Allen Edmonds is one of the most iconic American footwear brands. The company starting making high-quality shoes in 1922. The brand is synonymous with American craftsmanship. Over the years, Allen Edmonds provided shoes for business leaders, Hollywood celebrities, and even Presidents. Including Ronald Reagan and George Bush, among others.
If you’re reading this blog, there is a great chance you’re familiar with Allen Edmonds shoes. There is even a good chance you’ve purchased a pair. Maybe you’ve worn them recently. At Brillaré, we’ve owned and services many pairs.
100 years is a long time to be in business. You don’t get to that stage without knowing a thing or two about what you’re doing.
In the menswear community, Allen Edmonds shoes are often seen as the gateway drug of nicer footwear. Well made for the price, and a great step up from most department store options. Allen Edmonds was the Honda Civic or Accord of footwear. High quality, built to last, and an absolute staple. Few people’s first car is their dream car. Having a few upgrades along the way allows your tastes to progress as you grow. The same was true of Allen Edmonds.
The company was founded in 1922 by Elbert Allen in Wisconsin. His specialty was high quality dress shoes. All the shoes were hand made, on site. Allen and his team were lasting, crafting, and welting the shoes right there. He knew how to make a dress shoe.
In 1931 Bill Edmonds joined the company and was the driving force behind the sales side of the business. The two came together to become the Allen Edmonds Corporation. A true american based manufacturer.
Everything was made in America for years to come. While the company was passed down a few times, it remained in the family until 2006.
Allen Edmonds produced some iconic styles that endured for decades. Some of which still endure. The Park Avenue, a cap-toe Oxford, was introduced in 1982. It’s still being produced today. It's a classic style.
Few footwear companies have been around for 40 years, let alone making the same timeless style. This is a feat of longevity and a testament to their brand power.
Allen Edmonds main focus has always been dress shoes. Up until the early 2000’s, almost everything they made was still being made in America.
A big claim to fame was their extensive last collection. Not only did they have many different last shapes, they also offered many sizes. If you were a size 6C, or a size 15EEE, or anything between, you were covered. Allen Edmonds dress shoes were available in some of the widest size ranges anywhere.
This made them a favourite of people with a more challenging fit. If something was too tight, it was offered in a wider size. Or a different shape. This contributed to their legacy of making shoes for comfort.
Being hand made, they also offered extensive customization options. If you wanted to Park Avenue, in a different leather, and with the left and right shoes in different sizes they could accommodate.
Allen Edmonds Neumok wingtip oxford. Navy CXL leather. Contrast stitching and a 360 degree welt.
They introduced some iconic styles. Such as their Dalton wingtip dress boot. Made famous in their walnut colour, this was an extremely popular dress boot. Sleek, modern, and well made. It was also a boot with a leather sole, instead of a rubber sole. It was the perfect shoe for someone who wanted a "dress boot" but didn't want to wear Chelsea boots. It paired well with denim, and was available in many color options. ( I used to have two pairs)
They offered rugged boots, sleek(ish) dress shoes, and many options between. Sneakers, loafers, boat shoes, etc.. In time they also started offering clothing, accessories, belts, bags, and more. Expanding a little bit into more casual shoes too.
Allen Edmonds customer service was also industry leading. If you had a customer service issue, they fixed it. Period. Often quickly, and exceeding expectations. Shoes that didn't meet customer standards were quickly returned.
In our opinion, these were the glory days of Allen Edmonds. As you can from all the factors above, it was no wonder why they were so popular. They were an icon for a reason. They made top quality product and stood behind it.
Shoes were being made in America to very high standards (for the price). Yes, the shoes were a bit heavy, and clunky. That was a signature of American made footwear.
They were hardworking shoes for hardworking Americans (and international shoppers). They were built to last. Cork foot beds, Goodyear welting, J.R. leather soles. Allen Edmond shoes were borderline indestructible. They were often $395 to $595 USD. You got a lot of shoe for that money.
You could wear your Allen Edmonds to play soccer. After a quick brush and some Renovateur, they were back to good health. While I’m exaggerating, it's only a bit. My Long Branch boots have lasted several Canadian winters. Including one winter where I forgot them on the porch all winter...
Allen Edmonds were also easily “re-crafted” at their factories. (which is still true). This meant that after years of wearing your shoes to death, you could send them back to Allen Edmonds. For a few hundred dollars they would fully refurbish them. They often came back looking near new. They were re-lasted, resoled, and completely reconditioned.
They had a robust “2nd’s” market as well. These are shoes made at the factory that did not pass the quality control phase for varying reasons. They were very strict in those days, so there were a lot of 2nd’s that were perfectly serviceable shoes. Often, you’d have trouble spotting what made it a 2nd. Maybe one eyelet was 1mm to the left. Or there was a scuff on the heel. Sometimes there was a nick in the sole edge. Things that would happen on your very first wear anyways. And you’d get them at a deep discount.
My first few pairs of “nice” shoes were Allen Edmonds 2nd’s. It sparked my joy and love of footwear.
Making shoes, by hand, in America wasn’t easy. Nor was it cheap. The price of production began to rise in the 90’s and 2000’s. As many things did. America, as with most countries, started looking abroad for labour. Being able to export some of your production costs to other countries was a huge benefit to the bottom line. Countries like China, India, and Mexico had skilled labour that was cheaper than American labour.
Additionally, the early noughts saw the advent and proliferation of online shopping. The local market soon became the global market. Shoe makers from all over the world started to enter the game.
You could import shoes from Edward Green and Crockett & Jones from the UK. Similar styles and known for their quality. Italian and other European makers were also emerging. At the time, fashion was, in large part, being pushed forward by European labels. They started bringing shoes over as well.
This made the value proposition of a $600+ Allen Edmond hard to swallow for many. What goes into a quality shoe is hard to describe to someone. Especially before they wear it. The cork footbed, full leather lining, and premium leather uppers weren’t something you’d notice without wear. Additionally, many people were buying shoes for how they looked more so than how well they were made.
A shopper could get the $600 American made Park Avenue, or the $325 “Italian made” shoe of much worse quality in the same isle. The Italian shoe was lighter and sleeker. It seemed more modern. In part because it was. So a lot of people went with the cheaper and seemingly better option.
Companies like To Boot New York were making similar styles, made in Italy, for half the price. They were, at best, half the quality. Average shoppers couldn’t tell the difference and were happy to buy the trendier and cheaper option. Shareholders were happy to sell goods at lower production costs.
In 2006, Allen Edmonds was bought out by an investment firm. It’s changed hands a few more times since, being swapped between a few different investment firms. It's now owned by the same firm that own's Famous Footwear.
As investment firms do, they looked to stream line the business. To be more in line with the fast fashion nature that was emerging.
In recent years they started to expand their offerings. More clothes, more styles, more sneakers, more accessories. They slowly started to offshore production. Allen Edmonds began to be made in Mexico, among other places.
Before this, nearly all Allen Edmonds shoes were made in America.
At the time of writing this, 8 of the 206 styles on their website are currently made in America.
Allen Edmonds brand kept their high price points, and drove business by having increasingly deep and frequent sales. They’re occasional “rediscover America” sale became frequent. Black friday sales.
Price points and quality dropped drastically. Older models that we have come through the shop were well crafted. Yes, they were clunky and heavy. Yes the fit and finish wasn’t as clean as some of the greats like Edward Green or John Lobb. You were still getting a tremendous value though.
More recently made Allen Edmonds shoes coming through the shop are noticeably lower quality. Thinner and cheaper leathers. Thinner soles. Sloppier lasting. Poorer stitching.
This isn’t to say that Mexico or China aren’t able to produce good products. This is to say that the factories Allen Edmonds is choosing aren’t.
They’ve stepped away from their signature feature: quality.
If you’re interested in lower price point shoes, Allen Edmonds now has a lot of competition. Spain has come to the table with several strong competitors. Meermin and Carmina, in no particular order. Companies making shoes like what Allen Edmonds used to, at similar price points.
If you’re after American quality, Allen Edmonds long time rival, Alden, is as popular as ever. Finding a 2nd wind in the younger generation for their heritage styles, leathers, and quality construction. Alden is still made in America. I’d recommend you check them out. I have several pairs and have been very pleased with the quality. Their website should tell you about how long they've been in business.
If you’re after sleeker choices, look to European and British makers.
In the golden years, you could find a pair of Allen Edmonds by any means and you were guaranteed a great shoe. Sadly, this is no longer the case. You have to pick and choose. Look to pick something up 2nd hand. Or try and buy from their (limited) made in America line if they have a model you’re after.
This isn’t to say you should never buy a pair. This is to say that you should be mindful that they aren’t what they used to be. That paying retail pricing for them likely isn’t your best choice for quality footwear.
While it is sad to see the decline of an icon, all companies have a life cycle. Especially in fashion. We live in a time where we have more options than ever, for better or for worse.