Awl & Sundry takes aim at designer labels with bespoke shoes for men
If the shoe fits, wear it. If it doesn’t, find an artisan shoemaker who will craft it for you at a fraction of the price. That’s what Nikunj Marvania did.
After toiling with the frustrations of not being able to track down a decent pair of shoes with a reasonable price tag, Marvania travelled the world to do some research on the shoemaking industry.
His educational journey quickly lamented itself as a passion into the processes of tailored shoemaking and he returned with the idea of building his own brand which could revolutionise the way men shopped for shoes. Awl & Sundry is the result.
The online shoe tailoring store allows users to design their own shoes from the ground-up based on a range of styles, materials, colours and sizing. This is all done in real time and customers can build and watch their shoes come to life. The degree of customisation is extensive, giving customers the option to monogram their own personal message onto the shoe.
Given the limited but steadily growing scope for men’s fashion in Australia, Marvania says that the reception for Awl & Sundry has so far been great. The business is currently seeing repeat orders from existing customers in a span of less than two months since their first purchase and this has been achieved without any paid marketing.
However with site sales acting as the only form of revenue for the business, Marvania could face some stiff competition in the tight men’s luxury market.
“I do believe some of the big fashion houses are producing absolute rubbish quality shoes that are not only hurting the customer but also the industry in general,” he explains.
“Educating the customer about the manufacturing process will help them understand the cost and time associated with making high quality products. This will not only open customer’s perspective on the higher priced products but also enhance the quality of the products across industry.”
At this stage, the $350 starting price could prove to be a potential hurdle for the business as a majority of Australian men are still indifferent to the appeal of tailoring their shoes to simply purchasing them off a rack. If offline competitors offer a range of styles of the same quality and price, men as the simple creatures they are, will still tend more towards just walking into a store and picking up a pair in under fifteen minutes provided the shoe looks half decent and fits.
Regardless, Marvania is pitching his business towards those fashion-weary who seek customisation and uniqueness on another level. He says that their advantage is squarely in the tailoring space where the price point for a made-to-order shoe in the offline world usually starts at $1,200.
“There are number of other shoe brands in our price range but none of them offer the customisation, quality and durability at our price point,” he says.
How is this quality ensured? Awl & Sundry source their leathers from tanneries in Europe whilst following the same construction processes as higher end makers such as Saint Crispins, John Lobb, Gaziano and Girling.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing for Marvania to reach this point. There are a number of challenges when starting a brand but this can get even more complicated for a made-to-order brand.
“It’s takes some time to build the brand recognition, for people to trust your product. Fortunately, we have had happy customers who have spread the word for us and also the fashion community has been very helpful,” says Marvania.
He noted sizing as another challenge that most online tailoring brands like his face.
“We have been able to resolve this during our beta testing phase. Besides these, there are a number of challenges on the product and manufacturing end but we have a very high standard for quality and will continuously strive to improve our products.”
For now Marvania says that the brand is focused solely on making beautiful shoes for the customer. “Our mission is to democratise the luxury of bespoke fashion. We take customer experience very seriously and all of our decisions start with one question: Will this product enhance customer experience?”
“If the answer to this question is ‘yes’ we explore that option further. We are very customer centric.”