Rochester man steps up with new shoe company
Here's some from a piece I wrote about an interesting project based here in Rochester. A designer is launching his own men's shoe company from a northwest Rochester townhouse.
And he is forgoing China or any other international manufacturing. And all of the source materials - leather, shoelacers and whatnot - originate in the U.S.
One last note, his fiancee's name is Krisa Ryan. I mucked up the spelling in print. Sorry about that.
Jorge Gomez wants people to try walking in his shoes. Literally.
In a small southwest Rochester townhouse that he shares with his fiancée, Gomez's new men's shoe company — Well Bred — is taking its first steps.
And he's following a path that's rare these days. The young designer's creations are being made solely in this country, using only materials from the U.S.
"I wanted to make a product made in the U.S. that I could be proud to wear," he says.
Gomez left a career designing cars to step into the world of shoes. But why shoes?
"They are the most functional piece of clothing in a person's wardrobe," Gomez says.
When he ended up at a New York shoe design firm, Gomez worked to learn all he could about making shoes. Part of that education included traveling through China to tour factories.
What he found was not pretty. "Very unhappy" workers making one particular stitch all day long as hundreds of thousands of shoes rolled by on a conveyor belt.
"I saw horrible, dirty conditions," he says.
That's what drove him to have his shoes crafted in the U.S., despite the higher cost. Designing his contemporary menswear in his Rochester home office was the easy part. The most difficult and time-consuming part of it all has been lining up a U.S. manufacturer.
Eventually, he found a factory in California with a dedicated team of artisans. Gomez found a source for American leather in Illinois. But finding U.S.-made shoelaces was a challenge, since only two firms still make them.
Now he has actual samples of five styles of shoes, his re-interpretations of classics like oxfords, wingtip brogues and everyday boots.
Gomez says his shoes are very versatile. His hope is that men can wear them when they need to look professional as well as at more casual, off-hours times. They will cost between $395 and $475, which puts him on the mid- to high end of the price ranges for these types of shoes. However, he says his shoes will last and are designed so they can easily be re-soled.
"I was frustrated by the selection of shoes in menswear. I would spend $300 on a pair of beautiful shoes, and they would fall apart within two weeks," Gomez says.
He's traveling to New York this week to show his shoes to potential retailers. The goal is to get around 15 high-end men's boutiques to make orders from the New York show and a Las Vegas event next month.
While the focus is on getting into stores, Well Bred will eventually sell shoes directly through its website. That means he'll need stock on hand in Rochester.
"We'll use the 'little warehouse,' aka the guest bedroom," he says with a chuckle.
Gomez says he probably wouldn't have made it this far without his fiancée, Krisa Ryan. She brought him to Rochester, when she got a job at Mayo Clinic. She was the one who came up with Well Bred as a name to embody a brand that comes from good circumstances.
"I've had my doubts, but she really supported me through it all," he says.
Now everything depends on the reactions of the retail buyers.
"I put everything I've got into it. I think it is a project that I can be proud of, no matter the outcome," Gomez says while looking at one of his shoes.