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Step It up: Handmade Leather Shoes

By Tim Jarvis

We know you. Your biggest commitment when buying quality footwear is weighing the comparative merits of brown versus black. Time to take a step back: Investing in quality custom shoes will complete a stylish look. Plus, these shoes can be relied on for years and pay for themselves over time. (And that’s more than you can say about your deadbeat brothers.)

Old-world Quality: Worth the Investment?
You’ll have to pony up more than Payless prices to pick up handmade European shoes, but they are worth the investment. They are extremely well-made -- more durable than most marriages -- and they’ll save you money over a mass-produced brand in the long run.

England’s Crockett & Jones handmade leather shoes have been kicking around since 1524 and are renowned worldwide. “Our shoes are made from the finest raw materials and go through more than 240 separate procedures -- from the selection of the hide to insulating the sole with cork during a hand-construction process,” says the company’s export director, Robin Guinness. “It takes about eight weeks to make a single pair.” You can’t walk into any mall to pick them up, but the company does have retail outlets around the world, including New York City in the U.S. You can also place customized orders online or via their catalogue. Premium pairs range from $725 to $825. If you’re feeling particularly flush, they’ll make you a made-to-measure pair for $1,150 and up.

In Italy, the craftsmen of Dama Milano construct shoes that meet the needs of individual customers. The company has produced an interactive website that allows you to dictate your shoe specs and purchase a made-to-order pair in 10-easy steps. They also offer suggestions for choosing the right shoes for you. Stepping up to this class of footwear will run you about $445.

Where to Find American Soles
You don’t have to step outside the U.S. to slip into custom kicks. Try Wisconsin’s Allen-Edmonds Shoe Corporation, which utilizes experienced craftsmen and only the best materials. “We use carefully selected calfskin because of its suppleness and durability,” says the company’s marketing manager, Erin McClary. Despite the quality and craftsmanship, most Allen-Edmonds shoes are affordable, ranging from less than $200 to $450 for a customized pair.

The Allen-Edmonds Custom Program offers the flexibility of ordering any color or leather in their current line or substituting one type of sole for another. They also customize footwear for folks with feet of two different sizes. (You mutants know who you are!)

With proper care and attention, a pair of Allen-Edmonds shoes can last for 15 to 20 years. “Customers can take advantage of our exclusive re-crafting service,” says McClary. “As their shoes show signs of wear, we literally rebuild them to look like new,” she says. The service costs between $40 and $120.

Affordable Comfort and Quality
Not everyone has hundreds of bucks to blow on comfy kicks, but that shouldn’t make mass-produced, super-store-brand moccasins your only option. Sebago shoes are renowned for their moccasin construction, which wraps the foot in one continuous piece of leather and creates a seamless and uniquely comfortable fit. Although many of their popular styles -- including the authentic Docksides -- are still hand-sewn, prices start at under $100. “We offer the best values in hand-sewn shoes available today,” says Marketing Manager Kerry Lawton. Sebago has its own factory, and according to Lawton, uses only premium, full-grain leathers to produce a first-rate, durable product.

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