Oxford V3: What's taking so long?

Oxford V3: What's taking so long?

March 28, 2015 0 Comments

I'd been talking a whole lot about the boots in the last few newsletters, but this issue we focus back on the Oxfords.

The bad news first: Our full production run will not arrive by May. I'm sorry =(

I sound like a broken record, I know. As of now, we are waiting on final samples. It’s insane. I thought I had a final sample back in August, as that's when the upper pattern modification was completed and approved. Unfortunately, there were a couple things that weren't right about that sample. One, the leather, from a new tannery, was too soft, too grey, too dull. Two, it was cut-and-sewn in-house at the shoemaker, and not by the new upper maker.

At this point, I thought that the hard part, the pattern upgrade, was over with. I figured the remaining issues would be easy enough to pick up along the way, but as I've learned, they weren't.

I also later learned that i
f I'm saying, “I approve, with these additional modifications,” then that's not really an approval. Our suppliers were understandably unwilling to go into production on a conditional approval. They all want a final sample that was exactly what the production model would be. What sucks is that each sample takes over a month to plan, build, and deliver. If there is a mistake made, then that sets us back at least a month. And now we are at the end of March with our fingers crossed that the next sample of Oxfords will indeed be the final one.

Next, we will have to do a 132-pair test run. From Version 2 to Version 3, there have been too many modifications that our shoemaker isn’t comfortable going into full production right away, even with a final sample that is exact. V3 is technically a new style now, and we are working with two new suppliers, so they want a limited test run first to see where mistakes may happen and contain quality issues, if any. Then finally, the full production run.

Before, our shoemaker was using a stock leather and making uppers in-house. They were the single source, more or less. Now we’re getting a custom leather made, and working with a dedicated upper maker that specializes in high-end dress shoes. For the level of refinement that we want in our Oxfords, we had to look beyond what our shoemaker is capable of alone. Involving two more entities has its costs, however. Communication has become exponentially more complicated. 

I know that in the grand scheme of business, 4 parties to a project is nothing. All of you folks who build things with hundreds of parts from dozens of suppliers? Holy crap, you have my respect.

So how the hell did this get dragged out from January 2014 to now? I was flabbergasted myself. I needed to find out. I spent a few days digging through emails to create a timeline, so I could see what happened, when, and why. It was a less than pleasant experience as I relived all those many moments of frustration.

Below, a chronological retelling of our Version 3 development. It's quite long, so I understand if you want to skip down to "Lessons Learned" and some of the good news that I have at the end. Yes, there is some good news =)


Prototype 1: #2013-10

Comparison of upper cut-and-sew quality

Left: Version 2, Production Model
Right: Version 3, Sample #2013-10

2013 Oct 20 -- I receive a first sample from the new upper maker that our shoemaker began working with for their own projects. I am sold and henceforth insist that we have our uppers made by them going forward. 

Prototype 2: #247

2014 Jan 8 -- I submit my first request for changes to our upper pattern. 

" Lower the bottom of the topline by 5mm. Some customers said that it was hitting their ankles. "


" Reduce the quarters, so that the shoes can lace closer over the instep for lower-volume feet. " 

(Blue socks for contrast.)

Feb 11 -- I receive sample #247. I test it out for a day, then forward it to Matt. Matt wrote a review of our pre-production pullover sample. One of his only gripes was that it didn't lace tight enough over his low-volume foot, so he was the perfect tester for this sample. 

Mar 3 -- Matt writes back with lots of feedback. In particular, that the pattern mod is in the right direction, but still just a tiny bit loose. I relay this back to my shoemaker. My contact is outside of the country until the 17th.

Mar 19 -- Knowing my contact's back, I follow up. They have a meeting scheduled for the 20th.

Mar 21 -- I hear nothing. I follow up. They were caught up with other meetings and rescheduled.

Apr 7 -- My shoemaker finally replies, saying that the shoe in the photo is not their most current prototype #247, because they made a plain-toe and the shoe in the photo is a cap-toe. They ask me where it is, and I tell them I sent it to my friend in Minnesota for testing. There is a flurry of back-and-forth emails as multiple people are telling me that the shoe in the photo is not #247, and that I need to comment on #247. I try to explain them that I did try #247, wore them for a full day, and my thoughts in the email dated Mar 19 are comments on #247. The photos in the Mar 19 email are only for reference as I didn't have #247 with me by the time I wrote the email. 

Apr 9 -- They repeat the same thing from Apr 7... We have a meeting scheduled for Apr 16 at their factory, so I decide to just wait until we meet in person to explain.

Prototype 3: #2446

Apr 16 -- After driving 2,000+ miles in 48 hours by myself (never doing that again!), I meet with my shoemaker. I explain that #247 was a step in the right direction, but that we should adjust it just a little bit more.

Apr 22 -- I request a buffing wheel be used on the next sample. I also ask them to include a couple different shoelaces be included in the shipment.

May 23 -- I follow up, reiterating my request for a buffing wheel to finish the leather, and samples of thin, round, waxed cotton shoelaces.

May 27 -- Samples are completed and shipped.

Jun 5 -- Sample #2446 arrives. We tried removing 1 set of eyelets, for 5 eyelets. I prefer 6, as we had before. They send me thinner round laces... but they are not waxed cotton like I asked for.

Jun 11 — I request a scan of the upper quarter patterns, so I can make my own adjustments and send them back.

Jun 12 — I find out that #2446 was sprayed, not buffed...

Prototype 4: #2454

Jul 9 -- Shoemaker receives a half-dozen uppers from the new upper maker. But, they were made using our old V2 production pattern, and not the revisions we had been working on for the last few months! 

Jul 16 -- I ask where the upper revision sample is. The one where we are changing #2446 back from 5 eyelets to 6. I am told that it should have been done around Jun 20, so my contact goes to look for it.

Jul 21 -- They say it was damaged and had to be redone for a second time. I ask if there’s a manufacturing issue. They reply, "The problem is not in the pattern. The operators just keep messing up. When they make one shoe many times their machine is not set up right. They damaged the shoe so they had to be recut and made again." That is very unfortunate, but it makes sense.

Jul 23 -- I receive a half-dozen samples, including #2454. I begin to review, test, and reflect on them.

Aug 1 -- This batch was the first time we tried using cushioning under our leather footbed, as inspired by Lems and Xero Shoes. My first impression is not good. I tell our shoemaker that it's reducing the overall volume inside the shoe, and some friends who tried it confirmed the same. Our shoemaker says that this is odd and shouldn't be happening. We decide to give it another shot in later samples.

Aug 5 -- I approve the upper pattern adjustment on #2454. 

Prototype 5: #24101

Aug 14 -- We go ahead and order new dies, based on the upper pattern adjustment in #2454.

Aug 17 -- I send newsletter "New & Improved Colors, Styles... and more!"

Aug 20 -- I meet with shoemakers at a trade show in Vegas and discuss all our various projects.

Sep 7 --  I visit our shoemaker to attend their annual Shoe College and do some development work. We are talking about our next boot prototype and as we do, we fill out a Sample Request Form. Wait... what is this? We had been working together for over 4 years at this point, and It’s the first time I’ve seen this Form. Why didn’t we ever use this before? This can cut down drastically on mistakes and misunderstandings. It takes about a month from making a sample request until I physically have a shoe sample in my hands. Every mistake costs us a month. It is well worth the 30 minutes it takes to put our requests onto a checklist like this!


The first sample request form we filled out together. I've since modified the spreadsheet to add more fields as I saw the need to specify more details.
Sep 18 -- A new batch of uppers has been completed and sent to our shoemaker.

Sep 30 -- I send newsletter "V3 Oxfords: Ship Dates, Improvements, and Colors” saying that we won’t make a delivery in Fall 2014. More likely Jan - May 2015. I think I'm being super conservative with this date range, but now in hindsight we know how off the mark that was. Damn it.

Oct 2 -- Per what we learned on Sep 7, I send sample request forms to WSC for specific instructions on the new batch of samples that they're working on.

Oct 14 -- The uppers are in bottoming, waiting for outsoles. They ran out of size 7’s and had to order more.

Oct 27 -- Samples completed and sent to me.

Nov 4 -- I receive samples. The Poron worked great this time! There was no loss of internal volume. And whaddaya'know, The Poron does improve comfort. Thank you, Andrew Rademacher and Steven Sashen!

Nov 11 -- I take a look at the latest sample #24101 and held it against Prototype 1: #2013-10. The stitching is not as tight, the skiving not as thin. They tell me that this sample's upper was made in-house at the shoemaker, and not by the new upper maker. However, an earlier email said otherwise. I am confused. Either way, I demand quality at the level of #2013-10. 

Prototype 6: The Leather Fiasco

Nov 13 -- Because we are now asking for a custom leather, we're informed of higher order minimums. 2000 square feet, which produces about 800 pairs, and I have to use it up within. This startles me as I like to take things one small step at a time. I take a few days to gather and analyze our numbers, talk to people, and gather my thoughts.

Nov 24 -- We tell them we're ready to meet the minimum. It's go time.

Nov 25 -- We negotiate new credit terms for our next shipment. 

Dec 11 -- We send a Purchase Order for 660 pairs.

Dec 13 -- I tell my shoemaker that I want a blacker, shinier leather, and he says he will communicate my needs.

Dec 15 -- I get a reply to my Purchase Order:

" Mountain,
Thanks for the order, but before we can move forward with this, we will need a final sign off sample.
As these samples have been coming thru with the various changes, I have been sending you the [full] pairs and do not have a final
Sample here in Merrill to work from.
Please confirm the lining number on the upper, so that I can get a final [sign off] sample for this production run. "
2015 Jan 5 -- We send over artwork for our rebranding (more info on that later)

Jan 12 -- I check in. They tell me that the tannery knows my leather needs. Our new dies have been received and are being forwarded to the upper maker. 

Jan 20 -- Upper maker checks in with the tannery on their reformulation of our black smooth leather, CC'ing the rest of us. 

Jan 21 -- 
Tannery states that they never received another request. They also say that they need a physical sample to go-by
Jan 23 -- Tannery says they have an aniline leather, Valisse, that might be what we’re looking for. Aniline is stained and you can see more of the grain, versus the pigmented leather that we were using before, which has a thicker finish and less view of the grain. (Note: They are both full-grain leathers). Valisse is supposed to be much nicer.

Jan 27 -- I Skype with the tannery. I learn more about Valisse, give more background on what we’re doing, and we get a better idea of what he's offering and what I'm expecting.
Jan 28 -- I am furious that my shoemaker didn't communciate my leather needs to the tannery. I write a 700 word email to express how badly this negligence is going to effect us, and how much this disappoints me. They apologize.
Feb 3 -- Our shoemaker was supposed to visit the upper maker and tannery, but planes got snowed in. I am bummed because I was hoping to speak with all 3 suppliers at once, to make sure everyone’s on the same page.
Feb 5 -- The upper factory receives a side of the aniline Black Valisse leather. 

Feb 13 -- The upper factory completes uppers in Black Valisse, and sends them to our shoemaker.
Feb 24 -- I call to check in. There are already three known issues.

First, since this is the first time working with aniline, I express concern that it will not play well with our cement construction method.
Second, I am informed that Valisse is very tight. They are having trouble lasting it, or pulling the upper over the foot-shaped mold, and wrapping it under the insole. And now that we are using Poron, the leather has to reach further. The problem was so severe that one of the uppers tore during lasting. I'm told that we either have to go back to Trek leather, ditch the Poron, or change our upper dies. You know, the same upper dies that we just worked months on revising and ordering for a couple G's.

Third, the Valisse were sprayed with a topcoat finish. I did not want a topcoat finish. I wanted it buffed with cream on a wheel. I ask him how this happened, as I never asked for a topcoat finish. It wasn't in the sample request form. He explained that the sample request form is not the go-by. Using the sample request form, they draft a much more comprehensive ticket, and the ticket is what determines how the shoe is made. For some reason, "yes spray” made its way onto these tickets. I request prior review on all work tickets for my samples going forward. 
Page 1 of 2 of the work ticket being used to build our next boot prototype. I'm glad I asked for it because I caught one thing that needed correction. A couple minutes of review saved us 1 month in additional development time.
Feb 25 -- The factory manager and product development manager personally supervise the lasting, roughing and finishing on the remaining Valisse samples.

Feb 27 -- The samples are shipped overnight, and I receive them. I'm very impressed. The “Trek” leather looks different than all the “Trek” leathers I received before. Upper factory confirms that it is a reformulated Trek, to be more black, more shiny. So it looks like my shoemaker did communicate my needs. I think there was just major confusion between the 4 parties involved about what the "new" leather is. I send an apology to my shoemaker.

Unfortunately, we wasted all this time over Valisse leather! I can’t tell the difference between Trek and Valisse. We decide to go with the reformulated Trek. This also avoids the lasting issue, so now we can still use Poron and we don't need to order new upper dies.
There is another problem, however. The new thin and round laces are 32", the same length as our original flat laces. Unfortunately, now that our quarter has been adjusted, 32" isn't long enough anymore. The new laces worked fine on the old pattern but I didn’t test it on the new pattern samples. It never crossed my mind that this mismatch could happen. We had already ordered 1,800 pairs, about $500 worth. I have some, and Resole.com has some, but there are a bunch left over. I've requested samples in longer lengths, and a purchase return of the remaining shoelaces. It's not the money I mind so much as it is the waste.
Mar 4 -- I express concern over stitching and skiving quality again, as the newest samples still don’t match up with the original #2013-10. Upper factory says that they will be sure to use the finer stitching.

The shoemaker met with the tannery. T
hey confirm to go forward with Trek, but with a brighter finish.
Our shoemaker says that they should do a 60-pair test run. I understand where they're coming from, as I wrote in the intro of this email. But, I also realize that this test run is going to push back our production run by 2 months. In other words, we are not going to have our production run finished by May. I begin to contemplate about how I'm going to break it to you guys...

Mar 5 -- Knowing that they move shoes in dozens through the factory, I ask if they can fully utilize the test run and do 132-pairs instead of 60. If done correctly, it would allow me to fulfill more early pre-orders. They accept. 

The tannery asks me for a signed sample for leather confirmation. I'm confused. They say that they don't have any of the leather left over, as they send the entire side to the upper maker. They need me to sign the leather to approve it, and send it back as a reference. I pay for express shipping. It doesn’t get there in time. For the next 13 days, I obsessively check the tracking number.
Mar 9 -- I receive a sample in Valisse. This one was buffed, as I requested, and not sprayed. It looks the same as the sprayed Valisse, which looks the same as the Trek that had neither. I feel like this whole thing with Valisse and buffing wasted over a month, and put a lot of unecessary labor and stress on a lot of people. For lack of a better word, it was a cluster fuck. But, I eventually come to terms that it was an option worth exploring to get you guys the best possible shoe.

Mar 13 -- I place another sample request for our boots. It is the first time I’ve talked about boots with the shoemaker since the new year, as everything has been focused on the V3 oxfords in black so far.

Mar 17 -- I have a phone call with the upper factory. They want #2013-10 signed and sent back as a reference for the quality of needlework expected. 
Mar 18 -- The tannery finally receives my signed sample, the one that I had been tracking obsessively because it took way long to get there. He asks if I still want this with a brighter finish? Because it may start to look “sugary.” I decide no. Not only because of potential sugariness, but because the leather looks great as-is, and we are running out of time.
Mar 24 -- The tannery says they will have a side of leather ready for the upper maker in 2 weeks.

Mar 25 -- I ask all our suppliers for an estimated ship date for our Final Sample, Test Run, and Production Run. I receive answers from the tannery and the upper maker. I still need to hear back from the shoemaker, and they have a meeting scheduled with production for next Tuesday.

Lessons Learned

1) Don't stop production for development.

I wanted to make only the best shoes I possibly could. But if only I had continued producing V2's, which were great in their own right, all of these mistakes made in developing V3 would just be minor annoyances. Instead, they're holding up my business growth, and trying your patience with me. 

2) Use checklists. Insist that your partners do the same.

Finding out about my shoemaker's Sample Request Form last September significantly improved communication. Then this February, finding out that they use a comprehensive work ticket to build the shoe, and asking for prior review and approval of it before construction, will significantly cut down on misunderstandings even more.

3) Communicate directly when possible. Avoid playing "telephone."

Before, I would tell our shoemaker what I wanted or what questions I had. He would relay it to the upper maker and the tannery, who would reply to him, and then he'd forward to me. I'm not sure why we did it this way. Last November, we were all put on our first email thread together, giving us all a direct line to each other. Then, in January, I decided to reach out to the upper maker and the tannery via telephone. I noticed that progress accelerated once I established direct contact with the upper maker and the tannery.

4) Journaling is quite useful. 

After reading an article on the Art of Manliness, I decided to start a personal journal last July. It was just a log of interesting things that I came across or experienced throughout the day. It's the stuff that you'd tell your close friends over dinner or IM, but now you have it written down in an organized place that you can easily refer back to. I enjoyed the process itself as much as its benefits, so I started a work journal too in November.

Compiling the timeline in this email was also a form of journaling. Even though it took awhile and it was a lot of unpleasant memories to dig up, I'm glad I did it because I was able to see things in a bigger picture and solidify the other lessons learned.

I will be applying all of these lessons to make sure your shoes arrive as soon as possible and with the highest quality possible.

Outlet Store

Now, onto some good news.

We have a pretty generous return policy, from what I can tell.

Unlike other shoe companies, we're okay with you wearing your shoes outside! In fact, I think it's essential that you do in order to tell whether they're right for you. Just make sure there's no irreparable damage (e.g. wrinkles ok, cuts not okay) and that you clean off any dirt or mud before sending them back. 

While I'm more than happy to offer this level of service for you guys, it results in me having shoes that I can no longer sell as new. 

Before, I had been selling these used pairs over email, as customers wrote in via our contact page. I'd take photos of the exact shoe I'm talking about, and write up a little description about them, including a summary of the differences between V1, V2, and V3. I got a good response rate like this.

I later realized that doing all this ad hoc via email was not the most efficient. With the help of my wife Cherry, I took an inventory of all our used shoes, tagged them individually, photographed them with standard angles and close-ups of any defects, created a template for listing them, and streamlined the order process using single-use discount codes matched to the listing.

So if you'd like a pair shipped now, at a discount, please stop by our Outlet Store

Remember, all shoes sold through the Primal Professional Outlet Store are covered under the same, kick-ass, 365-day return and exchange policy as our new shoes.


Resole & Restoration Service

And now, the second bit of good news. If your PriPro outsole is wearing thin, drop by our new Resole & Restoration Service page! We are proud to partner with Resole America to provide new life to your favorite pair of shoes. Not only will they remove the old sole and attach a new one, but they’ll also refinish the upper, fix any stitching that may have come loose, and replace the laces. For $85, a fraction of the price, your shoes will be good as new. 

I spent time looking at the repair forms that other companies use, asking Resole what information they need from the customer, and what the customer needs to know about the process. I whittled it down to just the essentials in a 1-page format that's clutter-free and easy to read. If you have any feedback on our form, please let me know! I enjoy this stuff.

Thank You

This was a really long email so I thank you for making it all the way to the bottom, even if you just skimmed it. You guys have been waiting a long while, with some orders placed as far back as Dec 2013, for your shoes. I want to thank you for your continued patience and support.

As our mailing list and our pre-order queue grows, my first gut reaction is that there are more and more people watching me fail publicly. But I realize that it also means more and more people that I will have the opportunity to delight and serve, once I finally get these long-awaited V3 Oxfords.

Thank you!

Best Regards,

Mountain Evan Chang


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Sizing, Fit, & Feel

I. Sizing

  1. Let's start by asking: What shoe size (US Men's) normally fits you best? To convert from other sizing standards, see this chart.
  2. Is that a Narrow width? Go one size down for our shoes.
  3. Is that a Medium width? Depending on how roomy you like the toebox, go one size down OR order the same size.
  4. Is that a Wide width? Order the same size for our shoes.
  5. Don’t know the width of your shoes? They’re most likely Medium. 

II. Fit & Feel

This image shows roughly how/where your feet should sit inside a pair of Carets, at right. 

At left is a typical dress shoe, same size and same Wide width. You can see that it is still 1 or 2 cm longer than ours. Most sleeker dress shoes have a fair amount of unoccupied space in the front. We took advantage of that and used it to give you a wide toebox without looking like it. Dress shoes get even longer if we start looking at chisel-toe and pointy-toe styles. But even though these conventional dress shoes are longer, you still feel cramped because of the heel lift and the fact that their shoes are widest at the ball of the foot. Ours are widest at the toes, as a foot naturally is.

If the widest part of your feet (i.e. your toes) occupies the widest part of our shoes, then you are wearing the right size.

Regarding groundfeel, Carets' outsole is 4mm thick, with another 4mm of leather and cork between that and your feet. The polyurethane we use for the outsole was selected for durability, which is more important than groundfeel in a shoe like this. The 2-part (polyurethane + leather/cork) design allows for the shoes to be resoled like good dress shoes and unlike most minimalist shoes.

Expect Carets to feel less like FiveFingers and more like flat-bottomed skate shoes with the insoles removed.

In the end, what matters most is that you are happy with your shoes! We will gladly take them back (365-day free returns and exchanges, click for details) and I am honored that you gave us a shot.