Friday, 24 April 2009
Why does no one understand Lodger?
Footwear manufacturer Lodger has got a lot of good press recently. It has featured in The Sunday Telegraph, Observer, Men’s Health, Shortlist, Live Magazine, International Life, Smartlife, Esquire, Fashion, Finch’s Quarterly and GQ. All that since the beginning of February. Not bad.
Unfortunately, most of these magazines don’t understand Lodger at all. They refer to its shoes variously as ‘bespoke’, ‘semi-bespoke’ and ‘made-to-measure’. They are none of these things.
A bespoke shoe involves a craftsman creating a wooden last that is the shape of your foot. A shoe is then made that is the shape of this last – the shape of your foot. I’m not sure what semi-bespoke is meant to mean, but it’s not a word Lodger would use to describe its shoes – they recognise, as I have said on this blog before, that the word bespoke is already too misused. The shoes are not really made to measure either.
The confusion is partly created by the electronic scanner that Lodger uses to create a computer model of a customer’s foot. That model is used to find the best last, length and width of shoe for you. But the selection is of one of three lasts (shapes of shoe essentially) and the normal sizes and widths you get for a shoe.
The advantage of the scanning system is that it is easier to find the best shoe and size for you. As founder Nathan Brown says: “If you’re one of the top bespoke shoemakers in this country, the scanner will tell you nothing. But we’re not competing with them – for everyone else, the scan is a really useful way to find the right size.”
It is understandable that coverage of Lodger concentrates on this scanning machine. It is unique in men’s formal shoewear and an obvious hook into a feature. (As regular readers will I’m sure point out, it was the focus of my first article on Lodger as well.) But no one really explains the point of it. If I didn’t do so well enough in my first piece, hopefully I will do so here.
The second reason behind the confusion is that Lodger custom orders some of its shoes. Every month there is a Shoe of the Month that can only be ordered then – if you want it, an order is sent to the factory and you have one made for you in the right size. With your name inside, which is nice.
So it can seem as if the scanner creates a bespoke picture of your foot and then a shoe made to that bespoke picture is made as a one-off in a factory. No: it is just custom ordered in a particular size. Even experienced writer Tom Stubbs, on his video on Finch’s Quarterly Review, says about Lodger that “the idea is they scan your feet and build an entirely bespoke last”. No.
All of this is a shame because Lodger is unique and great value in other ways.
First, the scanner means that a lot more effort is put into finding the right size of shoe for you. The time and effort spent on this is often underrated. Men don’t necessarily wear the right size (length) of shoe; they are unlikely to have any idea what width they wear (or should wear); and they are unlikely to realise the point of different lasts and therefore shapes.
Most shoe stores in my experience, luxury and high street, do little more than put shoes on your feet and ask how they feel. Lodger is different.
Second, there is value in having a unique pair of shoes. Many men love owning limited editions and Lodger’s Shoe of the Month is very limited. Once the month has passed, you know no one will ever be able to copy your shoe. And the fact that a custom-ordered shoe is the same price as ready-to-wear is very impressive.
Third, the fact that shoes are custom-ordered means men of odd or outlandish sizes can be guaranteed a shoe for them – whatever the size and the width, it can be custom-ordered. In the English last, for example, you can order anything from a narrow E to an extra-wide J – six different widths in total. On the Italian last, there are two widths (2 and 3) but that’s pretty revolutionary for Italy, where they haven’t really heard of widths. You can even have two shoes of different sizes (though that isn’t necessarily a good idea – see previous post on Lodger).
Fourth, and probably most importantly, Lodger just makes great quality shoes. There is a very high level of handcrafting – the leather is all hand-cut, the lasting is done by hand, the Italian shoes are painted by hand, the wheeling is done by hand. That puts Lodger on a par with pretty much every ready-to-wear shoe in London.
Brown has strived to find the right balance between handcrafting, which is beautiful, time consuming, and expensive, and using traditional shoemaking machinery. Sewing the welt by hand, for example, would add a lot to the price but very little in terms of quality.
Add to that the shoe bags actually shaped like shoes, the boxes that are also draws and the pictures on the outside of both, and you have a pretty good deal.