quality of leather."
3. Viva Italia!
While it's generally good practice to buy American, when it comes to shoes Earley and Fript say that's not the case. Because labor costs more in the U.S. than it does in Italy, the domestic manufacturers often pass on a higher price, but not necessarily higher quality. That's why Earley and Fript firmly believe in buying Italian. "They've been doing it for so long. They have the infrastructure in place, and the people who've been doing it for generations," says Fript.
4. Give it a rest.
Fight the temptation to wear the same shoe every day. "You have to let leather breathe. If you wear it every day, you're not letting it recover and breathe," says Fript, whom recommends placing a shoe tree in your shoes after wearing them to soak up moisture and extend their life.
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