In the age of fast fashion, mass-produced shoes leave a whopping footprint. For the big-name brands, the goal is to churn out as much product as possible for the smallest amount of money. Cheap materials, a lack of attention to detail and low-grade production methods are par for the course. And who ultimately loses out? The consumer – aka you.
In this climate, it’s easy to see why independent, handmade-footwear brands are enjoying a revival. There‘s a growing demographic of quality-conscious customers who value good craftsmanship and premium materials over trend hopping and hype chasing. They’re willing to pay a little more to own a product that’s been made with care and built to last, and there are some fantastic labels allowing them to do so.
These brands still make their footwear in small batches, by hand, and aren’t beholden to monolithic parent organisations forcing them to cheapen production. They’re free to do things their own way, and as a result, they’re producing some of the best shoes on the market today.
Why Choose Handmade?
Buying from a handmade-footwear brand is a no-brainer for those who value quality and attention to detail. Because shoes are made individually rather than in huge batches, the people making them are able to give more care and attention to the process.
Shoes from these brands are often made in Europe using high-end Italian leather and stitched by hand. Styles vary greatly from brand to brand and prices generally range from £100 upwards. In other words, not only are these shoes better made than their mass-produced counterparts, they can be bought for similar prices too.
Handmade-Footwear Brands You Should Know
There are lots of independent brands making excellent shoes, but here at Ape, we have a few favourites. Below are our go-to handmade-footwear brands, covering everything from upscale sneakers to razor-sharp Derby shoes.
Cobbler Union creates ‘bespoke-inspired’ luxury shoes at accessible price points. Before launching the brand in 2014 the founders spent three years at the pinnacle of shoemaking – leading the expansion of a bespoke shoemaking studio in Barcelona that sold $4,000 shoes to a distinguished clientele – giving them genuine knowledge and insight into what it takes to produce the highest quality footwear.
This experience has clearly served them well, because Cobbler Union’s shoes are meticulously crafted. Using only the finest hides sourced from France and Italy, each shoe or boot takes several weeks to make, using 70 different components and going through more than 200 different operations. By the time they are ready to ship, the shoe will have been touched by some 25 artisans, each of whom is a master of their craft.
Born on the border of the Mediterranean and Scandinavia, the influence of both territories is clear to see within Morjas’ footwear collection. Clean, minimal silhouettes are lifted by contemporary design flourishes, whether it’s zip centre fastenings on Chelsea boots or chunky role soles on espadrilles.
The brand is proud of its manufacturing process, and rightly so. Each atelier it works with is based in Europe and goes through vigorous testing before it makes the cut. The majority of Morjas’ shoes are produced in its family-owned factory in the village of Almansa, Spain, which has been handcrafting shoes using the Goodyear-welted method since the 1920s. Meanwhile its sneaker factory is located in Felgueiras, Portugal, and has been manufacturing kicks since the 1940s using the same, time-tested manufacturing processes as ‘proper’ shoes.
As you would expect, the quality is second to none. Each pair takes eight weeks to make and involves over 128 steps, across 61 dedicated workstations, from the first cut to the last finish. The result is a meticulously crafted shoe that’s well worth the wait.
Mryqvist is a label with a clear goal: to enable more men to enjoy the luxury of handmade footwear. The Swedish brand is able to do this by operating on a direct-to-consumer model, which means no retail markup, lower operation costs, and, ultimately, premium shoes at affordable prices.
The brand’s range covers all sorts of footwear, from Oxfords to luxe sneakers. Everything is handmade in Portugal using high-quality materials from France and England, and there’s even the option to have bespoke shoes made to order.
Fancy a pair of high-end minimalist sneakers but don’t want to pay the outrageous prices? Uniform Standard has plenty of options for you to choose from, and the best part is they use lots of recycled materials too.
Naturally, the uppers of Uniform Standard’s shoes are made using beautiful leather from some of Italy’s best tanneries, but everything else on its shoes is recycled. We’re talking outsoles, insoles, dustbags, footbeds and plastic-free packaging.
‘French’ and ‘workwear’ are two words it’s always good to see together, and that’s what Kleman is all about. Since the 1980s, this French brand has been producing handmade footwear for several public organisations – the French national railway, fire departments and police forces to name a few – but also for a loyal civilian following who rate the company’s shoes for their quality and style.
The range includes classic silhouettes like Derbies, loafers and sandals, but the star of the show is the Padror shoe. It’s a proper French moc-toe work shoe, handmade in France using traditional techniques.
Launched in 2019, Artisan Lab is a newcomer to the footwear game, but don’t let that discourage you from trying the shoes for yourself. The brand’s footwear range consists mostly of minimalist leather sneakers, handmade in Italy, and at prices that make them much more accessible than the likes of Common Projects.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Artisan Labs is the company’s approach to production. Products are designed, customers register their interest, the shoes are made to order, and the styles that do best end up available in stock to buy any time. This allows the brand to keep waste to a minimum and produce the product that the customers really want. Sustainable shopping at its finest.
Direct-to-consumer brand Velasca is all about making the best possible shoes with the lowest possible price tag. All of the label’s models are handcrafted by highly skilled artisans in Italy’s shoemaking capital, Marche, and feature the quality and attention to detail you’d expect from footwear coming out of the region.
Velasca’s Derby shoes, in particular, are pretty special. The Cumenda, for example, is a classic black design that’ll go with almost anything and never date. It’s crafted from beautifully smooth calfskin leather and put together in Italy using a blake-rapid construction for easy resoling.
Luxe sneakers are great. They’re timeless, they go with everything and they’re built to last. The only problem is that they can be rather expensive, but Oliver Cabell makes the prospect of kitting yourself out with a pair a bit more realistic.
If you’ve found yourself drawn to shoes like Common Projects’ Achilles Low but been put off by the eye-watering price tag and bizarre sizing, then Oliver Cabell’s Low 1 might be more to your liking. It’s an upscale, minimalist sneaker that offers wide fits and comes in at a more affordable price point.
Duke and Dexter
From sneakers to loafers to boots to slippers – British footwear brand Duke and Dexter does it all, and very nicely too. The brand produces all of its shoes in England, working closely with its craftspeople to source high-quality materials to create premium pieces that are built to stand the test of time.
There’s even the odd collab too. In fact, Duke and Dexter recently teamed up with another fantastic independent footwear label, Italy’s Fracap, on a trio of handmade hiking boots. Fancy something completely unique? You can even have a pair of shoes custom made by in-house artist Jess, who will be happy to discuss your design and bring your vision to life.
Designed in London and made in Italy, Oliver Sweeney’s upscale footwear takes the best of both countries and brings them together. Two nations with rich shoemaking heritage working closely to produce a stunning range of shoes, covering all bases from smart to casual.
We’re particularly fond of Oliver Sweeney’s Scarpone hiking boot. It’s a high-end take on a traditional hiking silhouette, featuring a Norwegian-welted sole, a stacked heel and rich antiqued-leather uppers.