Monday, July 6, 2015

Brands: The Great American Shoe Company

It was two years ago in October 2013, I was jogging in Hyde Park down Jan Smuts Avenue, when I came across a billboard with a list of shops in a particular centre. One name caught my attention: Allen Edmonds, The Great American Shoe Company. It goes without saying that I was incredulous. I couldn't believe what my eyes were showing me; Allen Edmonds was and is available in South Africa. Naturally, my curiosity had been piqued and I had to take a closer when I had time. When I visited the store, I set up an appointment with one of the owners and scheduled to visit for an interview later on in the month. Unfortunately, I didn't make it and when 2014 also passed without a visit, I made it a point to revisit and schedule another interview in 2015.

When I made a stop in March this year, during a 5 day visit in Johannesburg, Richard Kushlick didn't remember me. So, I had to start afresh, introduce myself, what I do and why I was interested in Allen Edmonds. We set up a time for the following day and while he continued with his day's procedings, I proceeded to browse the store again and take pictures.

Richard Kushlick and Tyrone Ridgway are the owners and licensed distributors of Allen Edmonds in South Africa. The brand however, has a history in this country which dates back to the 1960s. In those days AE was very popular among black men and it was also easily available through a wholesale distributor in Johannesburg. The main retailers during that time were City Hall, City Outfitters, and Kayser. The distribution and retailing continued from the 60s to the late 80s. In the early 90s AE was discontinued in South Africa due to political unrest and sanctions; and for 15 years AE was not available in the country.

In the mid 2000s the AE brand returned to the country and a distribution license was granted for Sub Saharan Africa; the DRC, Angola, Botswana, and South Africa are where they can be found in Africa. The lack of widespread distribution throughout the continent is due to the fact that AE is strict about where it can be located and its shoes sold. In South Africa the situation is rather peculiar because there are distribution outlets in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town, and they can also be found at Spitz stores ( I never knew this and I surely didn't fathom this kind of relationship). Spitz stores in Sandton, Eastgate, Rosebank, Menlyn, V&A Waterfront, and Century City, are where you can find AE.

Mr Kushlick and Mr Ridgway are well versed about the AE brand and are proud and ready to intimate to anyone about the brand, its heritage, history and how wonderful the shoes are. Mr Kushlick went on to tell me about the beauty of AE shoes in that they are classic, timeless, have a market in South Africa, and that they haven't even scraped the surface of the brand's potential because it is still in its developmental stages.

 I asked about their relationship with the headquarters in Wisconsin, USA, and he said that they received full, extensive and on-going training from the Allen Edmonds University. This is where staff get trained on sales, distribution and customer service. Training for other retailers such as Spitz is expensive and is mostly centred around the overall AE customer experience. Therefore there might be a difference in the customer experience because with retailers it might be clinical but with the AE brand it is centred and focused on the overall experience.

Talking about growth of the business Mr Kushlick informed me that 10% of sales are from outside the US and 15% are online. There is also immense interest and buying power from markets such as China, Russia, France, and England. Mr Kushlick was bold in his assertion that AE has the potential to match Carvela in terms of popularity and sales.

One thing I wanted to know was the relationship between Allen Edmonds and Horween. Exactly how they fit together. Simply put, the Horween Leather Company supplies leather shells for footwear to Allen Edmonds. Horween is mostly known for its Shell Cordovan, which is a leather made from horse hide. Horween deal mostly in horse and cow hide in producing leather goods. The importance of shell cordovan is in its longevity. Shell cordovan shoes can last more than 20 years, and this is evident with AE shoes.

Apart from the top quality leather used for AE shoes, their construction is also of the highest standard. AE shoes are both Goodyear welted and hand sewn. There's a look and feel about welted shoes and when you try them on they feel solid.

The AE Dalton brogue boot made me rethink my stance on its suitability for a suit. My experience has always been via pictures on the internet and to me it always appeared as rather chunky, heavy and thick soled, which made it very unsuitable for business dress. My views changed however,when I saw it up close and felt it. It's very light and slim. I was truly surprised especially the fact it looked very dressy despite the broguing. Mr Ridgway expressed that what makes the Dalton such a unique boot is the character of the leather, the toebox, and its patina. It's the perfect boot for autumn and winter.

Part of the customer experience at AE is the fitting process. Mr Kuchlick stated that they may ask a customer what size he wears but they determine the customer's real size. The image above shows the foot measuring device which is used to measure the customer's foot so that the proper size can be ascertained. It is a meticulous process because the foot is measured from all angles. Factors that are considered in the measuring process are the fit, whether the arch of the foot is low or high, the length and width measurement, the flex point of the foot and shoe, as well as an assessment of the depth of the foot.

AE also has its own repair service called recrafting. This is when a shoe is sent to the AE factory for repairs in order to extend the life of the shoes. Recrafting can be done to restore the leather of the upper or replacing of the sole. It costs up to R1700 and despite the high price you're guaranteed an extra 20 years to your AEs.

Surprisingly, most of the AE clientele is black and they comprise 70% of the customer base. The remaining 30% is largely a racial mix. The fact that the brand has a history steeped in heritage, and products made of the highest quality, is what endears it to black customers who are in the 30-35 year bracket.

For me, this was a great lesson and wonderful insight into this venerable American brand. When I asked Mr Kushlick about their customer retention he said that the first encounter with a customer is about getting their buy-in, but he has full confidence in the brand because an AE customer is a customer for life.

Allen Edmonds can be located at Bakos Brothers, 226 Jan Smuts Avenue, Randburg.

PG: Man to man, generation to generation.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Reader Question: Shirt & Pocket Square For Grey Suit And Tan Shoes?

photo supplied by reader

Hi Mxolisi

I want to wear this gray suit with brown shoes, tan specifically. What colour shirt and pocket hanky would go with it? I don't want to wear a tie.

Please give me some options. 

Appreciate it.


Hi L.N.

There are a lot of shirt styles and colours you can wear with a combination of a grey suit and tan shoes. Firstly, that shade of grey complements tan wonderfully. I couldn't have picked a better combination.

Allow me to dissuade you from going for a solid colour shirt in the proverbial white, light blue or tan/ mustard shade, they are incredibly boring especially when you are trying to be creative with an outfit. My first piece of advice would be to go for something with colour and a pattern since the suit is a solid grey. A striped shirt with a candy or a Bengal stripe would do the trick especially since you want to go sans tie. I’d venture to say that these two stripes exude a casual vibe as opposed to a dress or hairline stripe. Try a white shirt with navy or red or sky blue stripes. I advise you to try these colours because your tan shoes deserve immense consideration. You don’t want your shirt to clash with the colour of your shoes since the suit already complements them. Consistency is key.

Since you won't be wearing a tie I'd say make sure you take care of the little details that can make or break your outfit. Try and get a shirt with a high collar (not the ones with all sorts of buttons, extra collar leafs with different colours or, where the collar is so high it hides your neck) I'm referring to the kind that will stand it's ground against the collar of your jacket. Nothing screams unpolished quite like a floppy shirt collar buckling and disappearing under the pressure of a jacket. Collar stays, magnetic ones particularly, can help you in this regard because they hold the shirt collar up thus ensuring that it doesn't flop. In the event that they aren't an option then your safest bet would be a button down shirt.

I dare you to try a denim shirt. In the conventional dark blue, preferably button down. Not only would this be a distinguishing feature but, it would be the mark of a gent well versed in personal style. You could then finish off this combination with a pair of tan shoes (lace-ups or monk straps) in suede. That would be suave. That's why I’m daring you!

With regards to the pocket square, here you can go bold. So go for something patterned, not conventional patterns like checks, stripes, etc. but try something with pin/ polka dots, paisley, or a border. It’s not a must that it matches the shirt or suit but it must complement them by staying in the colour scheme and creating a perfect harmony. For me, my picks would be something with a touch of pink or a white pocket square with a contrasting border, or polka dots in the same colour schemes. Try to incorporate bright colours that complement your suit, shirt, and shoes. Ultimately, your choice of pocket square is broad and this is where you get to be most creative.

You will notice that I didn't suggest a checked shirt or anything of the sort, that's is because I find them a little difficult to work with because your look will appear incomplete without a tie. A striped shirt gives you better options.

Good luck and I hope everything works out!

                                                            PG: Man to man, generation to generation.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Brands: RANGE Minimalist Card Holder

One thing I've come to learn over the years is that at some point a gent has to be organised, in all aspects of his life. Being organised makes life so much simpler, less complicated; this also extends to one's accessories as well. A case in point has been my card holder. I have always stored my cards in a wallet and have done this for many years. This wasn't right though because the cards were filling the wallet and the wallet didn't have enough space to accomodate everything, thus resulting in the dreaded bulge. The Range Leather Company however, came calling at the right time because they offered me something I didn't know I needed, a card holder. It's simple, easy to use and very practical. 

The Range card holder features a double sided insert for cards, thick stitching along the seam, and this is done on tan leather. I haven't had it for a long time, just under a month, but I can attest to it's quality simply because the leather is Horween leather. Horween leather is reputed to be some of the best in the world and it is used by some of the best leather goods manufacturers as well. I know I will be using this card holder for years to come. It's small size makes it ideal for carrying in the pocket, it can also fit in the ticket pocket of a jacket. So, it goes without saying that it fits into all categories of what a card holder ought to have. I currently have cards for payments and business in it and it suits me just fine.

This is just an illustration of what I was using since 2012 in comparison with the Range card holder. Notice how much smaller the Range is but, fulfills its purpose a lot more than the money bag on the left. The money bag was shorter in length and thus couldn't hold my cards properly. I always had to squeeze them in and out. Things are simpler now, thanks to the Range card holder. I definitely give this product the Perfect Gentleman stamp of approval.

You can check the Range Leather Comapny website here for details and prices.

PG: Man to man, generation to generation.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Style: Essential Shoes For Your Winter Wardrobe

I don't know how I ended up on the Superbalist mailing list, however, it is an unsolicited relationship that I have come to appreciate. They cater mainly to the casual and sporty demographic with some flashes of brilliance like the shoes featured in today's post. First, the tan Jimmy Zoom derby made from burnished, unadorned leather. It's absolutely perfect for this winter especially because it adds a touch of colour to your feet. It has a casual vibe and this means that it should be worn in a dressed down manner as well. A navy blue corduroy suit would be the perfect complement, as well as a pair of chinos and a sport jacket. It would really give tweed a run for its money. And at R1199, I'm inclined to think this would be a very wise investment.

For anyone looking to get into the double monkstrap trend, I think this shoe by Monk Selected Homme is a great place to start. It comes in conventional light brown, a cap-toe and a rubber sole. It's also perfect for winter and wet surfaces. It straddles the dressed up or down dress codes really well because of its versatile look. The rounded toe also gives it room to be combined with various combinations and this why I recommend it so much. Think of wearing them with a grey pin-striped suit, a sky blue shirt and a reddish tie, or, with blue jeans, light blue gingham shirt, burnt orange V-neck sweater and a Prince of Wales check jacket. I'd  also be remiss if I didn't mention that these are selling for R899; an investment I'd definitely make.

PG: Man to man, generation to generation.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Style: How To Tie A Bow Tie; VDJ 2015 Edition

It's exactly 25 days until July and that can only mean one thing; time to prepare for the Vodacom Durban July 2015. This is the premier and biggest horse-racing event on the African continent and that means a host of activities connected to the premier event, which is the race. The Vodacom Durban July has gained immense popularity over the decades and has also become an event that attracts people from all over South Africa. With a diverse crowd it has also morphed into other sub-events that showcase the cultural diversity and progressiveness of Durban. Apart from big brands being major sponsors, there are also lifestyle, culture and fashion events throughout the day. It has become a must attend event for anyone looking for a day under the Durban winter sun.

I surmise that not many gents out there are adept at tying a bow tie nor do they want to attempt because it appears to be a laborious and painstaking process. Maybe that explains why I don't have a bow tie of my own. By learning how to tie a bow tie you're also moving away from the clip-on and pre-tied bow ties that are so pervasive in the South African market. It's time we all learned  how to do it. The above image shows exactly how it should be done and I can attest tot he fact that steps 1 - 3 are the easiest and simplest. Below is a breakdown of how to tie a bow tie.

1. Start with the bowtie lying face up. Adjust the bowtie so right side is shorter than the left. The end on the left will be referred to as A and the end on the right will be referred to as B.
2. Move A to the right side, across B.
3. Bring A under B and up through the neck loop.
4. At the joint, fold B towards the right and then towards the left to create a the bow shape.
5. Bring A stra­ight down over the middle of the bow shape that was made with B.
6. Fold A back towards the chest and pinch the fold.
7. Push the pinched end (A) through the loop behind B.
8. Pull on the folded parts of the bow to tighten.
9. Adjust until balanced on both sides.

This is your opportunity to look the part and also do it the right way by tying your own bow tie. Maybe you might find yourself having to school other style conscious gents on how to do it.

PG: Man to man, generation to generation.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Pick Of The Week: Guess Choc Brown Dawson Cardigan

Pick of the week time again and as always courtesy of Runway Sale. This time it's an absolute autumn/ winter wardrobe staple, a shawl collar cardigan. This one by the Guess brand has some edgy features like the off-centre button placket and antique brass buttons. All the other features are common, like two front pockets and that it's ribbed. What's not to love about it. It has the requisite heavy texture even though it's 100% cotton. 

Even though the most versatile of shawl collar cardigans is one in a neutral tone, this chocolate brown one is just as versatile because it will complement both casual and business casual outfits. When determining the correct fit ensure that the cardigan can be worn with only a shirt despite its chunky texture and feel. When considering a snug/ fitted fit the cardigan should be versatile enough to use as an outer piece or layering piece. That's versatility. 

Some of my favourite looks for a shawl collar cardigan include wearing it as an outer piece over a trouser and waistcoat combination, as a layering piece under a casual mid-thigh length coat and, with jeans and a henley. There are many other combinations to consider, you just have to think creatively. Since this is a sale, it has been marked down from R1420 to R749. 

p.s. I will be taking a break from the blog for a little while. I hope to return by mid-June. I have to focus on my exams and also prepare for another basketball season. I do have a whole lot more content coming up. Thank you for reading.

PG: Man to man, generation to generation.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Style: Spring/ Summer Suit In Autumn

One of the advantages of living in a region with sub-tropical climate is that you can pretty much wear the same fabrics throughout the year. I've said it before that Durban rarely gets cold, and when it does, a simple and warm layer on top does the trick. Yesterday was just one of those days; clear sky, sunny, warm with a light breeze. Perfect weather for a light-weight suit.

This is a light grey 100% wool (Super 130s) suit. The difference with other wool suits I have is that this one is extremely light and very breathable (hm...this reminds me of a time I said that polyester is breathable). I could literally feel the breeze blow right through the suit; it is so light I'm willing to concede that it is more casual than formal. So, in summer I will probably wear it with just a shirt, golfer/ polo, or a henley or T-shirt. It's a lot more fitted and slim throughout the body and the trousers throughout the leg as well.

I don't know if this surprises anyone else but, I am always incredulous at the quality of certain fabrics. How a fabric will appear solid from afar but then up close it is patterned; that always gets me, every time. This suit might appear solid grey but up close it is a micro houndstooth. The above picture doesn't do it justice. But it's just one of its features that I really like. The brown buttons and the deep V on the button stance is what makes it so appropriate for the warmer months. I like a deep V because it allows the necktie to be shown off and that also compliments one's waistline as well.

I never used to like flat front trousers however I've grown to appreciate them and how they form a clean line from the waist down. These trousers might seem high waisted but they're not. I just seem to have found a comfortable way of wearing them and that included adding this brown woven belt to keep them at the waist.

It's an off-the-rack suit and I can't wait until spring/ summer when I can really give it a run. It's not serious at all therefore it's going to require a lot of creative thinking in order to extract maximum wearability. I'm impressed though because I'm sure it'll appeal to a lot of gents who are into slim fitting suits.

PG: Man to man, generation to generation.