One of the best bespoke shoemakers at work today, Gaziano & Girling’s Daniel Wegan explains why he loves particular exotic hides, how he ensures customer satisfaction, and the importance of taking the time to get it right — even if that requires hundreds of hours’ work.
DANIEL WEGAN ON HIS FAVOURITE MATERIALS
“Certain characteristics of calf, like it being tight in one direction and stretchy in the other, that’s perfect for shoemaking. That’s why my favourite hides to work with are box calf, and also alligator or crocodile — they’re tough enough to be worn a lot and the material lends itself to shoemaking. Many exotic hides, such as snakes and lizards and things like that, they can be a little bit brittle. Usually once they’re made up, they’re fine and they will last a long time, but they’re not quite as pleasurable to work with for a shoemaker. They can be a bit sensitive. They don’t have the same elasticity as calf. Calf was made to do the job, it wants to be made into shoes, whereas a lot of exotic leathers like stingrays and so forth, you kind of have to fight them all the time. You can make a beautiful shoe, but sometimes maybe the craftsmanship could be a tiny bit compromised. You’re a slave to some of the characteristics of materials like stingray, which is very tough to stitch. You have to work your way around its characteristics, rather than working together with it. So as a craftsman you’re usually more happy with the results when you use a material like calf or something similar. Even though a lot of the rarer exotic skins make beautiful shoes, from a craftsman’s perspective I’d probably prefer the friendlier materials. Crocodile or alligator has a similar elasticity to calf, so out of all of the exotics, I definitely prefer alligators and crocodiles over lizards and snakes. Still, I wouldn’t ever deter somebody from owning a pair of shoes in these materials because they’re lovely to look at, I can totally see the appeal. It’s just that to work on, if I could pick, I would definitely use a calf, or alligator or crocodile.”
DANIEL WEGAN ON CUSTOMER SATISFACTION
“It’s very, very rare that a customer will reject a pair of our bespoke shoes. Maybe once or twice a year. I can live with that. It hurts your soul a bit, as a craftsman, but it’s part of the business and you’ve just got to eat it up. When that does happen, normally it’s down to communication — what the customer thought they were getting was something different to what they finally got. It makes a big difference having the same person fitting and making the shoes. I’ll make sure my interpretation is in line with what you requested and do a lot of trial fittings. I always try to set my standards higher than the customer’s, eliminate any issues before the shoes reach the customer, then I know we’re going to be fine. For the most part, when there are changes to be made, it’s small things, like after six months wearing the shoes, the customer says they’d prefer the fit to be a little roomier or something like that. We try to make those changes, however we aim to get it right in the beginning. We love the shoes we make, but once they’re done we really don’t want to see them again. I want the client to come back for repairs, not for adjustments or modifications. If I see that they need a new sole because they loved their shoes and wore them a lot, I’m really happy to do it, I love to restore old shoes, but you don’t want to see them come back and forth because of little things that could have been avoided if you’d taken the time to get it right in the first place. That’s why a first pair of Gaziano Girling may take a little longer than another maker’s.”
DANIEL WEGAN ON TAKING TIME
“You know, this business is based on people coming back. It’s not enough to make one first pair, a bespoke shoemaker needs to keep customers happy and gain their trust — from the start, you have to show that you’ll do whatever it takes to make them a very good pair of shoes. We do that. It’s even worth taking a small loss in the beginning if that means the customer will return again and again. Spending a little bit more time and money, it’s not that big a deal in the grand scheme of things. If we’ve already worked 100 hours on a first pair of shoes, we’ll happily spend another 40 hours to make them perfect. I have projects that I’ve been working on over the course of years for customers, but they’re patient, and if they’re cool with waiting then I’m okay with that amount of time, too. Often, when we take on complicated projects, I’ll say, ‘Sure, I’ll do this for you, but I can’t give you a timeframe, you’re going to have to just trust me that it’ll be done when it’s just right. If you want a pair of shoes for Christmas, then I’d rather not do something so complicated for you because I’m going to have to rush it and it’s not going to be right. You’ll be unhappy and it’s just going to be a sad, sad story.’ Perfection requires patience.”
Kevin Seah is the sole Southeast Asian stockist of Gaziano & Girling footwear. An exclusive array of ready-to-wear and made-to-order G&G shoes is available in store at the Kevin Seah atelier [MAP]. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or phone +65 6532 2018.