Grant Stone founder Wyatt Gilmore makes great shoes in China, and he’s damn proud of it.
Named after a legendary Alden salesman whose Manhattan accounts Wyatt’s grandfather took over when he retired—a “perfect gentleman who never swore in his life, and would never ever call on an account without a jacket or tie”—Grant Stone emerged on the Goodyear welt footwear scene about three years ago with a very attractive small range of longwings and plain toe bluchers (before moving loafers, boots, and more)…and some criticism
Those shots fired largely tread on two themes: that Grant Stone shoes were made in China, and that they looked…well, a bit like the shoes made by a certain Massachusetts company that once employed a perfect gentleman salesman named Grant Stone. Three years later, Grant Stone has produced the type of shoes and boots that put those questions largely to rest, while offering one of the more competitive price points in the entire space.
Wyatt also brings a very refreshing perspective to the table. He’s the farthest thing from a marketer; he very openly speaks truth to the industry, its products, and the compromises any brand has to make—including his own—like few others.
We spoke at length about his approach to developing and manufacturing his shoes, how they’re in fact different from Aldens despite referencing them at times, his very unique thoughts on the direct-to-consumer business model, and how he’s done something few have, that many once thought to be crazy: made an incredibly high quality shoe in China. Oh and motocross.
Stitchdown: Your grandfather worked as a salesperson at Alden for a ridiculous 60 years. Your dad worked there as well, and then came over to China to make Goodyear Welted shoes. What was it like growing up in a shoe family?
Wyatt: My dad moved first moved to Michigan, where I grew up, when he was a salesman for Alden for the Midwest territory. But by the time I was growing up, he was already in China. I want to say he started acting as an agent for the factory there, the same one that makes Grant Stone shoes today, in 1994. But honestly I didn’t really understand it all until I was a teenager. I almost know more about what my grandpa did, because he absolutely loves to talk about work.
When I was younger, I started racing motocross and that’s pretty much what I did every weekend. And when I was 15 I was homeschooled so I could move down South and be at the training facility. So I really didn’t have any exposure to the shoe business when it came to the details until I made the decision to visit the factory, and went over to China in 2010.
Stitchdown: What made you decide to do that?
Wyatt: I was trying to do motocross as a career but I had a lot of injuries, and more importantly, I just wasn’t going to cut it. Like any sport, you have to be at the very top to consider doing it long-term as a career. So I stopped racing when I was 19. And it was either go to school and get a job, or do something else.
So my dad brought up the idea. He always liked the idea of me having exposure to something different than where I’m from. Initially he just said, “go over there for a month to open your eyes a bit. Maybe you could work with the factory.” So I went and was living with the owner. And after a month the owner said, “well, actually if you want to stick around, I think you can help us.” And I just liked it. I liked working in the factory, and learning the language.
Next thing I know I’m working six days a week. At first I was just going around all to the departments, from cutting to finishing. For the first six months I spent about a month and a half in each area to get an understanding of each. And I made the decision to stay. Before that, I’d learned a bit about making shoes in Oregon, at D.W. Frommer’s school, which helped me understand how bespoke shoes were made.
Stitchdown: Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Wyatt: It was a three-week class. D.W. Frommer is pretty well known in that type of circle for making bespoke boots and shoes. It’s just a really cool experience because they treat you like family. You go to his workshop every day, you start with making a last, and go through the whole process to make a shoe. It’s kind of funny looking back now, because at that point I had no clue what any of this was. I didn’t even know why cork was used, or the differences between a good bespoke shoe and a regular shoe.
But it was very interesting. This is his craft, and he does it every day and you get blown away by it. But I didn’t really understand it until maybe a year or two later. And after being in the factory in China and seeing how shoes are made, you start to see why bespoke is what it is, and understand why certain things are done a certain way.
Stitchdown: Do you have any examples of that? What did you learn?
Wyatt: Well, I guess one isn’t that specific to what we do today, but crimping. You can crimp an upper in many different ways. The majority of factories are using a crimping machine, for the likes of a Chelsea boot or Jodhpur. But when you’re doing bespoke, you’re putting the upper in warm water and then you’re using a piece of wood that is shaped exactly how you want it to be shaped. And you apply it with your hand and with nails, and let it sit. And the crimping, that look and that shape, you can’t get it any other way.
That’s one that stands out to me, because people talk about hand welting and going through the insole versus gemming. But then in the end if you’re selling a product for $400, or $700 for that matter, how do you get someone to do that by hand? You can’t. It just doesn’t work that way. So with the type of shoes we make, even though it’s Goodyear welted, you’re making compromises here and there, to a certain extent.
But the factory, they taught me everything else. And they had a very different mindset from what most people would think an Asian factory, or a factory that made $200 or $300 shoes, would have. They were very open to new ideas, very open to trying things that flat out are a hassle. Something that seems like it might be a nightmare, they would still do try to do it.
Stitchdown: What’s an example of that?
Wyatt: The factory made a lot of Goodyear welted shoes before I started Grant Stone. And they were using pre-molded heel counters. So when we decided to try using leather heel counters, it was a serious process. And of course you get a little bit of, “why are we doing this again? It’s causing more problems.” We didn’t even have a problem to begin with, and now we’ve lost the shape of the shoe, and we’re getting other issues. And meanwhile, it’s way more expensive. It’s adding days to the production time. But you explain it, and they look into it, and in the end, everyone understands what it is. Six months later, it wasn’t that big of a deal. It was just: this is the new normal.
Stitchdown: Do you think that you’re lucky with your factory and the people you’re working with? Or do you think that’s more of the norm over there than people realize?
Wyatt: Oh yeah. That’s been our biggest hurdle, just dealing with this whole made in China thing. Which is so funny because they taught me everything. And if we started Grant Stone and we wanted to make $159 shoe, they can do that too. But I said, let’s not really look at the price until we’re done. Let’s use these materials, and get to a product, and whatever that price is, then so be it.
And they’ve been very open to that, and they like working with better materials. But I would say I’m definitely very lucky because the management, and the way that they look at things, I would say regardless of country is pretty special. They are very detailed. It’s a very serious environment. But also in any factory—and no one wants to hear this, especially coming from a brand—but it’s all compromises, right? Any production, it doesn’t matter what it is, you’re trying to hit deadlines, and a million other things.
That’s one thing with Grant Stone—to date it hasn’t really mattered. We can release a penny loafer or a tassel in the fall. Even if it’s late by four months, we’re not going to rush the shoes over just to have issues when they get here. I think it’s been a little bit of a different path just for us because the volume is so low. But they’ve genuinely enjoyed it. And I do think this factory is pretty special, that’s for sure.
Stitchdown: I’m curious—if somebody threw you down at a bench, given your experience, could you make a pair of shoes?
Wyatt: I think so. They would be very ugly shoes. Honestly, I can’t stitch. I haven’t stitched since my first or second year there. Attaching the welt would not be very good. That’s a skill for which you really have to sit there for years, and have a technique, and really learn how to do it. You’ve definitely gotta have to have the hands for that. So I could, but it would not be a good shoe. I wouldn’t want to sell it, that’s for sure.
Stitchdown: I think that’s still impressive. Most people in this industry who aren’t working the factory floor every day couldn’t even make a bad shoe. Let’s get to the beginning of Grant Stone. What was the path to getting it up and running?
Wyatt: So a long time ago, my dad registered the name Grant Stone. He wanted to make some suede bucks and some oxfords at the factory, and sell them to retailers. But after only a few months, he just decided to stop because it was essentially starting a brand, but he was kind of tiptoeing into it and then realized what it involved, I think. It was very short lived.
But that always lingered in the factory owner’s mind and my dad’s mind over all these years. They always wanted to do it, but that platform and business model didn’t make sense for time. So fast forward, and I’m making development samples for other brands. Then I really got into it, after even one or two years, I really, really got into Goodyear welt shoes, and patterns and lasts. I love that stuff.
After a while I was making development samples and bringing them to brands. But the reality was, if you made a boot that’s lined with cow from Milwaukee, with kudu CF Stead uppers, with welts from Massachusetts, and a leather midsole and leather outsole, people would be like: “Whoa, that’s a really cool boot. But as a brand we’re not buying that out of China. We can’t retail something for $400 out of China. Cool boot, but you’re crazy.” But we got through that barrier a little bit. And we were able to make some good shoes, but it was a many-years process to get someone to retail a $300 Goodyear welt shoe made in China.
A big shoe brand might say, well, if I’m going to sell something for $350, I’m going to make it in a Mexican factory. Or I’ll make it in a U.S. factory and sell it for $550, and it’ll still be easier to sell. So it never really had anything to do with quality, never had anything to do with the product. It’s just, this is what people think, and it’s not gonna fly because it’s made in China, regardless of how good it was. It didn’t matter.
Stitchdown: And you said, “Thanks for all the feedback. Let’s do it!”?
Wyatt: We were making these samples already. And so I started a Grant Stone Instagram and I’m putting a couple of photos on there of samples I’m making, but I was still living in China. I’m like, well, what if we warehoused the shoes somewhere in Connecticut? I’ll sell the shoes online, we’ll send them to Connecticut, and they can help fulfill for us. But we knew already that we couldn’t work with a normal fulfillment company because of returns. It would be a nightmare.
And so one of our friends, The Shoe Mart in Connecticut, they’re just amazing people, really. And they said, we’ll help you. We’ll help you warehouse and fulfill and we’ll handle your returns. It’s still amazing that they even offered, because I was the only one there in China and I’m just going to be shipping them shoes, and they’re going to have to deal with all this. I still can’t believe they did that.
Stitchdown: Tough offer to turn down.
Wyatt: That’s kind of how we started. I basically sat there and worked on two patterns, a longwing and a plain toe shoe. And we made the Leo last, which was basically my dad working with an old friend of his. They started working with a base and and got it to where they thought would be a great fit for the average American market—with a look. We would just make small revisions, mainly at that point aesthetic, more towards the toe shape. And once we were happy with that last, we said, this is probably enough. Let’s just make these shoes and ship them over. I can run a website from China.
And so we literally made 635 pair. From the moment we actually decided to buy the leather and go ahead with it, it was probably five, six months until the shoes were made. It was pretty nerve-wracking stuff. I was saying, I don’t know how long these shoes are going to last me. It might be four years.
But we got the shoes and realized: this is a very, very solid product. However, the bottom line was if I talked to someone in the industry, they would say, “Yeah but they’re $350 and made in China?” It didn’t really click. We were kind of in the middle of nowhere in terms of pricing. It’s not $550, but also not $199. But the whole reason we’re doing this is to make the shoe and whatever the cost is, that’s the product. There must be people who want this particular product, for what it costs.
Stitchdown: Was that based on gut? Did you engage in any sort of market research or price comps? Or did you literally just say, let’s make the shoes, and figured out where your margins needed to be, and said, this is what we’re selling it for?
Wyatt: Of course I kind of knew where the price was going to fall because I was developing shoes for other brands. I knew those costs and what they’re retailing them for. You’re a hundred-plus dollars over those, but you know that going into it. To me the market research was just, in America, you only have a couple brands that are producing a Goodyear welt shoe with a leather insole. Now in the last four or five years, there have been a couple other brands like ourselves, newer brands that are doing it too. But it didn’t seem very crowded.
And also it’s such a small market to begin with. We imagined we could sell them to a guy that has five pair of sneakers, but he wants one kind of cool dress shoe. And maybe this is his first introduction to a Goodyear welt shoe. And it’s a longwing shoe that isn’t all one color. It has some contrast somewhere in the welt or the stitch. Honestly, sometimes the whole data-driven research for what we do can be pretty misleading.
Stitchdown: How so?
Wyatt: If we have a sale, we will definitely sell a lot of shoes. But where does it end? And I’m sure if we put pigskin lining, or maybe change out our insole and everything else, and dropped our price $50 retail, we know we would sell more shoes. But where does that lead long-term?
My grandpa, he loves his company being Alden—and he called it his company. He loved what they did so much that it was very, very clear. Price? Put that on the back burner. “You just make the best shoes you can make,” he’d say. “The best fit. The best out there. That’s how you sell a lot of shoes and have a good business.” He didn’t care about anything else, and he was so confident in that message.
That’s what he sold for for all those decades: “Alden makes the best shoes. They’re not copping out. You’re not going to get shoes next year with a lining that’s less expensive, or something like that. It’s just not going to happen, that’s just not the way we run our business.” And so without a doubt that mentality is what drives us as well. Just make the product how you want to make it. And there are plenty of people that will buy it. Maybe our image doesn’t fit for some people. And we could do better marketing, and this and that. But generally, if you actually mean what you say and people look into it, and see that you’re trying to make the product the best you can, there will be people that are interested.
I’ve had to cheapen the product for other customers in my work as an agent, and I’ve always seen it go bad. You can always make something less expensive. It’s very, very easy to do. It might actually be the easiest thing to do. And you might get a little bump. But then what? And so, a company like Alden or Viberg, they’re not apologizing for anything. They’re making what they make and people love that.
Stitchdown: So this is probably a good point to do the Alden question. There are a lot of Alden connections through your family, and some people say that some of your shoes look an awful lot like Aldens. How intentional is that?
Wyatt: Well, the reality is they definitely do. The plain toe blucher and the longwing, they’re very similar. But what happens when any Goodyear welt brand comes out with a longwing? The Florsheim, which is very similar to the Alden longwing, it’s a staple. You could call it the Stan Smiths of the lineup. That’s the classic look. It’s not very difficult to copy a pattern. But while they’re similar, ours is actually nothing like theirs, if you get down to the details.
Stitchdown: Talk me through that.
Wyatt: Well for example, the perfs on ours, they’re bigger. And it’s just a little bit more bulbous towards the toe. And some people, they won’t like that, kind of like the Nettleton. It’s a little bit tighter and, it’s a little bit of a sharper last, which gives you that look. Ours definitely looks almost more like an English style vamp. The guys that have Florsheims and Nettleton longwings, and Alden longwings, it’s no secret to them. They’re different.
But at the same time, you didn’t want to take a longwing and then just—in my personal opinion, for what we’re looking for, it has to look somewhat traditional. The proportions have to make sense. And the Alden longwing, that was my favorite shoe. My first longwing, actually my first Alden shoe, was a cigar longwing from ShoeMart. My grandpa got it for me. I loved that shoe. I love it. But ours is different without a doubt. A lot of our customers have both, of course. And I wouldn’t want to make one that’s totally different from Alden’s. It wouldn’t make sense.
Stitchdown: Have you felt the need, or have you actually had to in some ways, distance yourself from Alden? Is that something you’ve had to actively contend with?
Wyatt: Honestly that part hasn’t been too difficult. The hardest part is just being made in China, because I think if we were making these in England, and they were very similar, it wouldn’t be a negative thing. Especially in the first year, of course, we heard that.
Stitchdown: So I’d love to hit on that too. I feel like when Grant Stone came onto the scene, it was like, “Oh, this is a very nice looking shoe. But it’s made in China. But it’s cheaper! But of course it is, because it’s made in China.” At this point do you feel you have shifted the perception of Chinese manufacturing? That at least for an experienced buyer, that’s become less of an issue? And that people are more open to what you’re doing, and have realized that that quality is possible, and that the price is pretty damn good for it? Do you feel you’ve made growth there?
Wyatt: Honestly if I had started in the shoe industry stateside, we would never be in this position. I probably would have said, it does not make sense to build this type of shoe, make it in China, and sell it at this price point. From a market standpoint this doesn’t add up. But I didn’t have that experience. The only shoe factory I ever knew was our factory in Xiamen. Of course, when we were starting Grant Stone, I knew what was coming: you look like this brand, made in China.
I never even had a job before working at the factory. My colleagues, those are the people I hung out with every single day, to go get dinner, and get a drink, and complain about things, and this and that. My colleagues were my only friends for many, many years. They still are today. It’s kind of my family, and I could see my wife and daughter and I living there at some point. That’s kind of all I ever knew, and I guess what I’m getting at is, to me it just felt like it would be easier to overcome than maybe most people think it is.
The whole process was the furthest thing from “let’s make a shoe brand. Let’s go test and source five factories and see which one gives us what samples for what costs.” I can openly say I wouldn’t be doing Grant Stone without this factory. And I always try to let people know the truth of this factory, but it was the most brutal thing ever, starting this. There were terrible comments everyday. “It’s made in China. It’s slave labor.” We still get it all the time. That’s just the reality. But it when I see it from my side, it just looks silly.
And current politics today doesn’t help. I’m living in the Midwest. I meet plenty of people who are against it. At first, they look at you like you’re the devil. But if you sit down and you actually talk to these people, they come around. They understand it a little bit more. So I think it’ll just get better as far as that goes.
Stitchdown: Are you worried about current trade conditions? I imagine you must be at least somewhat.
Wyatt: Oh, definitely. I’m honestly not well-versed enough to sit there and say, this is good, or what percent it makes sense. It’s so incestuous, and so involved—how do you make a call on these things? If it’s an X percent increase in tariffs, maybe we can handle that. But then maybe you’re talking two or three or four-X. It sends waves. It’s something that people have to adjust to, but how do we handle everything else if we really don’t know? Because everything is so wishy washy today, it’s pretty difficult actually to sit down and look at the details and form a plan. It’s pretty crazy right now. It’s tough.
Stitchdown: I believe it. Do you worry that it’s going to have to affect your price at some point?
Wyatt: Oh yeah. Especially given our relationship with the factory, we can’t just move over to León or Portugal or the States. It would be very involved. So that’s not even part of the plan. So maybe we have to make adjustments. We’re not going to change the product. We don’t have any interest in making anything of lesser quality.
Stitchdown: Let’s get away from all the China and trade talk and into some more technical stuff here. I’d love to talk about your proprietary rubber outsoles, the micro-studs. What was the development process like for those?
Wyatt: Basically it comes down to a design and making samples with a company there in China. They make for a lot of brands, but they do a lot of OEM work too. Step one is giving them the design, then making your own mold. And then it’s, what type of density do you want? What kind of the durability? Wearability? And if you adjust one thing, something else changes. As we’re sampling, we’d like what we saw, but say: could we make it a little more dense? How does that affect it? I’m not an expert in rubber. So you sit there and you work with these people, and you do a lot of wear tests, and you just kind of go from there. These factories have so much experience.
I should probably build it up a little more, but actually I’ve never thought that one outsole is way better than another, one brand is way better than another. You can have two people who have endless pairs of shoes, and one swears by one outsole, and the other one can’t stand it. It’s very arbitrary, but it’s up to the person who is wearing it. It’s personal. Ours is a little more dense, so if anything, it might be a touch on the heavy side for what it is. But to me, you slap it on a shoe, I think it’s great for what it’s supposed to be—and it’s perfect for a boot.
It’s very much in line, obviously, with the likes of a Dainite, which is everyone’s standard. And we were going to use that outsole, but the reality was our stitching and outsole pattern just doesn’t line up. It just doesn’t. And our 13D is huge, especially using some of our welts. We have a very hard time fitting it. And of course Dainite soles are also expensive. Truth be told, the factory said “You know why Wyatt? You’re making 300 pair. It’s so much easier it is to buy stock fitted soles. To get your money back on these molds, you’d better plan on sticking around for a couple of years.” But in the end, I’ve been really happy with what we made here.
Stitchdown: On the last side of things, the bulk of your shoes are on your Leo last, your first. How would you describe that last?
Wyatt: You know, that’s a tough one to answer, because I think it’s very personal. Lasts are very style-driven. The Leo last is a classic American/English brogue shape. And while it has something of an almond shape, it’s more on the bulbous side of things. I think it’s a style. In general it is very full, and for some guys, they don’t like it.
The reality is it fits a lot of people who are, D, E, and then our triple E in this last, it’s huge. And I say that in a good sense. It’s very, very full. We’ve had so many people who have a hard time getting into an E width. They have high insteps, really wide feet. The Leo last fits a lot of people. And it’s very comfortable. If I’m traveling, I love taking a pair. And a lot of people like the way it looks.
People are often wearing shoes that are too narrow. Especially a Goodyear welt shoe. A lot of people have it in their mind that you want your shoes to be snug at first, and then stretch them out. I’ve always been taught that’s completely wrong. And which one’s wrong or right, who knows. But I’m definitely on the side of: when you put it on, it should feel comfortable right away. You shouldn’t be stuck at the end of the day—especially if you’re in the city and you have to walk everywhere—and your feet are swollen and you can’t wait to take your shoes off, because they’re half a size too small. And so we’ve seen a lot of people gravitate towards our D, if not E, width, and we always kind of push people to go with the bigger width if they’re worried about being in between.
We’ve seen a pretty solid return customer rate, and I feel a heavy portion of that is due to the last fitting. And I feel like a large percentage of that is people that have a hard time getting something that’s full enough that doesn’t look unattractive—because I am one of those people. I like a narrower-looking last. I like a sharper toe. Some of the European dress brands, some of the loafers and stuff, I really like the way they look. But the reality is for what we’re doing here, especially in this market, we’ve seen a lot of people who like that fuller last, because they can wear it all day.
Wyatt: Yes, definitely. Both are very full for what they are. And I think our Oliver, it’s a funny market for us. It’s a different type of shoe for us. We see so many guys who wear oxfords in 2, 3, quadruple E. And they still just don’t fit. And everybody wants a look, but they can’t wear the shoe. Some of those oxfords are so beautiful. Because of the shape, the way they’re finished. They’re sharp in every sense of the word—but they just can’t wear them all day. So we tried to find a compromise with the Oliver last, something that we could build an oxford on, and just not have it be too bland. And I think it’s right there.
Stitchdown: What are other things you do in terms of construction, to make your shoes more comfortable?
Wyatt: The biggest thing is taking time with a pattern, because the reality is everyone has a different foot. And so what you’re really trying to do is make something that you like, that you feel a majority of people can wear comfortably. And so when you’re making the patterns, you could turn one out in three months, but if you have enough people wearing it for long enough, you realize the problem areas. I would say one of the biggest factors is spending enough time on the pattern in the trial part of the process.
Our penny loafer is the perfect example of that. Loafers are a nightmare to fit, let alone doing it online. It’s always difficult to get people in them and make everyone happy—or even make 50% of people happy. And so we spent a lot of time. The vamp length is so critical. For comfort, for fit, for just purely the performance of the shoe. The entry versus getting heel slip. You can tread that line all day long, and you’re still gonna have one person say, I can barely get in with a shoehorn, and then someone else say, this is the worst heel slip I’ve ever had.
So you’re just trying to find these mediums all the way around, while getting the aesthetic you want. I’m not going to sit there and tell you it’s going to be the perfect fit—it’s not reality. Once you wear something for a while, a shoe might feel like that, if you get something that’s very close. And you’re wearing it, and all of a sudden the footbed starts to break in. That’s all you’re looking for. That kind of feel and fit, where there’s no discomfort and you feel good at the end of the day.
Stitchdown: This one’s changing course a little bit, but I think the big picture benefit of a direct-to-consumer model, which Grant Stone has, are: there’s no retail markup, which that means lower prices for consumers. Okay, sure. But do you find other less obvious benefits? Or downsides?
Wyatt: I think the direct-to-consumer marketing strategy will be very short lived. The larger corporations have been adjusting their business model accordingly, starting to sell direct. Moreover, some of the oldest shoe brands own their factories and now sell their products direct online. Their website and image may not be as modern or come off as forward thinking but that is just a matter of time.
DTC brands may start off with very low overhead but this quickly changes when you have to employ more people, arrange warehouses, and advertise your products without the help of brick & mortar stores. Some of the most successful DTC brands eventually open their own stores in the likes of NYC. You’re building the business from a different angle, limiting the overhead from the start and strategically growing a brand to retain control from manufacturing to retail.
In the end the companies will look similar. Some of the really large companies however can get caught off guard considering how large they are. This will take a lot of time and money to transition into a different business model with today’s technology. With online sales, I feel it also allows for incredible growth in very little time which can lead to net losses for a long time. Growth is priority for most and this is becoming our culture whether you are looking at Warby Parker or Uber.
Stitchdown: I love this answer. I think about this stuff a lot, inside the footwear space certainly, but outside it as well. And the idea of it being this brilliant infallible concept has always been odd to me. For one, it’s basically just facilitated by the Internet. Okay. And two, it being a panacea that fixes all your problems and allows you to do something else that other people can’t, that just has never really computed for me.
Wyatt: It seems like technology has allowed it, but I think these brands are just catching the legacy brands off guard because they started that way. Having a website means having a platform with very little overhead, but they’re going to run into the same problems as everyone else. You still have to make the product, make it good enough, pay employees.
And then, I think a perfect example is it seems like some of the very well-known direct-to-consumer brands over the last five years, they start online and then they open a retail store in New York or Chicago. The only difference is they’re coming at it from a different angle. But they’re still renting the space. They’re hiring employees to do brick and mortar. Maybe the percentage of online sales versus brick and mortar, it’s different. And a different mentality. But overall savings and everything else, especially if you’re starting a brand today, you don’t come out there and just come under everyone $50. It’s just not how it works. You might be able to do it for a little while, but, not really.
In the Goodyear welt world, there are actually quite a few brands that you can genuinely look at that aren’t trying to do significant cost saving. They’re not having quarterly meetings to tear down that product. Brands for people to enjoy and not worry about quality. And I think that competition is good, because the reason people are buying our shoes is because they bought the others to begin with. I don’t think too many of our customers only have Grant Stone.
On the direct-to-consumer point, there are a couple brands that really stand out that are very, very price-competitive. But I guess it’s a test of time. Can you do that for the long term, and how does that work out? If they can make it work, more power to them. If they can continue making a great product and it’s incredibly competitively priced, that’s great. But like my grandpa always said, I’ll never apologize for quality. We’re making this product, and people are going to buy it because it’s that good.
Stitchdown: Back to the shoes. What do you have coming up next? Styles? Leathers? Anything else new and exciting?
Wyatt: Honestly for us as a brand, the biggest hurdle on the operations side is inventory. Because we’re so small, when you hit a little bit of growth, it’s drastic. And so the inventory for us has been one of our primary focuses and concerns. I would love to do shell cordovan and four different colors of kudu and everything else. It just hasn’t worked out in a way where we could, because we’re trying to buy enough of anything to at least satisfy a good portion of the demand in multiple ways.
And because of that, it’s been a little bit maybe mundane, as far as, we have a couple of colors. We have a couple articles and they’re pretty straightforward. We don’t have a lot of the unique SKUs that some guys who have 15 pair might say, “Wow, that’s super interesting. I want that pair.” But I think we’re getting closer to being able to start stocking those—at least, I think we can do them occasionally. So that’s still not a big part of the business.
Right now, we’re releasing a cap-toe boot, with a new pattern for us. It’s a little bit dressier in the context that you have a French binding versus a raw edge. You have an extra eyelet, so they’re spaced closer together. The eyelets are smaller. Everything’s more condensed and a little bit tighter. And so it looks a little dressier. You don’t have this huge heel counter overlay in the back. I think that’s going to be a pretty interesting boot for us. I think it’ll be a core product that gives us more diversity than our two boots that we have right now. I think both of our current boots are—it’s a strange category. They have certain details that you’d only find in a work boot, and then at the same time, with the shape and the materials, it’s a business casual boot. So the cap-toe is a very different type of boot than we’ve been making.
And I think maybe this cap-toe boot is a little bit more of a mainstream business casual boot. Guys could wear it with oxford shirts and not feel it’s too casual. It’s not just a raw denim guy who’s going to buy it. They’ll be in British tan calf and our crimson Chromexcel, with antique welts. Both of those have the rubber sole. Really it’s kind of a soft release of a new pattern in two colors that I think are something people can get behind. It laces up a little closer together, so it’s not quite so casual. And maybe it can be a platform that allows us to introduce a handful of leathers. Get into some suede. One day it’ll be a perfect pattern for shell cordovan—it’s more suited for shell cordovan than either of our other boots.
And then we have a tan Scotch grain Ottawa boot coming out in about a month or two. It’s pretty unique, you don’t see them everywhere. It’s not that common of a boot. I think it looks pretty sharp, and we actually do a pretty good amount of hand-staining on the top surface on those. So there’s a lot of contrast high and low, which I think gives it just a little touch of depth and richness that make it special.
Of course we’re sampling some more interesting kudu, like a light gray kudu with dark scarring throughout. That’s a pretty cool article paired with a natural welt and a natural midsole. Of course, it’s not going to be a core seller for us, but something more fun. Something that you can get behind and enjoy.
Stitchdown: So this is a fun one. What do you want to make? Not something you’re close to releasing, or think that you should do for the market. But what would you make if you could dream a little, business concerns completely put aside?
Wyatt: An unlined tassel loafer, shell cordovan. Dad and Grandpa used to wear the Brooks Brothers unlined penny all the time, it would be great as a tassel. I just love the pattern. And of course I love shell cordovan and I think the unlined, unstructured feel—I like the way the pattern drapes, and I think it feels great. Especially as an office shoe. Maybe not for walking all day. That would probably be one of my favorites to do.
Stitchdown: Very nice. Last one. We obviously have to circle back on your motocross career. Most important question. How were the boots?
Wyatt: It’s really one company, called Alpinestars. I think they’re made in Italy. I loved them. I guess part of the fun was just liking all the gear, and the bikes, and the parts, and all that stuff.
Stitchdown: There it is. That’s all I’ve got. Thanks for helping me make good on refusing to do short, boring interviews.
Wyatt: Heck yeah man. Thanks a ton, talk soon.