YOU BUILD ALL YOUR SHOES UTILIZING JUST ONE CRAFTSMAN PER SHOE, HAND-STITCHING THEM, AND YOU HAVE A SIGNATURE APPROACH TO ONE-PIECE UPPERS. ADDITIONALLY, YOU OFTEN BLEND STYLES TOGETHER. WHAT'S YOUR INTEREST/INSPIRATION FOR DOING THINGS THE WAY YOU DO?
I’ve spent 22 years now trying to fine tune and make products with the most depth and integrity that I can. Every technique we use and every craftsperson we work with - as well as every material decision - is based on that premise.
YOU'VE BEEN VOCAL ABOUT YOUR COMMITMENT TO SUSTAINABLY SOURCED, NATURAL MATERIALS THAT ARE ETHICALLY PRODUCED. BESIDES THE OBVIOUS MORAL REASONS TO DO THAT, WAS THERE A TURNING POINT WHEN YOU DECIDED TO FOLLOW THOSE PRINCIPLES AT FEIT?
Yeah. I had a sneaker company in the 90’s through the early 00’s and as it neared 1,000,000 pairs, I couldn’t believe the waste and level of toxicity within the products we were making. It was all basically just oil based plastics… which is what almost all footwear is still made of.
The other turning point was when I started studying handmade men’s shoes and realizing that many of the old ways and materials were far superior. Long story short, products today are built mainly with one goal in mind: profit. Design then is just a product of cutting corners and quick production instead of trying to make the best possible thing.
SIMILARLY, YOU MAKE ALL YOUR SHOES WITH HELP FROM MASTER CRAFTSMEN ALL OVER THE WORLD - MAINLY THE USA, ITALY, AUSTRALIA AND CHINA. IF YOU'RE WILLING, I'D LIKE YOU TO SPOTLIGHT CHINA FOR A MOMENT.
MANY PEOPLE ARE CONCERNED WITH BUYING THINGS MANUFACTURED IN PLACES WITH TRACK RECORDS OF LABOR ABUSES. I'D LIKE TO GIVE YOU THE OPPORTUNITY TO DISCUSS WHAT "MADE IN CHINA" REALLY MEANS. (BOTH FOR YOUR WORKERS AND GENERALLY.)
First of all, China has one of the longest histories in fine crafts. It was only in the 70’s that China entered into mass-production as we know it today. Then in the 80’s and 90’s - when Chinese manufacturing caught on in the rest of the world - it made its unfortunate mark and the past was either forgotten or was never known in the first place.
Second, today China is no longer the place to make cheap goods. Those days are long gone. China is actually quite progressive in its laws and observation of them so it can be quite an expensive venture and the workers are highly skilled.
Third, you can’t generalize. In every country worldwide, there’s the good, the bad and everything in-between. China is no different from any other country in that regard; it has good factories with good owners, and factories that are not so good. In 22 years, I have never seen anything that felt like an abuse to the people working there.
Factory work in China has been an important stepping stone for an entire generation. Often the workers in the factories make/made enough to look after themselves and send money home for their families to live and even thrive. Many of the children of those workers in the 80’s through the 00’s have become the first generation to attend college.
Fourth, our setup is like no other in China. As a matter of fact, no other in the world. We have a team of about 60 people who are trained and skilled in the art of hand-making shoes. They aren’t factory workers; they’re artisans.
IS THERE ANYTHING YOU'D LIKE TO CHANGE IN THE FASHION INDUSTRY?
The extremely large amount of waste it produces via creating cheap products that don’t last.
IF YOU HAD TO DO SOMETHING THAT ISN'T THIS, WHAT WOULD YOU DO?
I have been, and continue to be, troubled by the lack of respect that many countries have had for their indigenous communities and roots. I feel that countries and nations would benefit from a more balanced and respectful appreciation in this area and would be happy to spend time (if I was wanted) in that area.
Also, I’ve always loved film and feel that I’d enjoy spending more time in that.
WHEN DO YOUR BEST IDEAS COME? EARLY BIRD OR NIGHT OWL?
Usually while I sleep or when I’m at the factory building product.
DO YOU HAVE ANY HOBBIES THAT YOU WISH YOU HAD MORE TIME FOR?
Watching film, listening to podcasts and spending time with friends.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE STORE OR RESTAURANT IN YOUR HOMETOWN?
Wow. Well, we just moved from NY to LA, so I’m still searching. In NY it was Bar Pitti. I’d eat lunch there at min once a week. In Florence it’s Coco Lezzone. If you’re ever in need of a good meal in Florence, feel free to drop me a line…
WHAT RECORD IS THE MOST NOSTALGIC FOR YOU?
Oh man, you’re pulling on the heart strings there. It would have to be records that I was playing at home when growing up. Probably Harry Belafonte Live at Carnegie Hall.
ANYTHING ELSE YOU’D LIKE TO ADD?
I enjoyed the interview. Thank you very much for taking the time to listen and for the support.