The best made-to-measure shoes that won't break the bank

Think of personalised shoes and some highly contrasting images can spring to mind.

A beautiful pair of fully bespoke shoes, which will set you back a few thousand; some customised sneakers for several hundred; or even a pair of 'handmade' crocodile boots replete with sawn off table legs for heels.

But the middle ground has, it's fair to say, been a pretty barren landscape.

While the world of suit making (and suit selling) over the past 10 years has undergone immense change, as more men demand a made-to-measure product that don't require personal loans to purchase, men's leather shoes have largely stayed put; in boxes on shop and storeroom shelves.

However, a change is occurring, mainly thanks to new online tools that enable anybody to play the role of shoe designer.

Kicking quality goals

The Spanish-based company Bespoke Factory, which provides a made-to-order service for retailers worldwide, is a leading presence in the industry. Its website says with its range of different materials, colours, styles and sole units, there are over 60 billion potential design combinations to choose from.

Another leading player, the Italian-based DIS, offers customers the choice five styles (moccasins, oxfords, derbies, boots and sneakers), and over 100 colours to create their own shoes.

Once the shoes are designed, again wholly online, they are made in the famous Le Marche region of Italy with the company promising that they will be shipped just 10 days after the order is confirmed.

But not all made-to-order services are the same. Not everyone is looking to go mainstream; looking for scale.

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Demand for premium

Anthony Barbieri and Neville Colaianni, co-owners 124 shoes, have spent the last six years championing the quality of artisan made Italian shoes to Australian men and women.

But recently they've chosen two of their favourite brands to take things up a notch and offer a made-to-order service.

"It really started with some events we held last year in Sydney and Melbourne with our premium brand Preventi," says Barbieri.

"For those we did a limited number for two particular styles – one men's and one women's. We then had people coming into the stores asking about the shoes."

Personalised perfection

Sensing demand was there for a customised product, they spoke to Preventi and their most popular brand Lemargo to see what we could come up with.

"These made to order services are a first for them also," says Colaianni. "They are very small operations: Preventi has only seven or eight staff, Lemargo around a dozen, so that's why there was a lot of planning and discussions back in forward and plenty of bottles of wine in Italy to work this all out."

The result is that customers can take a shoe from a present or past collection and change just about any detail they want.

"An alteration can be as small as a toe cap added to a toe cap removed, tassels on or tassels off, a different type of leather used in the upper," says Colaianni. "And the great thing about buying a made-to-order pair from Preventi is that whatever design the customer comes up with, it will never be introduced into the Preventi ready-to-wear range. It will be their shoe."

Meeting demand

Following the boom in made-to-measure suits and shirts, the question of whether made-to-order shoes could become as popular is an interesting one.

Barbieri believes that to a large degree it depends on whether people are prepared to put quality before price.

"A pair of made-to-measure Preventi shoes cost $959 to $1300 and take approximately eight-to-10 weeks to make. While we've had one gentleman come in and say 'I love this shoe so much I'll get three more pairs made in these colours', for most people it's not an impulse decision. People really consider what they need."

"That's what we love about it and, to a large extent, why we started selling an artisan product in the first place. We want people to really focus on the quality. The natural result of this is that people will buy less, but in our ready-to-wear offering we usually only carry about 12 pairs in any one design anyway. We've never been a high-volume, high-sales business."

Slowing things down

The extent to which made-to-order shoes and clothing in general can significantly stem the over-consumption of clothing remains to seen, especially as larger manufacturers make the process faster and cheaper.

But it's not likely to affect Barbieri and Colaianni's love for working with small Italian artisan producers.

"I just love that it's not an industrialised process. That they can and will stop their production to make a single pair. It's so unique and special," says Barbieri.

Do you already invest in made-to-measure footwear? Share your favourite place to buy them in the comments section below.

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