Made to order Shoes: The Sustainable Footwear To Invest In

Image: Zou Xou

How can footwear brands keep waste down, while also creating a high quality shoe that lasts? We meet the brands using pre order and made to order models to make beautiful shoes, whilst keeping their environmental impact low.

The idea of investing in, and owning a good quality pair of shoes feels a bit old fashioned these days. Much like our wardrobes, our footwear has become too fast, too cheap and poorly made. However we are happy to report that a new wave of conscious, slow footwear labels are making a name for themselves. Offering classic, well made shoes to order, they are encouraging customers to think ahead, and enjoy a slower approach to footwear.

Made To Order, Made To Last

Made to order footwear is something traditionally reserved for men, or anyone willing to pay upwards of £450 for a pair of brogues. Heritage cordwainers like Churches and Crockett & Jones, have long offered a made to order service for their customers, but the styles were limited. If you are someone willing to pay, and to wait for a pair of elegant stilettos or classic mary janes, then there weren’t many places you could go to. Until now.

In the past few years, made to order has become a more acknowledged way of buying clothes. As consumers begin to discover the hands that make their clothes, the time it takes, as well as the origins of the materials, they are willing to part with more money. And in some cases, wait a little longer to receive their item. Whilst many clothing brands are adopting this way of manufacturing (see our article with Teatum Jones discussing their pre-order and made to order models), the womxns footwear sector seemed slow to catch up.

Essential Shoes

After working for a footwear wholesaler, Marre Muijs became disillusioned with the pace that fast fashion demanded. “I was struck by how much it took to make a good shoe compared to the search for newness and trendiness. I wanted a timeless product that didn’t rely on seasons, was ethically made and comfortable,” she told us via Zoom from Australia. Marre went on to create ESSÊN (right), slow, made to order footwear label produced in Italy.

ESSÊN offer timeless and elegant shoes that wearers swear are the most comfortable they have worn. Their core style, the Foundation Flat is available as a made to order style, and people are more than happy to wait. “Producing on demand not only helps us reduce overproduction and minimise waste, but you’ll also get something that’s made especially for you, and only you,” Marre says. “Each pair is hand-stitched, scrutinised, perfected, wrapped and packed by our amazing artisans.”

Made to order Shoes: The Sustainable Footwear To Invest In ESSEN The Label Foundation Flats in White worn with Gold Linden Cook ankle chain

Shoe Valley

Based in Le Marche in Italy, also known as ‘Shoe Valley’, Marre is proud to support the historic tradition of shoe making in the region. “Making shoes on demand is an entirely different way of working, operating and buying.” Marre had to work hard to find a manufacturer willing to produce smaller orders. This is because over 50 components have to be sourced in order to make a pair of shoes. Pulling everything together, and in smaller quantities is expensive, making profit margins smaller or shoes more pricey.

Made to order Shoes: The Sustainable Footwear To Invest In Zou Xou black leather Eugenia Flats

Argentinian Artisans

However Italy isn’t the only place to make shoes. Katherine Theobalds is the Founder of Zou Xou, a US based made to order shoe label that manufactures in Argentina. The artisans there use time honoured techniques to create Zou Xou shoes (left), using only premium leather. “Working person-to-person with our artisans changed the way I consume fashion,” Katherine told us. “I have a deeper appreciation of the manufacturing process.” Zou Xou’s core collection is available made to order, however they also hold a very small amount of stock that is seasonless and available all year round. This means Katherine can anticipate how much she needs, meaning less waste overall.

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Like Marre, Katherine became disillusioned while working in the fashion industry, and creating Zou Xou has helped her reconnect with great design. However she admit’s that initially she wasn’t sure whether the made to order model would work. “Naturally, some people just aren’t going to get it or be willing to wait,” she said. “Once we found an audience of conscious women who appreciate our designs and the way we make them, I stopped seeing it as a hindrance and started seeing it as a strength. I want for Zou Xou to contribute to the new consciousness around consumption.”

A New Consciousness

In contrast, one brand who initially began as a traditional fashion model but later switched to a ‘made to order’ service is Bionda Castana (right). Founded by Stylist Natalia Babieri and Designer Jennifer Portman, the label in its previous format was a great success. However, waste began to emerge as a big problem. As Natalia told us via email, “It became very apparent that whilst we were producing huge sample collections, when wholesale market came around over the course of 10 years, the styles being sold were always our signatures.” The pair decided to pivot and after a brief hiatus announced they would now make their signature styles to order.

Made to order Shoes: The Sustainable Footwear To Invest In Bionda Castana Bianca Mules

Supporting Family Owned Business

Like ESSEN, Bionda Castana champion Italian shoemakers, located in a quiet industrial suburb of Milan. The family run factory expertly crafts each pair of shoes, allowing the brand to carefully monitor production and waste. They don’t design new styles anymore, instead they simply offer their bestsellers to order. A patient shoe fan must wait around 5 weeks for their babies to be lovingly handcrafted in Italy before arriving at their door. “Our customers are fully aware we aren’t a fast fashion brand, and they honestly don’t mind the wait. They also know they are supporting a small manufacturer and a group of artisans,” Natalia says. “[Our customers] embrace the positive impact we are having on the environment by using leftover fabrics from our library.”

Made to order Shoes: The Sustainable Footwear To Invest In ESSEN The Label Foundation Flats in red being made by Italian Artisan

While ‘made to order’ is certainly not the cheapest option, value for money is found elsewhere. Marre tells us that a pre order model “allows us to avoid overproduction and eliminate up to 90% of waste associated with traditional production processes and to use our resources in a way that is smarter. This means lower costs per pair, so the prices of our handmade shoes can stay competitive too.”

Katherine Theobalds agrees. “I think more people are seeing the value in investing in quality, classic pieces that they really love and that will outlast trends.” As our focus as consumers shifts from the initial outlay of a pair of shoes to cost per wear, purchasing classic, well made shoes makes much more sense for your purse.

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Disclaimer: The people and models in the images featured are not associated with The Vendeur and do not endorse it or the products shown. This post may contain affiliate links. Prices correct at time of publishing.