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business models, strategies and technologies

Don’t tell – show. The beauty of bespoke (shoes)

Sometimes mere words are too weak – you have to do something different to help people’s imaginations tread new paths. Portugal-based shoe manufacturer Undandy brings “bespoke” to life in the world of footwear …

Women aren’t the only ones who like shoes. I, too, have to admit to a certain serious sartorial weakness when it comes to snazzy footwear.

Unfortunately, men’s footwear is normally mind-numbingly same-same-same – only a few mainstream styles, and a few standard colours (almost always shades of brown or black – wow!). There may be a few tweaks in details and styling, but there are hardly any significant variations. It seems that most of us men missed out on the peacock gene – or forget where it’s located.

I am, of course, referring to “real” leather macho men’s shoes, rather than the sneakers, trainers and loafers beloved of the younger generation(s), in all their laid-back loucheness. Mainstream men’s attire in general is stultifyingly unimaginative and unambitious, and it’s interesting to see how one particular footwear company paints the picture.

In a world …

… full of wannabes, the subtly brave win the day and rule the roost. Thus portrayeth Portuguese footwear manufacturer Undandy the sartorial and self-imaging dilemma of the fashion-forward modern male in a delightful promo film (if you can see past all the advertising clichés). The Undandy tag line is “Conspicuously inconspicuous” and the film elegantly highlights cloaked masculine ambition, some of the piquant paradoxes of male competition/bonding and the importance of subtle coded messages within the clan.

According to their own blurb, Undandy shoes are handmade in a third-generation factory in São João da Madeira, a small Portuguese city apparently known as “The Capital of Footwear” because of a long tradition of excellence and craftsmanship in shoemaking.

As the company name might indicate, Undandy seems to have re-invigorated and rethought the traditional business model for high-quality footwear, via a slightly quirky website for bespoke designs that enables each customer to mix’n’match styles, materials, stitching, lacing and colours – pretty much ad infinitum.

Successful as the Undandy business model appears, and gorgeous as their shoes seem to be, there are now many other web-based shoewear outfits that use similar-seeming business models, including Scarosso and Shoepassion (both headquartered in Berlin), Qûero (Spain) and US-based Beckett Simonon. The plethora of choice bodes ill for my budget.

Exploiting the digital opportunity

Unfortunately, I’m miles from being a millionaire able to afford my own personal tailor, so like most people I’m stuck with the traditional “take it or leave it” model of fashion, in which I can only buy what’s made available, and what I can find.

I noticed Undandy because I’m a newbie customer, and have been pleasantly surprised. It feels strangely empowering to have a hand in deciding the appearance of one’s own attire – one’s own appearance and sartorial statement, in fact. It’s an experience that changes one’s relationship to fashion – from being a passive consumer to being an active co-creator.

The thing about the Undandy model, however, is that all designs are the same price, whereas at Shoepassion (for example) the fancy, more peacockian patterns rapidly escalate to seriously expensive. At the others, you can (generally speaking) buy what’s on offer, but at Undandy you can mix’n’match at will – currently all at the same pretty reasonable €220 price point. In all ignorance, I simply presume the background manufacturing infrastructure has been digitalised and standardised to make all this possible.


Full-brogue Oxford in blue and cognac, from Shoepassion


High-contrast, Goodyear-welted Oxfords in brown and dark brown, from Shoepassion

'48 by Wolfgang – bespoke camel, dark blue and yellow calf leather full brogue Oxfords, by Undandy

Bespoke camel, dark blue and yellow calf leather full-brogue Oxfords, from Undandy

'48 by Dalton – bespoke half brogue monkstraps with Grigio patent leather

Bespoke half-brogue monkstraps with Grigio patent leather, from Undandy











Showing rather than telling

But then there’s a quirky underlying problem with the plethora of choice hidden beneath the bespoke banner. How can we opt to configure and buy something, if we can’t even imagine its existence? “Bespoke” in itself conjures up no mental images whatsoever, and isn’t a word that builds unbridled enthusiasm or eager purchasing decisions. Bespoke simply describes potential, but unfortunately us sartorially challenged and colour-constrained men don’t seem to have the design imagination, the fashionista feistiness or the coolness chutzpah to actually put that latent potential to work.

Telling us that we can buy bespoke shoes – the core of the Undandy business model and customer experience – is only a tiny part of the story. That’s where the extra Undandy zinger kicks in, showing us what’s possible with small contextual ads (or whatever the correct term is – the ones that appear as small ads on newspaper sites I visit, probably because of certain smart Google algorithms) featuring just small images of gloriously zany shoe designs – the kind I’ve never seen in the real world, and couldn’t even in my wildest dreams have imagined on my own.

Planting the seed for creativity

By showing what “bespoke” can actually mean and stretch to, instead of merely stating that it is a theoretical possibility, the approach that Undandy and its competitors take plants small but valuable break-the-mould seeds from which new realms of design possibilities may grow, and establishes new boundaries for gobsmacking gentlemanly elegance. All helping to create and expand its own market, of course.