A couple of months ago, a reader asked me on Twitter what I thought of Jack Erwin’s shoes. Having never heard of the brand, I checked out their website and was intrigued by the value proposition: full-grain, Blake stitched shoes, shipped to your door for $195. There was even an offer for free returns. I went ahead and bought a pair for myself, and they arrived last month.
These are really nice shoes for their price point, and it’s encouraging to see such good value being offered in this price tier. In the past, it used to be that to get well-made shoes for under ~$200, you’d have to hunt on eBay, thrift, or find Allen Edmonds’ factory seconds on sale. Now there are other options.
Jack Erwin’s shoes are fully made in Portugal from Portuguese tanned leathers. The soles have been attached using a Blake stitching method, which allows them to be more easily resoled than cemented shoes. The upside to Blake stitching is that it produces a thinner, lighter sole. This helps gives the soles a certain “sleekness,” which in this case nicely complements Jack Erwin’s handsomely shaped uppers. The downside is that Blake stitched soles are a bit easier to soak through in the rain than Goodyear welted ones (or even Blake-Rapid, which is a slightly different construction). Jack Erwin’s soles have a hidden channel at the bottom, which can help prevent this, but that cover will wear down over time, thus bringing us back to square one. That said, I have a few Blake stitched shoes in my closet and wear them regularly. The differences between Goodyear welted and Blake stitched shoes can sometimes be overstated, and at the end of the day, they’re both good constructions.
Naturally, at this price point, one should expect some compromises. The quality of shoes can’t be easily read off buzz phrases such as “full grain leather upper” and “Blake stitched construction.” Just as important, if not more important, is the quality of the materials used. The quality of Jack Erwin’s uppers, lining, insole, and outsole aren’t as nice what you’d find on more expensive brands, such as Allen Edmonds and Crockett & Jones. How they’ll actually age in 5-10 years is anyone’s guess. And, while we’re quibbling, I wish Jack Erwin didn’t advertise their outsoles as being hand stitched when they’re clearly not. I assume by “hand stitched,” they mean someone operated the (Blake) machine by hand, which is not an uncommon usage of the term nowadays, though I still think it’s misleading.
Nevertheless, I’m pretty impressed. There are dozens of brands in the US right now selling $200 shoes that aren’t anywhere near as nice, and you can find them in all the major department stores. Compared to many of their direct competitors, Jack Erwin’s shoes are well made, handsomely styled, and offer much better value. That’s something to be applauded.
(Photos via Jack Erwin)