With the strong US dollar, there’s never been a better time to buy abroad – especially for bigger ticket items such as footwear. Of course, shopping from overseas companies comes with some risk. You have to do a little more research in order to determine your size, and returns aren’t always easy. Plus, there’s the risk of getting hit with import duties. Still, with a little luck and determination, you can get some well-made European footwear for really good prices. Here are six labels to consider:
- Carmina: A darling of the online menswear community, this Spanish label just got a lot more affordable. Shoes that typically run ~$550 in the United States are now available for ~$350 if you buy abroad (try Skoaktiebolaget or direct from Carmina). Customizations are also available for a 50% up-charge. Here’s a comparison of their lasts.
- Meermin: Quite possibly the best value in men’s footwear right now. Meermin sells Goodyear welted shoes through their “Classics Collection” and handwelted shoes through their higher-end “Linea Maestro” line. Entry-level price is $175, with Japanese shell cordovan models starting at $400. Best of all, they have a wide range of lasts that should appeal to anyone’s taste.
- Markowski (aka Prince Jorge): This French label started many years ago by selling $200 Goodyear-welted shoes direct to consumers. Today, they’re slowly phasing out Markowski and re-introducing themselves as Prince Jorge – a slightly higher-end line that starts at ~$250. Although they’re now a little pricier, the value proposition is still very good. Plus, the transition means much of their Markowski range is now on sale (making those shoes even more affordable). The bad news is that it’s hard to get sizing advice, but you can try emailing or calling their Paris store.
- Emling: Another French label, this one with even sleeker designs than the ones mentioned above. Goodyear-welted constructions with a quality level that’s reportedly on-par with Loake’s 1880 line. Some of the shoes have also been designed by the famous Marc Guyot. Unfortunately, like with Markowski, it can be hard to get sizing advice on this one.
- Yanko: A Spanish brand that used to be owned by the Albaladejo family (who has since gone on to create Carmina and Meermin, after Yanko closed-up shop many years ago). The company was recently revived, although it’s no longer owned by the Albaladejos. Thankfully, the quality of their shoes and competitive price points remain. Available at Shoe Paradis.
- Enzo Bonafe: A small family-owned and -operated firm in Bologna. They specialize in handwelted shoes (what the Italians sometimes misleadingly call handwelted Goodyear). Handwelting is a traditional method of making footwear that’s less prone to breakdowns during the resoling process than Goodyear welted. And since everything here is made-on-order, it’s easy to request customizations.
Some notes: To get a better buying experience, consider shopping at a store that speaks fluent English (such as Skoaktiebolaget). It will make getting sizing advice and processing returns (if necessary) much easier. Also consider UK brands, such Loake’s 1880 line and Herring (the second of which is now available stateside through Gentlemen’s Footwear). Although you won’t get the benefit of the good USD-to-Euro exchange rate, both offer solid value for your money.