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Hope all is well! Here's what I'm covering in this newsletter:
#1 We're moving production to Léon, Mexico
#2 Updates on Mexico
After working with Modern Vice for 7 months, we decided we had to move on, due to differences in communication style. It's unfortunate, because at the end, they did produce a terrific sample for us. It was the best iteration I'd seen of my design. The most beautiful leather, the cleanest cuts, the tightest stitching. I think that, if we were local to them in NYC, things would have worked out better, as one of their selling points is being able to work with designers based in their city.
We will be manufacturing our shoes in Leon, Mexico. It is arguably the shoe capital of the world, with 3,400 factories as of 2014. The entire supply chain for making shoes is also there, so materials are easy to source and quick to deliver.
We will be working under the guidance of Mexico Footwear Agency. What’s unique about this firm is that, unlike most sourcing agents that take a percentage of your purchase order as a fee, Mexico Footwear’s services are provided a la carte and billed up front. In other words, they don’t do speculative work. I think this model is better for everyone involved. They know they're getting paid, and I know what I’m paying for.
It’s not just the business model that I like, but their overall professionalism, which is seriously above and beyond any vendor I’ve worked with, ever. They had glowing references that got back to me within a day. Their reports are super detailed and organized. Their emails answer all my questions, ask me important questions, and give me updates without me asking. They provide help every step of the way, from finding factories, coordinating samples, travel, negotiating, checking up on production, and quality audits.
In December, I met the Founder of Soul Insole. They make a small sticky gel insert that can fit in a larger range of footwear than traditional inserts. When I first designed my shoes, I was a bit of a barefoot purist, and naive in thinking that going barefoot is a cure-all for everyone. I know better now that some people could still benefit from orthotics. Unfortunately, because I was a barefoot purist, I didn't plan for a removable insert whatsoever. I'm going to correct that, but it requires a change in the last, and that requires changing everything else: upper patterns and outsole molds, so it may take longer than a year before I can have those changes hit shelves. In the meantime, Soul Insole would be the best option for people who want the zero-drop and wide toebox of our shoes, but still want some arch support.
Anyway, I was talking to Soul Insole's Founder, Laina, about my sourcing issues. She shared a similar story of trying to manufacture in the USA and wasting years, before going to China and finally getting Soul Insole made. "My biggest piece of advice," she said, "is to evaluate multiple manufacturers at once."
I hired Mexico Footwear Agency to find me shoemakers, and they provided a list of 5 that fit my search criteria and were interested in working with me. I'm currently working with 2 (shoes require more customized equipment than gel inserts, and I only have so much equipment to go around), and they are developing a first sample for me. Depending on how well they perform in the sampling process, the samples themselves, face-to-face meetings, and other factors, I'll choose the better of the 2, then move forward to production.
As of now, they have everything they need to reproduce our shoes in size 7 (my size), except for the cutting dies for the upper pattern. My dies have been held up at Modern Vice, but should be returning to me this coming week. One of the Léon shoemakers decided to just draw up new patterns, because he has some ideas on how to improve on them. Such impressive initiative!
Mexico Footwear Agency and the 2 shoemakers have been examining my shoes left, right, up, down, inside and out. They've been asking me questions on why it was made this way, why it was made with that material, and making suggestions on how they think it could be improved. Having them be so proactive, rather than me bugging them for updates, is a complete 180 experience.
By the next newsletter, I should have photos of the samples they made, and a winner to move into production with.
Finally, I've updated our Production Timelines spreadsheet. I have column B with Original Estimated Completion as a benchmark. As we move forward, I will update column C with the Actual Completion Date of each phase, and this will update column D with the Updated Estimates, based on Actuals.
Thank you for your attention and your support!
I think this job would be ideal for a Stay-at-Home Parent with a spare bedroom who wants a part-time job that they can do from home and at their own pace. Or, a shoe repair shop with extra storage space.
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.
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.