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Allen Edmonds Celebrates 100 Years Of U.S. Shoemaker Craft

Allen Edmonds, the fine menswear shoe brand, is celebrating its centennial, having been founded in 1922 in Belgium, WI. It’s honoring its past by dipping into its archive to release limited editions of collectible styles, like the classic Mora Double Monk model, and looking to its future by offering the Mora in a sneaker version.

Now headquartered about ten miles down the road in Port Washington, Allen Edmonds has a storied past. It gained a generation of lifelong followers after supplying footwear to the U.S. Army and Navy during World War II. And it’s been the choice for every president on inauguration day from Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush until Barack Obama broke the tradition. To date, it’s sold over 12 million pairs of shoes.

Still made in the U.S.A., it is one of only 200 American shoe companies manufacturing here, down from over 300 in 2002. And it’s the undisputed leader in American-made men’s legacy footwear since Johnston & Murphy, founded in 1850, closed its remaining U.S. factory five years ago.

With as much as 99% of the $86 billion worth of footwear sold here imported, American shoemakers are a dying breed. Today only about 11,000 people are employed by footwear manufacturers, compared to over 20,000 in 2002, and not all work on the factory floor.

Allen Edmonds has no intention of letting its secret sauce of American-made craft and quality go. “Allen Edmonds has a 100-year legacy of American craftsmanship, quality and authenticity,” said Jay Schmidt, president of Caleres
CAL
, which acquired the company in 2016 for $255 million. “We have a proven formula that works and works well.”

The company employs 135 craftspeople, many 2nd and 3rd-generation makers, who help train the next generation through an apprentice program.

“It’s a time-honored tradition for our company because ours is a high-touch model where every shoe goes through a 212-step process and is touched by up to 60 hands,” he said.

Schmidt also relates Allen Edmonds supported sustainability long before it was fashionable. Customers have always been able to send back a pair of worn shoes for complete refurbishing.

“On average some 26,000 pairs of shoes are recrafted each year and we have put over one million pairs of shoes back into circulation,” he shared. “Our shoes are a lifelong investment since a pair can typically be recrafted up to four times.”

Customization is another important component of the Allen Edmond’s formula. During recrafting, the customer can change up features on their existing pair, like adding rubber or colored soles, and the company also offers fully customized shoes when purchasing a new pair.

“We do it all. We design it, we manufacture it, we sell it and we craft it. We are as connected with our customers as a brand can be,” Schmidt continued.

In keeping with its legacy heritage, Allen Edmonds maintains selective distribution. It operates over 60 stores and a website and is carried by exclusive retail partners like Nordstrom
JWN
. Its direct-to-consumer sales are split about 50/50 between its branded stores and website.

While Caleres doesn’t reveal specifics about each brand in its brand portfolio reporting segment, including Sam Edelman, Vionic, Naturalizer, Ryka, Blowfish and more, its brand business advanced 20% year-over-year to contribute $1 billion to the company’s total $2.8 billion revenues in 2021. Famous Footwear, with some 900 retail locations, is its other reporting segment.

As much as Allen Edmonds celebrates its legacy, it is stepping into the future by reimagining its classic styles for the next generation of fashion-forward men. For example, its Park Avenue cap-toe oxford dress shoe originally introduced in 1982 remains its best-selling style but is now also offered in a lug sole that is more casual and contemporary.

“Given our heritage, we have great richness to draw from. We find the next generation of customers are rediscovering the classics, but we can quickly pivot to reimagine those classics in different materials and soles that can go from dress to casual to weekend, including sneakers, boots, loafers and of course, dress shoes for business and formal wear,” Schmidt said

When the company spotted people returning to social events after the pandemic, it quickly introduced its Carlyle plain-toe oxford classic with a patent-leather upper that immediately shot to one of its top ten styles this past spring.

“People tend to think of the male customers as some kind of Neanderthal, but the truth is our customers really care about how they look and we have something for each of them,” he continued.

To show just how stylish one can be in the Park Avenue oxford, the company commissioned acclaimed photographer Billy Kidd to record 100 famous and not-so-famous but all-together remarkable people wearing a pair. And in keeping with today’s inclusive culture, women, children and even dogs are featured in the catalog.

“No one builds a legacy brand by standing still,” Schmidt said and is convinced that the future of the Allen Edmonds brand is going to be even greater than its past.

“They say, ‘What goes around, comes around,’ and we see people coming back from the pandemic with a desire to own fewer, better things. Our shoes aren’t cheap – the Park Avenue oxford retails for $395 – but it’s an investment that lasts and last.

“We are connected with our past, connected with this moment and we’re going to stay connected in the future over the next 100 years,” he confidently exclaimed.