The co-founders of FEIT, a luxury shoe brand, are building their label on separate continents.
Josh Price lives by the sea. He runs the company's more sluggish branch in Sydney, Australia, and goes swimming before work on most days. Tull Price, on the other hand, enjoys the hustle and bustle of New York City.
On Wednesday, FEIT made its debut at Men's New York Fashion Week with an audio-visual installation at the New Museum. The piece, entitled Man Vs. the Machine, juxtaposes scenes from the 1982 film Koyaanisqatsi (translated: Life Out of Balance) using shots of a Taiwanese shoemaker. The film was directed by Jack Riccobono (The Seventh Fire) and produced in collaboration with Amoveo Company, led by composer Nicholas Britell, and choreographer Benjamin Millipied.
Technically speaking, the project wasn't easy to pull off.
"It was important to do a lot of shooting with the macro-lens, so you feel the texture of the materials being used," explains Riccobano. "That's one way you see the natural aspect of it." The team began shooting in November of 2014, and the post-production took more than a year to complete.
The film had its premiere screening on two separate, see-through scrims, so that audiences felt an almost three-dimension pull to the machinery, and then, by contrast, to the craftsman. (In case you missed the obvious theme, a craftsman was also physically present that evening, sewing on a pedestal at the center of the exhibit.)
"There is a choreographed, dance-like relationship between the craftsman and his work that is especially beautiful, and that is ultimately reflected in the final product," added Millipied.
Drawing on experience from the big leagues.
Tull is a shoe industry veteran. In 1996, he started a commercial footwear label called Royal Elastics, which sold lace-less kicks in more than 36 countries, and was ultimately acquired by K-Swiss in 2001. Through that experience, he learned many lessons about how to not start a company.
"I started to see the negative effects of globalization, and what you have to do to maintain these businesses that are driven by volume," he said. With Royal Elastics, the company manufactured mostly cheap, synthetic materials (i.e., fake or heavily treated leathers). It felt significant pressure to meet customer demand, and, later on, quarterly profit goals.
"Once we sold the company, I really started to see the continued pressure on growth of sales," Price recalled.
So he built FEIT on a different premise. The company is seeing an average growth of 30 percent each year--with just three brick-and-mortar store locations and a strong e-commerce channel.
This time around, Price is adamant: Globalization and mass scale are not the endgame. Instead, he's committed to slow, quality craftsmanship, and notes that revenues are "less than $10 million."
The challenges of intentionally slow growth.
Of course, a company based on the idea that "less is more" is expensive to build, and even harder to sustain long term. It helps that Price had a large (undisclosed) sum of cash from the previous sale of Royal Elastics, and that he's a founding partner at Rag & Bone Footwear LLC.
Currently, FEIT employs just 30 craftsmen. On average, it takes seven to eight days to make a pair of shoes by hand, which puts a "natural cap," as Price explains, on how much product the company can bring to market. It also sources high-end materials, such as vegetable-tanned leathers, from remote places like Italy and Sweden. The starting price point on a pair of FEIT shoes is a staggering $520, so the target client is generally well off.
Are handcrafted materials worth the associated costs?
"When something is made by a human, it has its own natural beauty that gets created via that fact," says Price. "It's not a mass 'cookie-cutter' theme."
A human worker is also able to sew at angles that a machine wouldn't be able to, and can, in theory, create a better quality product.
Aside from maintaining his admittedly slow growth, Price acknowledges that customers haven't always understood why the company manufactures in China as opposed to Europe, where the narrative of fine craftsmanship is historically strong.
"They think all the product made in Italy is better, which is just not true," he says.
Even as major players in the fashion industry are turning away from humans, and rather towards mass manufacturing, it's clear that hand-sewn items still have a place --at least for now, among the elite.