The Business of Private Labeling
Re-posted from February 2014.
There was recently a discussion on Facebook where one ‘in-the-menswear-industry’ individual quotes, “Interesting how all shoes produced in Spain look exactly alike with different private label brands. BOOOOOO it’s starting to bore me.” Naturally I was asked by someone else to make a comment, I am sure one reason just being that I am the author of this blog and thus people wanting my 2 cents and quite possibly the other due to the fact that my shoes are made in Spain. This statement turned into an interesting discussion on his thread whereby several parties argued for and contrary to the aforementioned opinion but unfortunately without requesting the friendship of the individual, I actually could not participate in the discussion . So I thought it better to voice my opinion by dedicating a post to it as it is a topic worth writing about.
Now even though my shoes are made via private labeling in Spain, I can agree that there is reason to his rhyme. But that reason, in my opinion, is a generalization at best and does not look into the facts of why this happens, whose fault it is and whether or not Spain is the only one guilty of this accusation. So, let’s start by looking at those facts. First and foremost, factories are businesses who need to make a profit just like any business in the world does. Their income is generated by one of two ways: private labelling and/or having their own house brand. The larger their house brand, the less they need to worry about making money elsewhere, i.e. private labelling. Think C&J, Santoni, Church’s, Carmina etc. These factories in theory have a big enough brand of their own that they don’t need to look to private labelling in order to make their factory go round. Whether they want to do private labelling on top or not is another story. But believe me when I say that these factories are the far and few between.
Now it just so happens to be that Spain as a shoe manufacturing country is on the up and up. I am not sure if this is just by rules of nature (England and Italy had their reign so it’s now time for someone else) or maybe because of the recession (of the last years) they have become more desperate and are just allowing anyone to come in a make a line in order to earn a buck or two. Another theory is that in this day and age, Spain is still a country where prices are not outrageous and value for money on shoes is quite good. They are also one of the few countries that mass manufacturers goodyear welted shoes and does so at a reasonable price. And it just so happens that the goodyear welted construction is becoming more and more sought after and as I have predicted in the past believe it to one day surpass the manufacturing of blake stitched (this is still a long way off, but it’s getting there!). Therefore, their recent popularity could just be in the fact that they are making good GY welted shoes for a good price and that is attracting new designers.
Now I will agree and say that yes, there are many new brands popping up out of nowhere making their shoes in Spain and simply having a business model whereby they make shoes that look extremely close (on the verge of outright copying) to that of other brand’s shoes and then retailing them at a much more affordable price. This is annoying for sure as it lacks integrity and hurts the industry but it is still a generalization and does not account for the many brands that do make out of Spain and happen to make unique (or as unique as can be) shoes. But this trend is not something new nor is it exclusive to Spain. It just so happens that Spain is now in the spotlight.
England and Italy do this too (and have been doing so for many many years) and the shoes that come out of those countries highly resemble each other as well. English shoes have a ‘look,’ so do Italian ones and the factories that private label for more than one brand will make the shoes to their factory’s house look and capabilities, only unless the private label brand works with them to change that look. Crockett & Jones for example private labels for MANY of the big brands in London and to me, all of the shoes look exactly the same, just with different names inside. The factory that makes for Tom Ford (in Naples, Italy) makes for others as well and they look exactly alike. So how is Spain any different? A factory is a factory, no matter what country it is in and they will , A. make the shoes to their standard and B. make whatever pattern or copy you like so long as you pay for it.
The real problem at hand is not the factories. They don’t have a police to hold them accountable for making shoes that all look the same and might be a copy of another’s. The people to be held accountable are the new designers that come onto the scene simply to make shoes that look like other’s but do so at a cheaper price in order to undercut the competition. This is the problem and what people should do to stop it is not support those brands. If you do, then it only becomes more acceptable. It’s easy to make a cheap copy but it’s not easy to be a designer of integrity that attempts to do things differently without reinventing the wheel while still maintaining a manner of classicism, quality and uniqueness. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.
Pictures shown are a perfect example of a shoe designed by “The” George Cleverley (while working at New & Lingwood) being used by everyone in all of England (and nearly all being made by C&J, with the exception of the Edward Green ones). This is not even close to the only model that has been recycled through all of the makers here in England. Now I am not on any country’s side here. It does not matter that my shoes are made in Spain, that is not my argument. My argument is that all this fault really lies in the hands of the people commissioning the shoes (not the factories no matter which country they come from) as they clearly have a lack of imagination and can’t come up with their own designs……