This section of the blog is dedicated to writing about my journey from college graduate in Seattle, Wa (US) back in 2006 to the shoe designer and company owner that I currently am today, in London, UK (2014). With this story, I hope to inspire others that have the same dreams that I did (whether they be in shoe design or anything else for that matter) and to thus show that where there is a will, there is always a way. I hope that you all enjoy my journey…..
I have always had grand aspirations. As a kid I wanted to be a professional footballer (soccer player). It was my first dream. Nothing excited me more than being out on the field. But alas this was just a dream and nothing more. So when I realized that I was not good enough to become one, I set out another goal and that was to one day own my very own record company as music, in reality, is my first true love, far beyond that of my love for shoes. I actually was able to get my foot into the door of the record industry, for EMI records in LA, but due to personal reasons was not able to take the internship in A&R that I had been offered as a Junior at University. I was terribly distraught from this and vowed to myself that the next goal that I would make, I would achieve it no matter what and never accept failure again. And this is where the story begins.
There comes a point in every college student’s life where they need to ask themselves, “What am I going to do when I graduate?” Well that time came for me in the beginning of 2006. Not to take you off track too much but let me preface this by saying that I have always been a fan of dressing nice. Obviously when you are young, your taste is slightly different but nonetheless I have always made sure that what I was wearing was the “cool thing” at the time. Of course this has changed and now I just dress to what I consider stylish as opposed to following some trend that has an expiration date. So that being said let me get back to my big stepping point into reality.
I always told myself that a person is successful in life (in his career) if they love what they are doing every day whether or not they are making money. Now I know earlier I touched on dressing nice as my hobby but what I obviously left out was what really had a hold on me, ‘the shoes.’ I loved shoes and having tons of them to mix and match with every outfit and I was especially becoming quite fond of having ‘nice shoes,’ AKA dress shoes. So I had this profound passion for shoes and this yearning to be my own boss with my own company therefore it was easy for me to make my decision. I then decided I was going to start my own dress-shoe line.
In my mind, a good entrepreneur spends at least 5 years getting to know the industry they aspire to be in, before venturing off and starting their own project. With that in mind I made a goal. I told myself that in two years (from graduation) I would be in Europe apprenticing for one of the top 5 best shoemakers in the world learning how to make shoes by hand. I wanted to give myself two years so that I could continue working in the men’s shoe department, at a very prestigious department store in America, where I knew that I could learn a thing or two about male consumers and more importantly, so that I could network with other people that might be have been able to help me get where I wanted to go. That was June 2006.
Lets fast forward to the end of 2007. At work, I met an individual whose father was good friends with one of the top shoemakers in Italy (Stefano Bemer) and immediately knew that this connection was my way in. From there, the individual and his father kindly agreed to arrange a meeting (in Italy) with myself and the shoemaker to talk about apprenticing with him. In March of 2008, I flew to Italy and with much help from my friend and his father, I was able to land that apprenticeship with the allowance of coming whenever I was able to. I decided that I would work the rest of the summer and go in October of 2008. I did just that and once October came I packed up my entire life, cashed out every dollar I owned and left everything I knew behind in America and went on to follow my dreams in Italy not knowing a lick of Italian and only less than 5 people there.
To make a long story a lot shorter, I spent a total of 10 months in Italy learning how to make shoes, repair shoes and more important than many people may think, learning how to polish shoes. I made a total of 5 pairs which are pictured in the page titled “Bespoke Shoes I’ve Made.” I have now spent the last several months of my life back and forth between the States and Europe trying to obtain a visa to work and live in England as a shoemaker. With this downtime, I decided to create this blog to keep me close to my goals, to share my opinions on men’s shoes and most importantly to provide insight for those lacking it.
UPDATE (January 9th, 2011): I have now been in England for 4 months, living and finally working, legally and comfortably. I work in London and commute for about 3 hours each day and in my down (train riding) time I am starting to free-hand sketch shoe designs so that at the end of this year I can complete my New Year’s resolution of having a portfolio done and 5-10 samples made. I will then be able to take those (and possibly more) to trade shows (Pitti Uomo, Micam, WSA etc.) so that I can get my shoes into stores around the world!
I unfortunately do not have as much time for shoe making these days (due to my lack of tools and actual space for making them) but will always keep it close to my priorities and continue to at least make shoes for myself when I can and hopefully start making them for others when I can get my skills up to par. Thanks to all of you who continue to read my blog and believe in me and I promise that I will create that shoe line, no matter what!!
Meanwhile, if you are ever in London and fancy a chat, you can always find me at Gieves & Hawkes at No.1, Savile Row.
UPDATE (March 30th, 2012): Another year has passed and while the last time I wrote, I thought that by now I would be further ahead than I actually am, I am sad to say that I am still not quite there. But in this time, I have done many things to keep going forward, like brand my own products (laces and shoe care products – found here) as well as create a sample range of shoes that is in the process of being completed. Without being in control of how fast the factory works on my prototypes, I cannot truly give a time frame to when my shoe line will be available to purchase, but I can say that it will not be any later than SS2013, but I am hoping to get them out this year for AW2012.
Since I set off on this journey, I can say that it has been a tough one. Lots of trials and tribulations, but as well as lots of fun and exciting times. It has almost been 6 years since I graduated from university, and while I hoped to be ready in 5 years, there have been many hiccups. Nevertheless, this does not get me down, and all I can do is continue to do my best to progress. I know that my end goal of starting my shoe line is almost here and I thank everyone that has been there following my adventure as well as being supportive. I only hope to provide inspiration for those who were in similar shoes (no pun intended) to myself when I graduated. If you have a dream, GO FOR IT, and never look back!
-Justin, “The Shoe Snob”