One of the problems with shopping for high-end men's shoes is that most brands charge an arm and a leg for a single pair.
Addressing this predicament is the New York City-based luxury footwear startup Paul Evans. Founded in September 2013 by 28-year-old former investment bankers Ben Earley and Evan Fript, the company is trying to carve out a niche in the crowded men's shoe market by pricing shoes that usually sell for $1,000 or more at between $350 and $400.
"It's certainly not cheap, and it's not in the realm of possibility for a lot of people, but it's resonating with our target demographic, which is the 26- to 39-year-old male," says Fript.
Like many companies today building business models based on cutting out middlemen, Paul Evans is skipping the wholesale market by selling handmade leather shoes exclusively through its website. From a design perspective, the company's shoes represent a modern take on classic styles. Earley and Fript source their product from a family-owned factory in Naples, Italy, that also makes high-end shoes for a number of department store brands.
"A traditional department store like Bloomingdales, Nordstrom's, or Saks is going to mark up their shoes two-and-a-half times before they get to the consumer," says Fript. "Seeing the success of Warby Parker and Bonobos, our whole premise was to eliminate that step, sell directly to the consumer, and offer an ultra premium product at a much more affordable price point."
So far, the plan seems to be working. The two-person company generated $250,000 in revenue in 2014 and is projecting $1.5 million in 2015. While Evans and Fript haven't raised any venture capital funding, the business has between 25 and 30 individual investors who've contributed a combined $250,000 in startup capital.
Stylistically, Fript says that Paul Evans's shoes are sometimes mistaken for the brand Berluti, founded in 1895 and headquartered in Paris.
"It's a very beautiful shoe that's definitely similar to our aesthetic: rich colors, nice shapes, beautiful finishes," says Fript. "While aesthetically we compare ourselves to Berluti, price-wise we're more in line with Allen Edmonds."
Paul Evans offers roughly a dozen different styles of shoe and more than 600 SKUs, a number that's beginning to take its toll on the two founders.
"We have no marketing budget, and we do everything from importing the shoes to handling customer service phone calls and emails to ensuring that logistics are running smoothly," Fript says. One advantage when it comes to footwear, however, is the relatively limited number of stylistic choices that need to be made every year.
"It's not fast fashion and it's not women's wear, so it doesn't change that quickly," Fript says. "Because of that, it's much easier for us to choose the styles we want."
While the majority of Paul Evans' customers today are located in the U.S., the company is also selling to consumers in Europe and as far away as China, Dubai, Japan, Russia, and Saudi Arabia.
Among the founders' future goals are opening brick and mortar locations in the U.S. and internationally, getting their own warehouse, and, naturally, building a team.
"It's just Ben and me, which is pretty crazy," Fript says. "We're eventually going to have to hire some people."