Oscar Hunt launches their range of hand-made shoes for men

Where do you go to buy a good pair of shoes? A difficult enough question for many chaps looking for something well made and stylish to adorn their feet, but what if it's not just you you're buying for?

What if you want to source a quality product to bring to an established customer base that has highly refined tastes?

That was the question faced by Chris Edwards when he decided that it was the right time for his made-to-measure suit company Oscar Hunt to offer its clients a high-quality range of leather shoes.

The perfect fit

He and his colleagues at Oscar Hunt thought about the suitably of one the heritage English makers, but according to Edwards the fit wasn't quite right.

"We wanted something that was a little bit unique in the sense of a brand that's not everywhere, we also wanted to offer a more modern last and to couple that with really good value."

The realisation then came that to find the shoes he was after he'd first need to slip into a comfy pair, as he was about to do a lot of travel and be on his feet a lot. Luckily for Edwards the first stop was Milan and its world famous shoe fair Micam.

"I'd been told by a guy in the shoe industry in Melbourne 'look, if you want to see every shoe in the world, just go to Micam'", says Edwards.

"So that's exactly what I did and essentially you've got a dizzying array of shoes from everywhere, but there is a huge presence there of Italian, Spanish and Portuguese makers.

"I just went through hundreds of different stalls and makers and it is all a much of a muchness in a lot ways, but certainly there were a few that caught my eye."

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Old world craftsmen

While the Italian footwear industry has enjoyed a global reputation, the leather shoe industries in Spain and Portugal, which date way back to the 16th and 17th centuries, have long played second fiddle.

However, the craftsmanship in the two Iberian countries never disappeared and now many of the leather-working centres, such as Guimarães, Oporto in Portugal and Al Mansa and Majorca in Spain are taking off again.

José Neves, the Portuguese founder and chief executive of online fashion marketplace Farfetch, is a big believer in Portuguese footwear manufacturing.

He told Business of Fashion in 2015 that the rise of the footwear industry in his home country can be put down to three factors: craftsmanship, low labour costs, and super quick turnarounds.

"Developing and producing leather goods in Portugal is a fantastic opportunity, as, basically, you get quasi-Italian quality with Italian or French materials, but with the plus of small runs and at a considerably lower cost," he said.

The names to know

While Portugal is best known for producing casual leather shoes, Spain is certainly enhancing its reputation for making high-quality dress shoes. And two brands in particular are leading the way: Carmina and Meermin.

Both brands manufacture out of Mallorca, however, things start to differ from there.

Carmina are one of the world's great artisan shoemakers and offer an incredible array of styles to choose from. Prices start around AUD$500, with many loyal customers believing they're worth every cent.  

Meermin on the other hand has enjoyed unbelievable success as a high-quality gateway brand. A pair of their Goodyear welted shoes will only set you around $220 (before shipping) with shoes made of French leather, Italian suede and Spanish shell cordovan (horse leather).

They also do made to order campaigns, which follow a traditional crowd-funding model. You commit to buy and when the pre-order quote is reached, production starts. From just over $300, it's a very enticing proposition for many shoe lovers.

The Cordwainer's touch

As much as he might have liked spending a few days and nights on Mallorca's beaches, Chris Edwards search for a high-level manufacturer took him to the other home of Spanish shoemaking Al Mansa, a small town in the La Mancha region southeast of Madrid.

There is visited the manufacturing facilities of the Cordwainer label and after seeing the production process up close he knew he'd found his maker.

"We wanted that striking finish, and even within a conservative shoe like an oxford toe-cap or a semi-brogue, there's still the opportunity to have something that's a little bit different and a little bit special. That's what we've found with Cordwainer. Made using the Goodyear welted construction method, we think it's a nice mix between modern and conservative style."

Cordwainer shoes are now available in Oscar Hunt's Melbourne and Sydney showrooms with styles including brogues, double monks and oxford toe caps selling for $495.