While their highly successful direct-to-consumer business model–including a store where merchandise can be tried on but must be ordered online–is not unlike that of Bonobos or Warby Parker, the two guys behind the amazing men’s dress shoe brand Paul Evans hope that in a few years time that they’ll be known as “a young Ferragamo” among their devoted fans.
Started four years ago by Benjamin Earley and Evan Fript, college friends who were working in finance at the time, Paul Evans offers extremely high-quality and attractive shoes that are produced in Italy by the same factory in Naples that creates them for several luxury brands. But the sales hook here is that Paul Evans offers its shoes for about half the price, which is why guys are willing preorder and to wait up to six months for their footwear to be delivered. (What other brand can boast of that?)
The label, which has since expanded into accessories, also has a brick-and-mortar Guideshop in New York’s Greenwich Village where customers can verify their size (the brand uses European sizing) and see for themselves just how superior the product is. I recently met with Earley there to discuss the past and future of this gotta-know-about footwear venture….
What’s the background of Paul Evans?
We launched August 2013. We launched with three styles in three sizes with one color each and we have expanded to dozens of styles, dozens of colors, and an array of loafers, sneakers and oxfords included. I was at JP Morgan and Evan was at a few broker dealers in investment banking and he came to me with the idea. He said that he didn’t like the shoe options from a style standpoint and didn’t like the prices either so let’s see if we can do something about them.
We started sourcing at the beginning and it took almost a year. We sampled in Spain and Portugal and actually had those on board first and our Italian samples showed up last and those sitting next to the others were just night and day.
What makes your shoes so special?
Our factory has done work with Louis Vuitton, Testoni, they make tons of Ferragamo women’s and when I am there I see Brioni stuff and ISAIA stuff and it’s the same inputs, it’s the same leathers, it’s the same handwork and you’re looking at $800 minimum on their stuff. It’s really not different whatsoever on all of the work and all of the inputs and the time spent on the shoes. Our pretty robust double monk chukka boot is tops at $445 but everything is around $400 for the same quality.
What are your most popular styles?
The oxfords. Those are our bestsellers and we keep on trying to expand the oxford range in terms of colors. The Martin is our bestseller. The Martin in marrone our mid brown by far and I think that guys are really drawn to the casual elegance of just a single piece of leather.
And obviously the penny loafer is super popular and we’ve seen the chukka boot from the beginning. Guys were already used to the chukka boot from Clarks with the crepe sole but are not as used to the dress chukka boot. It’s a little bit of: Is this casual? Is this dressy? And I think it falls everywhere. You see a lot more guys dressing casually even to work so I think the chukka boot plays so well. The double monk model is especially popular.
How do you describe the line’s aesthetic?
Updated classics we say. There’s nothing completely out of the ordinary here. It’s all gorgeous and we let it speak for itself. We’re not trying to overcomplicate things.
Do you and Evan personally design the shoes?
Yes. We’re not reinventing the wheel, obviously, but we’re just going with stuff that we like and stuff that we see around New York that we see as being popular. We work with our factory and there’s an amazing designer who works with the factory and he kind of executes a lot of our ideas. I guess we’re the client, he’s the architect, and our factory is the contractor.
How often do you release new styles?
We’re not really on a seasonal schedule. We pretty much buy shoes when we have money to buy shoes. We’re constantly trying to restock.
When and why did you open the Guideshop?
February of last year. The store is absolutely beneficial to the brand. When we were talking stores Andy Dunn of Bonobos stressed to us that he would have tried to open stores sooner. He had termed it clicks to bricks but we like to say clicks to bricks and back again because you get the guy who comes in who might just buy one pair of shoes but he’s got his size or the guy that comes in from out of town for business. We see them pull up in a taxi, hop out with their carryon, get the size and run on to their meeting and go back to North Carolina, Chicago or St. Louis and buy from there…. The store has been amazing so far. And we would love to add more locations when we have the funds to: midtown, downtown, Boston, D.C., San Francisco, L.A., Chicago.
Who is your customer?
Early on we were saying ages 24 to 39. Obviously you need a little bit of money to buy a $400 pair of shoes so they are relatively affluent but I think the age range has expanded incredibly – especially here in New York in the shop.
And you ship worldwide?
Yep. Since day one we have shipped internationally for free. We shipped into over 80 countries last year on every continent except Antarctica. I think a lot of those guys find us on the menswear blogger and Instagram space because we don’t do advertising internationally or have the site translated.
You are also known for your great customer service…
Customer service has absolutely been a priority from day one. Everyone on our team does customer service and I still pick up the phone in the middle of the night. It’s keeping the customers happy and we know that the product is amazing so it’s stewarding the product we’ve always felt like is our responsibility.
And you’re not just shoes anymore?
We’ve added some other goods. We’ve got gloves now that are made separately in Naples at an amazing manufacturer that works with some high-end brands. We’ve got socks that are made in Brescia and all the bags are also made in Naples. We are definitely trying to add to the line judiciously so that we can access new customers with different goods. But, yeah, leather goods, especially belts, are our highest turning item
What has been the best thing about having the business thus far?
Just having your own business and being responsible for yourself has been the best. Evan and I loved finance and I was trading stocks when I was 12 – my parents encouraged that. That’s what I thought I wanted to do but five or so years in the dream job isn’t exactly the dream you thought it would be. You just want to have a little more responsibility and a little bit more control over your day to day.
What are your top rules for buying dress shoes?
Just wear nice shoes! I feel like that is rule number one. A guy will be wearing an amazing off the rack or a clearly made-to-measure suit and just the strangest pair of shoes that’s not accentuating everything. You check the outfit top to bottom and a lot of times on the way back up it’s a lot more disappointing given that he did not apply that level of detail to the shoes and it feels like he’s missing out. The comments on our website constantly say, “I am constantly stopped or given compliments about these shoes.” That is the number one thing we hear all the time. So number one is just be considerate of the footwear – and don’t overthink it.
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