Conversation with Ben Earley and Evan Fript of Paul Evans shoes, New York
November 17, 2016
It’s been a while for me to do some inspiring interviews with some great artisans, just when I was in between taking out my fall winter shoes to swap with my summer ones and working with my laptop, a fresh breath of air just came across my eyes, it’s not my own shoes that bought throughout the past years, but the range of well crafted leather oxfords shoes and boots that keep my eyes freeze for a moment in front of the monitor, the luxurious and beautiful patina, the exquisite and polished shoes that seduces me to find out more, until I reached the core of the innovative story behind this luxury shoes label, Paul Evans.
A New York based shoe label, founded by two former investment bankers, Mr. Ben Earley and Mr. Evan Fript, since 2013, their passion and vision not only offers the luxury and exquisite craftsmanship for style-savvy mens, but also a collection of leather accessories, which, all made in Italy by renowned factories that also produces premium shoes for some prestigious department store brands. Quality and workmanship of course is the key of success of the label, yet the artisan spirit of both Ben and Evan is not simply about the aesthetic part of the product, but also about business-acumen, intelligence and sensitivity towards today’s fast changing world. A product that captures the heart of the young stylish gentlemen to own a pair of well-crafted shoes, at a reasonable price, and a piece reminder of a smart gentlemen today to survive in this competitive world with enormous passion and drive. Possessing such confident and bravery like both founders to establish a label that’s completely different from the past career background, the result is something refreshing and timelessly classic that speaks the journey they have traveled with their uncompromising effort and passion.
I am delighted to have both Ben and Evan this time to share with our readers about their journey, their passion about creation, mens’ lifestyle, and more.
MMD: Hi Ben & Evan, such a delight to have you both gentlemen this time. First thing first, can you let me know what motivates to establish a shoe label instead of pursuing your career as an investment banker again?
Ben: Evan was a banker and I was in asset management, and both of us had been in NYC for a few years when the idea coalesced. We were dressing better on the job, getting out of those first few go-to suits and shirts and shoes you we had at the beginning of our careers. At some point, the associate or VP above you brings you to his "suit guy", and you find one of those cool online shirt companies that uses a body scanner, or you pop into Suitsupply for that first made-to-measure suit. There were all these up-and-coming menswear companies that were bringing down the prices for great professional clothing. Tailors were using the same Loro Piana fabrics but doing their tailoring in Hong Kong or China. The shirt companies were online, reducing costs on leases and salespeople. There were cool subscription companies like Sprezzabox that would finish your whole outfit with a nice lapel pin or bow tie, etc. But there was nothing interesting for shoes. Evan proposed the idea to me at a concert, and I laughed and laughed, but then said, "Okay."
Evan: We were also tired of working for others. We had been working for 4+ years at that point, and understanding how our "dream jobs" in finance were evolving, dealing with office politics or overbearing managers, it just got tiresome. We both speak our minds, too often, and prefer to bust our humps in pursuit of something we feel is ours, rather than someone else's.
MMD: Have you both ever study any shoe-making before founding the label? What makes you both decide to go for producing shoes but not other things such as tailoring & etc.?
Evan: Neither of us studied shoe-making previously.
Ben: Apart from my extensive time on NikeID.com as a teenager.
Evan: What's funny, in retrospect, is that we actually picked possibly the most difficult area of menswear in which to start. We certainly had more connections in the city to kick off a suiting company, or ties, or socks. Much of that can be done in US even. But we picked the product that doesn't have much manufacturing base in the US, that is a devil to get right in terms of fit, is cost intensive, very style dependent, is very SKU and inventory heavy, with a very long time of production. We didn't know it at the time, but making shoes is freaking hard. We've talked with guys who've run shoe operations for big brands, or ran their own brands, and they say flat out, "I'm never getting involved in shoes again."
Ben: And then we decided to do it halfway around the world in Italy, without speaking the language. So maybe our early ignorance was good, or we might not have even taken a swing at this.
Evan: At the same time, we love when people tell us "No," or "That's not possible," or "It can't be done." That's when we know there's a real opportunity to do something. That's part of our mentality.
MMD: Can you tell me what makes a Paul Evans’ shoes so special, and how much do you both involve in process of the product from the design to production?
Ben: What makes Paul Evans shoes, as a product themselves, so special is the quality of inputs, the level of care and amount of time put into each pair, and finally styling. We can't take much credit as two men for the inputs or the shoe-making expertise, since those are primarily controlled by our factory, but we have worked with them every week of every year we've been in business to make our product the best it can be. With shoes, it's some very little things you don't think about all the time that make the difference in high quality footwear. How many nails hold the heel in place? Is the outsole stitching closed or not? At what angle does the upper meet the outsole? How clean is the interior stitching around the panels? Whenever I'm in the factory, I am always asking, "How can we make this better?" Never once have I ever asked, "How can we do this for cheaper?" And it's easy to say all that, but it's another thing to execute it. There are maybe 10 factories in the entire world who can do what our factory does, so that's obviously helpful.
Evan: In terms of design, we aren't reinventing the wheel. We aren't one of those companies that runs around screaming about how they are disrupting a broken industry. We are just here to make the nicest shoes in your wardrobe at a price you can stomach. If you read our reviews, you can see how much a nice pair of shoes changes your day. There's reviews about amazing weddings or anniversaries because of the confidence our customers felt wearing Paul Evans. There's guys that say their girlfriend admitted to approaching them because of the quality of his shoes. Guys in job interviews who are being asked what type of shoes they've got on. Those stories are why we push the envelope so aggressively on quality and design. We aren't here just to slang some boring colors and silhouettes just to grab a bit of customer wallet share from those tired old shoe brands. We are here to bury all of them in the dirt.
Ben: Evan and I are involved, start to finish in design and production. Some shoes, like our Wholecut Martin, obviously don't requires much "design" - it's one piece of leather. But there's also consideration for lasts and coloring in that case. Sometimes with our factory, it can take just one sample run for them to hit exactly what I want, and sometimes it's more alterations. But their skill level matches our ambition, and we are very much on the same page. I just got back from Napoli where one entire day was devoted to coloring. I just sat at the bench where they finish all the shoes and we talked ad nauseam about the right tone and depth and transition. They were probably really happy to see me get on my flight back home by the end of the week!
MMD: ‘artisan’ and ‘craftsmanship’, how did these two words means to you? Or to your label as a whole?
Evan: We sort of hit on this above, but those are the basis for our brand, alongside "service". Many men in the US don't understand those two words as it relates to their footwear choices. Sure, guys can eyeball a nice shoes from a crappy one, but it's amazing many will still choose the boring one. American men are certainly a victim of choice, or lack thereof, but they are also a tad less understanding of what a nice pair of shoes can do to your entire wardrobe than our brothers across the Atlantic. We wanted to bring artisanal craftsmanship down to an accessible price point so that all these guys can experience the feeling. It's an amazing feeling to know you've got a work of art on your feet. "Step up your shoe game" has been our motto for a long time, and guys have really latched onto that mentality.
MMD: Among all the beautiful shoes models you created, which one(s) is your favorite and why?
Ben: Practicality is sort of my calling card, so I have to say the Newman Chukka boot. I wear my cuoro suede and oxblood boots all the time. They are such versatile shoes that look great with a suit or jeans or slacks, and I've even worn them with shorts. A pair of Newmans is always with me when I travel, knowing the varying levels of formality I'll be exposed to along the way.
Evan: The Martin wholecut is my favorite. It is our best-selling shoe, and it exemplifies what we are doing at Paul Evans in so many ways. The Martin, and our brand, are quite simple. One piece of leather - one shoe company with only a dozen or so styles. But its simplicity is so striking, and paired with our amazing hand-painted colors (and Ben and my colorful nature!), the Martin is a sight to behold.
MMD: in terms of mens lifestyle nowadays, what is your definition about great style? What are the special attributes that a modern day gentleman should have?
Ben: Again, I'm not a showy, complicated guy. I think great style is an individual goal. What makes you feel great? What looks good on you? What fits your personality? Accepting there's a few hard yes's and no's (square toed shoes), as long as you keep within those fairly loose boundaries, I think anything goes as long as each guy finds their niche. That doesn't mean wearing whatever though. It takes time and effort to find yourself in clothing. I would argue no guy, or gal, ever totally gets it right either. There's always a few things you realize a year or so later, not relating to trends, where you go,
"dang, what was I thinking that night?" Learning, improving, and making sure each piece fits, literally and figuratively.
Evan: The most special attribute is confidence. This speaks to Ben's point about finding out who you are as a dresser. Any guy that dresses for himself and leaves the house each day knowing he's presenting his best self can conquer the world.
MMD: In such competitive world nowadays especially for mens luxury shoes, how do you see where Paul Evans is heading in the next 2 years?
Evan: What competition? **looks around curiously** I don't see anyone else here. There's no other new luxury dress shoe brand in the market, even since we've launched over 3 years ago. I mean, real LUXURY. The next two years are sort of dependent on financing. We've got such a long wait list for our stuff, we can only make product as quickly as our bank account allows us. But in the five to ten year range, there won't be a guy in the corner of the global market that knows menswear that won't know Paul Evans. Plain and simple.
Ben: Like we said earlier, every brand in the world that sells even a borderline quality product in menswear: we are coming for your customers.
MMD: What kind of advice will you give to some young designer, or even entrepreneur, if they want to start their own label?
Ben: Customer service customer service customer service customer service customer service customer service customer service customer service customer service customer service customer service customer service. Did I mention, customer service? But seriously, great design will never be enough. But service and marketing can overcome design. But we've got all of them, so that helps too.
Evan: Don't ever take ‘No’ for an answer. And tell people ‘No’ all the time.
Special thanks to Mr. Ben Earley and Mr. Evan Fript, image courtesy of Paul Evans.