Vintage Cole Haan’s – Circa 1930
It is curious to see just how different some shoe brands were nearly 100 years ago to what they are today. Being that the world has changed vastly it is no surprise that not one brand is making the same quality as before. The closest would be Crockett & Jones/Edward Green etc, but even they were completely handmade (or at least close to it) back then as opposed to the bench/hand grade production now done by machines with skilled workers stationed at each machine. Times have changed. Being that we are all shoe nerds that like good quality, the question must spring to mind: why do they not make shoes like this anymore? And the answer is simple. It is because there is no real money in high-quality shoes and honesty. Making them really just gets you praise and respect. But it does not allow you to become a colossal brand like Nike. And being that Cole Haan was bought by Nike some 20 years ago, it is no surprise either that since then, Cole Haan has dropped even further.
People must understand that good quality shoes have very low-profit margins. Even with their high-end ticket prices, one might think that they have a 10x margin but sadly, in the shoe industry (of quality shoes) a shoemaker is lucky to get a 3x margin. That means, if they cost $200 to make, they sell for $600. And that is for a brand that does not have VAT built into its price. A shoemaker in Europe, for example, that sells for €1200 is paying €200 per pair in taxes alone out of that €1200 so you can thank the tax man for that extra 20% you have to pay.
But the reality is that the standard in the welted industry is more like 2.5x-2.8x which is even harder to stay going. There is a reason why big brands to go China or to India, raise prices while lowering quality, cut corners and the like. In order to be a big brand, you need those high margins. It is extremely hard to become a multi-million dollar brand with a 3x margin unless you are selling 1 million shoes a year. But now you have to ask yourself, who can do that? The largest factories in Europe, maybe can make 400K shoes a year. So where do you get the other 600K? Most of the ‘large’ brands of the welted industry are maybe pumping out 50K-150K shoes/year while the top, top ones are closer to 200K-250K shoes/year.
People often do not realize the value of a good quality shoe. They complain about the price but are happy to buy an iPhone for $1000 or a TV for $3000. And the more that people do not appreciate the good quality and cry about price and free shipping, the more that good quality will slowly disappear as people outsource, go for higher profit margins, more volume and mass production. It is the natural way of business, which is why not one factory today makes like they did 100 years ago. They still could, of course, but a Handmade C&J shoe might run £3K so it really doesn’t make sense does it?
But nice to at least see these vintage Cole Haan’s and reminisce on what used to be when quality was valued above all. And if you value good quality too, make sure you support the brands actually offering it rather than the ones that sell you on a brand name or country of origin.
Photos courtesy of David Rogers on Facebook’s The Shoe Forum