When designers Nicholas Hurtado and Andres Nino, friends and collaborators from Colombia, saw their first pair of high-end men's shoes hit shelves, they were justifiably excited. Then they saw the price tag. The shoes were fancy, but they weren't hundreds and hundreds of dollars fancy. Disgusted by the markup, the designers immediately started to look for a way out of the retail system. Failing to find anything, they built Beckett Simonon, a web retailer that sells $130 men's shoes that would go for three times that in a department store. At the site's price point, customers pay for the shoes rather than the branding or the shopping experience.
"Our shoes were being priced out of reach for our friends," says Hurtado. "We wanted to focus on making shoes instead of justifying that money."
The high prices of their goods didn't bother Hurtado and Nino as much as the fact that those prices had nothing to do with the goods themselves and everything to do with where they were sitting when customers happened along. Their disdain for the 200 percent to 250 percent markups typical of high-end shoes has only deepened since Beckett Simonon began finding an audience. "We recently went to a Macy's and the shoes were the same as ours in terms of quality but unattainably priced," says Nino, who is always looking for a better value proposition.
It's this sense that you should pay for what you get and nothing else that led the Colombian designers to Poland, which is off the edge of the international style map. A Baltic tannery churning out excellent full-grained leathers became a crucial partner.
"Italian leather doesn’t make a real difference unless the leather is actually better than other leathers," says Nino. "We've got great Polish leather and we're talking to an Italian supplier, but we want to make sure it provides real value."
The leather makes its way from northern Europe to Agra, the Indian city best known for the Taj Mahal that also does a healthy side business producing shoes for well-known brands. Following monk strap, oxford, longwing, and chukka boot patterns refined back in the Bogota design studio, workers in Agra now construct durable shoes using a Goodyear welting process that uses a strip of rubber to more solidly connect the sole to the body of the shoe. The results are comfortable, flexible from day one, and handsome in an understated way – exactly the sort of product to make established companies shake in their overpriced products.
And that's the intended effect. Hurtado and Nino gave their company its somewhat unwieldy name as a tribute to Irish playwright Samuel Beckett and Paul Simonon, English bassist for The Clash. According to Hurtado, the two famously iconoclastic personalities embody a sort of "against the establishment cleverness" that he and his partner wanted to emulate. Their goal is to lay waste to a system they find not only fusty, but also disingenuous. And they don't intend to stop with their new Chelsea boots. The Beckett Simonon business plan calls for massive growth and the creation of both capsule collections – Maine-made moccasins and Italian-made slippers – and major new lines. If all goes well, there will be sneakers.
"We're just starting," says Hurtado. "We want to do everything." [Goodyear Welted Oxfords, $130 with free shipping; beckettsimonon.com]