“It’s not just the idea of making my own shoes,” said new designer Jessica Perdomo about what drew her to footwear after meeting a family of cobblers while traveling in Spain. “It’s about making shoes that actually fit.”
The result is JJ Gray, her made-in-Spain line of custom riding boots and oxfords that are timeless and rigorous enough for both “Downton Abbey” and downtown style-setters.
Though not formally trained in footwear, Perdomo is a pavement-pounding New Yorker who learned a thing or two about shoes while working at Ferragamo, Ralph Lauren Purple Label and Dunhill.
“I was in sales and stood on my feet all day long. I was tired of spending $1,000 on shoes that were uncomfortable,” she said, recalling how the earfuls she received from customers gave her ideas for her own collection. “It’s the best experience, because you hear directly what people want, what they’re looking for and how much they’re looking to spend.”
Launched in 2014, JJ Gray’s tight edit of silhouettes includes the Luther tall English boot and the Edgar dress riding boot, which retail for $390 to $1,100. The line is primarily sold through the brand’s e-commerce site, though a few styles are housed at stores such as New York’s Only Hearts, so customers can get a feel for the boots before placing orders, which take about six weeks to complete.
Perdomo said a traditional sales model doesn’t suit her shoes, however traditional they appear. “I’m not sure we need to be in a retail space,” she said. “Direct-to-consumer is how I can keep costs down and the quality high.”
As the brand developed, social media and social connections were instrumental in helping Perdomo parlay JJ Gray from a side project into a business with legs. “Most of my clients have come via word of mouth,” said the designer. “Once it got out that we can make a custom boot with the finest leather at a reasonable price, people have been e-mailing me nonstop.”