The diamond people take it to a whole other place, but there really is something to this notion of Fewer Better Things.
Think Quality. (Remember Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance?). If you’re less philosophically inclined, think Amortization. If you could buy a $200 pair of shoes that you will love and wear for the next 10 years, or a $20 pair of shoes that you will trash within the year, which would you choose?
Allen Edmonds is one of the last shoemakers on the north shore of Lake Michigan, once a hotbed of footwear manufacturing, most of which has long since relocated to the Far East. Their process involves 220 steps from sole to lace, resulting in handcrafted shoes that cost $325. This year, against the backdrop of 99 percenters and housing foreclosures, Allen Edmonds expects to produce 500,000 pairs of shoes, up from 350,000 last year.
The craft of shoemaking - and its heritage brands - is experiencing something of a coolness renaissance. It turns out that in a recession, people tend to seek value in the things they buy, even if the price tag is actually higher. This is especially true in the shoe category - maybe because the notion of being ‘well-heeled’ is deeply ingrained.
On the men’s fashion and lifestyle website StyleForum, there is a such a thing as the Allen Edwards Appreciation Thread, where men of a feather can wax poetic about – what else? - their Allen Edwards. The gentleman who posted the photograph shown here, “my collection,” (who lovingly provided the model name of each pair – back and front rows, left to right) summed up their appeal: “at 24 years old i hope i can be wearing most of these well into my life”
So how do you go about building things that will last? If you’re building a shoe, you use the highest quality materials, you take the time to craft each one by hand rather than a using more ‘efficient’ production system, you double- and triple-check the quality. You elevate to sacred the importance of process, and you commit to the pursuit of excellence.
And if you’re building a brand? Not so different. Jim Collins’ 1995 management book, Built To Last, studied a group of exceptional brands that have stood the test of time – Hewlett-Packard, 3M, Motorola, Procter & Gamble, Merck, Nordstrom, Sony, Disney, Marriott, and Wal-Mart – with an average age of nearly 100 years and sustained strong performance.
He found that enduring brands indeed focus on process rather than simply on product. They build their cultures around a core ideology – core values and a sense of purpose beyond just making money. They set the bar high, expect only the best. (Collins calls this phenomenon Big Hairy Audacious Goals, but we don’t have to.) And they strive to continuously experiment, seek, search, improve, innovate. Lifelong curiosity. No shortcuts, no ‘better done than good,’ no ends justifying the means. This is an artist’s way of approaching his craft. We call it integrity.