Shoe Customization Gains Big Traction

NEW YORK — Shoe customization is gaining traction at a rapid speed.

Notable sneaker brands such as Nike and New Balance have championed the practice for years, and luxury labels such as Stuart Weitzman and Bionda Castana are applying their own spins. Companies such as e-tailer Shoes of Prey have even made customization a primary focus — and it’s paying off.

Just last month, the firm partnered with Nordstrom on a brick-and-mortar “Design Your Own Shoes” studio, opening first at the retailer’s Bellevue Square location in Bellevue, Wash. Nordstrom plans to debut additional concept studios by first-quarter 2015.

Shoes of Prey also recently teamed with costume designer Janie Bryant, of “Mad Men” fame, on a capsule collection. “It’s amazing to be able to get a customized shoe. It’s a different mindset,” Bryant noted.

Larger companies are also getting in on the action. Stuart Weitzman has worked with key retailers such as Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus on customizing the brand’s popular 50/50 boot. “It’s not just revenue that is important, but the connection to all of those customers who have different kinds of taste levels,” CEO Wayne Kulkin said.

For fall ’14, the label also partnered with select locations of Lane Crawford. On top of that, it teamed with jewelry brand Erickson Beamon, Chinese women’s wear line Huishan Zhang and urban brand KTZ on special 50/50 looks.

Bionda Castana, co-founded by Natalia Barbieri and Jennifer Portman, also now offers shoe customization, putting the proper infrastructure in place for executing such requests this past October. All orders are turned around within a three-to-four-week time frame, with design sessions held at the house’s London studios or over Skype for global clients.

“The luxury customer appreciates the craft and exclusivity,” Barbieri said. “Everybody wants something unique, something they had a part in creating.”

The men’s custom market is also evolving.

Left Shoe Company’s chairman, Gordon Clune, is using his former experience as an aerospace engineer to bring the Scandinavian brand’s specialization in foot measurment to the next level. Inside one of the brand’s brick-and-mortar stores, customers put on a specialized sock, then step onto a platform with a built-in rotating camera. Using 3-D photo-capturing technology, the system efficiently measures both the left and right feet.

Left Shoe operates overseas locations, as well as a flagship store in Los Angeles and a recent pop-up shop in midtown New York City. Prices range from $395 to $3,500, with styles including oxfords, derbies, loafers and boots.

Moving forward, expansion is a key focus. Clune acquired the company’s North American licenses several years ago and is making investments in Europe.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if next year we end up in two or three different locations, [with partners] in New York,” Clune added, saying that he is also on the hunt for a flagship location in the city.

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