June 19, 2013 by Ville Raivio
‘I am 29 years old and my occupation is….well, I do several things, such as blogging, expert shoe polishing and shoe designing so it’s hard to have just ‘an’ occupation. But I guess that I would most likely like to be known as a shoe designer. I have a bachelor’s degree (4 year – BA) from the University of Washington. My major (main focus) was in Entrepreneurship and my minor (sub-focus) was in Marketing. Well, I am married, coming up on 3 years now, and am actually due a baby boy at the end of June/early July, my first born. I think that my wife loves that I have such an interest in shoes, that way she doesn’t feel guilty when she wants to buy hers! Plus, I tend to buy her lots of them, as I appreciate women’s shoes as well and want my wife having stylish shoes, too! She really likes my shoes so that is really nice, and it’s not just because I am her husband, as she has no problem telling me that she doesn’t like a design of mine. My wife is Italian and is quite a snob when it comes to clothes, so I think that overall she really appreciates my sense of style and the fact that I am interested in clothes. It’s one thing we have in common, you know.
My parents were always very supportive of everything that I was interested in. My mother always knew that I loved shoes and knew how to manipulate me with that fact. I remember once that she wanted to get me to read a book (but I hated reading, like a typical teenager) and offered to buy me two pairs of shoes at my choice. Let’s just say that I quickly read that book! My mother was the type to support me no matter what I chose, so long as I was happy. I could have been a librarian and she would have been as proud as ever. My father always got a kick out of my interest in fashion. He is your typical daredevil man’s man, who likes American muscle cars and jumping out of planes, an adrenaline junkie, so to speak. So, needless to say he thought it was funny how I was all prim and proper into my clothes and shoes and all. But like my mother, he was always supportive of my decisions so long as I was happy and gave my all to whatever I did. He was the one that taught me that true success is not about how much money you make but rather about being happy with what you do in your day to day life. That has driven me to always do what I love.
I have always been interested in shoes. I can’t really pinpoint the time when it first started though, as it was really before my time of true remembering, like around 4-5-years-old. When I was growing up, one was really judged by his footwear and subconsciously this must have affected me, so it was important for me to have the latest and greatest shoes, or at least ones that looked good. I first started becoming interested in dress shoes (leather-soled shoes) as I was approaching the end of high school. Back then, however, I am ashamed to say that I was wearing square-toed Kenneth Coles. But hey, I was 18 and was just learning. I was approaching college and knew that I needed to start dressing like an adult so that started to sway my decisions towards mature clothing.
Then I got a job at Nordstrom (a large department store in the US) and that is when my passion really started and I knew that I wanted to start my own shoe line. But the interest in classic welted shoes did not come around until 2 years after University, when I moved to Italy to learn bespoke shoemaking under the late Stefano Bemer. There my eyes were opened and I saw how a classic shoe could be so much more than some boring super round toe black oxford. Stefano made some of the most beautiful shoes that I had ever seen (even to this day) and from then on I knew that I wanted to make things like he did.
There was a time where I liked all of the fashion brands, the Gucci’s, the Prada’s, etc. I quickly learned, though, that fashion was fake. How can something be nice for only a season or a limited time period? It makes no sense. If something is nice, then it should always be nice. But not in fashion. The idea of trends started to disgust me and therefore I did not want to make things of that nature. I wanted to make shoes that people could always appreciate, not just for a year and then off to the next big thing. But I did like the idea of being unique, so it was my intention to make shoes that were classic in style and shape but had modern twists on them, such as slight detail alterations and unique colorations.
Well, I absolutely love football (soccer). It was my first dream in life to become a football player. I soon realized that I would not become one, but it is still my greatest active passion. I don’t actually watch it (as I don’t really have time to) but if I could play 2-3 times a week (which I don’t get to do, time being the issue again), I would be a very happy person. Music is a part of me. It is what drives my emotions and helps me cope with life, the good and the bad. I couldn’t live without music. Films are another hobby I love. It is one of the few things that can help me quiet my ever-thinking brain. It is my release. Travelling is a great passion of mine, although I don’t get to do it so much right now as I am trying to build my business. But I love discovering new things about the world, experiencing new cultures and trying new foods. It is so exciting and eye-opening. My two absolute greatest passionsm howeverm would be (1st) spending time with my wife, soon-to-be-son and parents (when I can, as they are not so close) and (2nd) spending time with my best friends, as without all of these people nothing else in life would matter.
A good shoe is something that is made of good quality materials, has natural shape to it (contoured like a foot, not just made on a bulbous last), and presents a good value for money. It should hold up well and be comfortable too. A good shoe is not necessarily only those above £300, although it is mainly the +£300 ones that compromise the “good” shoes. I have many inspirations if I am going to be honest. First and foremost, the idea that I need to provide for my family (wife, children & parents) and give back to those that have helped me along the way, account for my biggest form of inspiration. My parents inspire me to be the best human being that I can be as well as the idea to hope to make a positive difference in the world. Being a role model in the shoe community inspires me, as I hope to show young individuals who are looking for their way in life that with passion, drive and determination, anyone can achieve their dreams. And lastly, great shoemakers inspire me to become a great shoe designer.
When I decided that I wanted to start my own shoe line, I knew that in order to be a good businessman, I had to learn everything there was to know about shoes, most important of them all was how to make them. So, I knew that I wanted to learn from one of the masters in Europe but also knew that before I went to one, I wanted to have some experience under my belt. I therefore found a one-week course in my home state of Washington that offered a course in cemented shoemaking. We did all the beginning work by hand (cutting, clicking, stitching the uppers, lasting, etc) but then attached the sole by cement. It gave me the base knowledge for shoemaking but was a long way off from the real thing. I then read László Vass’ book, Handmade Shoes, to gain a bit more theoretical knowledge.
With that knowledge I went to Italy and took up an apprenticeship, thus learning how to make shoes by hand, from start to finish. In Italy, I did a bit of everything, but specialized in making/finishing (the bit where you take the upper and the last and attach the welt and sole). I did, however, do a bit of clicking (cutting the pattern out of the leather) and last making, too. While there, I made my own last, and 5 pairs of shoes. The rest of my knowledge has either been self-taught (like my shoe designing), learned from spending time in a factory or the fact that I am fortunate enough to have spent a decent amount of time with Tony Gaziano, picking his brain every single chance I get. I owe a lot of my knowledge to his sharing his experiences with me.
I really can’t describe [my style] if I am going to be honest. I tend to think of myself as kind of a chameleon, being able to adapt to my environment, but since I have lived in America, Italy (Florence, to be exact) and now London, I have kind of blended the three cultures of dress to make my very own. As a slim guy, I like a very fitted look (like the Italians), but have now become a bit more classic and conservative in my tastes (much like the English), whereas I used to be a bit more bold. And in America, within the urban streetwear environment (that I used to be involved with as a youth), there is a big emphasis on matching, which I have now translated into smart attire, by still keeping a fairly color-coordinated outfit.
But then I am a very moody person in the sense that one day I feel like dressing one way and then the next day I dress another. I am not a consistent dresser. I dress how I feel…and it could be soft shoulder Italian one day, conservative English the next or preppy American. Then some days I blend it all together and just call it the “Justin!” [As for shoes,] I wear it all…but as a general, I like classic models/shapes with the injection of color and/or the use of abnormal materials, such as flannels, tartans, cloths, etc…I love Balmoral boots, wholecut loafers and saddle shoes (dress ones, not the chunky American ones with white leather).
The Shoe Snob was born of two reasons; one, out of passion and one, out of business. I had always read all of the fashion magazines, looking for inspiration and information on new things that I did not know about. What I came to realize, though, was that I was not really learning anything about shoes, as they never really dedicated very much to them and when they did do so, it was usually the same brands that they were writing about. I wanted to know more, learn about shoemakers across the world, not just about the popular designer brands in America or Europe. I knew that I was not the only one who thought like this and also knew that I had the passion to do something about it. As I wanted to make my life one that involved shoes, it was something that made sense as a way to continue learning while at the same time sharing my knowledge. This was the passionate reason why I started it.
As for the business reason, well, allow me to explain. So, after university, I created a 5 year plan to learn everything I could about footwear before I started my own brand. In those 5 years (which became about 6), I had a period of about 1 year of transition that did not really allow me to carry on with learning. But I am the type of person who needs to utilize every second I can and hate the feeling of doing nothing, of not going forward. So, I wanted something to do, something that could help me in my quest. I therefore thought about a blog and being able to knock out two birds with one stone. I knew that if I created it and did it well, then I could be that source of knowledge that other shoe enthusiasts (like myself) were craving. I also knew that if I did it right, I could gain a mass of supporters that I could share my journey with and thus create a clientele of customers before I even had a brand. That meant I could create demand before there was even a product and that when my product was actually available, I would then have sales waiting to be made by all of my supporters. With these two ideas, I started the blog and never looked back.
As far as I know, my blog has been very well-received. I believe that I share and provide knowledge about the shoe industry that no one else in the world does, like all of the insider secrets, information that I feel that the customer should have in order to make informed decisions about their footwear purchases. I do my best to highlight new brands that are making good footwear that deserve to be seen but might otherwise have a hard time of getting their names out there, especially as this day and age the magazines only put in what they are paid to, as opposed to being true journalists and finding the latest and greatest of the world.
My goal for the blog was to create THE go-to dedicated shoe source where people could go and learn everything there was to know about shoes and the industry, as well as enjoy some nice pictures and I believe that I have done just that. For that reason I believe people appreciate the blog and continue to go back and learn more and more. And the more I learn myself, the more I want to share that knowledge as it is important for me to see men wearing better shoes.
I guess I should start at The Shoe Snob as a brand and as my parent company, really. The goal behind this was to basically provide the consumers of the shoe industry a one stop shop they could go to and get the majority of their essential shoe products, from the shine accessories to shoe trees and then the shoes, too, under a trusted label that sold products which not necessarily were the best in the world, but rather the best that one needs at the best price. For example, for me the idea of a horsehair shoe brush that costs £100, because its handle is made of horn, is ridiculous. That is just flash to me. The idea of the horsehair brush is to have good bristles that bring out the shine. But I also don’t think that the best bristles in the world are going to make a huge difference to some simply good ones. That being, my horsehair brush is not the best in the world, but the best for what one needs at a good price…same with my shoe trees. The accessories have been received quite well, a lot better than I had expected, to be honest, which of course makes me quite happy!
My accessories really just came about. There was no goal in the beginning. I was shining shoes and the idea of selling my own polish came from a few people, but more so one in particular, who said that if I was running a shine stand, I might as well be using and thus selling my own products. It made sense and so I did just that. Over time, I just happened to stumble upon other products and then added them to my collection of goodies. Now that I have a relatively decent selection of products (with a few that have still yet to be released), it has become a proper business and there are now goals involved.
As per the shoes, well, underneath The Shoe Snob brand is my footwear collection, J.FitzPatrick footwear. While the The Shoe Snob brand is a far catchier and stronger name in branding terms, I did not name the footwear line that as I felt it a bit too gimmicky for a smart dress shoe brand. But the names will always be associated. Therefore the idea was to start a line named after me (as most brands of this nature are named after the founder) that could supply men around the world a well-made, stylish shoe at a good price for the quality. So far, I feel that my shoes have done very well. I had a very good launch, where many of my blog’s readers were very supportive, purchasing a good amount of my initial stock and leaving a lot of good feedback. So far I have not had any complaints, but I have had a few setbacks on quality control which slipped between my fingers. But these things unfortunately tend to happen, and you can only deal with it in a professional and timely manner as to rectify the situation. and since customer service is very important to me, I handle them quickly and fairly. Everybody who has left feedback has only said very kind and wonderful things with regards to the fit, comfort and quality, and I am very fortunate and grateful for this reason.
Well, I am currently working on all of my online ventures. Soon, I will be launching a proper web-shop for my accessories business, adding a few new products as well as looking to add a few more in the not-so-distant future. I will also be revamping the blog very soon, making it more website-like and less blog-like. With this I can make it a bit more functional and install plug-ins, like Paypal, that allow blog readers to buy directly off of the blog. That way, I can create “blog exclusives.” For instance, there are many shoes that I would like to design which I know the average person probably wouldn’t fancy, but that my blog readers would love. And as they are the ones who have helped me get to where I am, I want to give back to them by offering them things that no one else will be able to have…and then, hopefully before year’s end, I will look to launch a web-shop for the shoes. Right now, I will be putting most of my efforts in to these things and then when I have finished all of them, I will start looking at wholeselling my shoes to shops around the world, in the hopes of building the brand.
[As for shoemakers,] this is really difficult as I love so many. For top-end shoes, Gaziano & Girling and Aubercy have to be my favourites, as is probably known since I quite frequently show them on the blog. For best bang for your buck, I really like Vass, Carmina, Meermin and Ed Et Al, and for leading the way in style and design, I love Septíème Largeur. As per tailors, well, even though I work on the Row, I can’t really claim to be so savvy of what makes a good tailor. I can tell you what I have seen that I like, but then I could name all of them as they all show something different that I am attracted to. If I must spit off a few, I would say Chittleborough & Morgan; my friend Lee Webb, who works at Gieves & Hawkes; another friend Fred, who works for another firm that has too many names to list out; Anderson & Sheppard; Timothy Everest; Cifonelli and a million Italian ones that I don’t know the names of…in reality, I am not one to give great advice when it comes to great tailoring…
If I am going to be completely honest, if it is not on my blog (when it comes to shoes), then I don’t know about it or am not expert enough to make a post about it. I try to give all of my knowledge on my blog, without holding anything back. I just recently did a post about leather quality that many would find intriguing, but to be honest there is far more in my blog than just posts with regards to “maintenance, buying & polishing.” If one were to scroll through my archives, one would see a vast world of knowledge anywhere from the pricing structure of shoes (how it comes to its retail price), how a last & pattern can separate the good from the great, the making of a shoe, among many, many other informative posts.
As per oak bark soles and vegetable-tanned leathers, well, I don’t really have expert experience in those subjects to be honest. That would be a question for someone who works in a tannery and has dealt with all manners of leather. I can tell you that most uppers are chrome-tanned leather as it is far less affected by the elements and is far easier to work with as it maintains its shape better. It may not be as comfortable but it does not stain as easily. Most linings are vegetable tanned leather. But one does not need rakish relatives to figure these things out. One must simply be like a sponge and absorb as much information as one can from research and asking questions. All they need is interest and passion. No one in my entire family knows anything about shoes or style for that matter and look at me…I made a point to find the information any way I could…
I thank you for hosting me on your wonderful forum and hope that everyone has enjoyed reading about my story.
Sincerely, Justin FitzPatrick’
1) Justin FitzPatrick
2) Adam Priscak
3) Adam Priscak
4) Khalil Musa
5) Khalil Musa
6-10) Harry Watts