According to a figure from 2018, 98 percent of shoes worn in the U.S. were made overseas. That makes brands like Allen Edmonds — which manufactures its footwear here in the U.S. — a rarity, and its products thus become collector's items for those that prefer to see brands commit to producing their products Stateside despite how difficult it is to do so.
Allen Edmonds, American-made?
In 2003, then-Allen Edmonds president John Stollenwerk committed to keeping production plants here in the US by reinvesting 1 percent — equal to roughly $1.1 million dollars — of the brand's revenue back into its assembly line, with the goal of optimizing operational flow and improving employee training.
"It's costly to stay here because of the wages we're paying, the benefits, the rules and regulations of the government for having a safe workplace, for having a clean workplace, the emissions permit, taxes, health care," he told The New York Times. "They're all good things, don't get me wrong."
Then, folks wondered if Allen Edmonds' commitment to American manufacturing would ultimately make it unprofitable. Plenty of other brands were minimizing its American-made supply and outsourcing the bulk of its work overseas. But fast forward 20 years, and Allen Edmonds is still here — albeit owned by footwear conglomerate Caleres, which owns Famous Footwear.
Establishing an icon
The key to its success has been its commitment to quality. Although Allen Edmonds manufactures the components for its most popular shoes elsewhere and imports them to the Wisconsin factory, where they're assembled, packaged and sorted for distribution, the shoes — generally priced between $200 and $500 — are still high-quality products, and Recrafting, a program for repairing your Allen Edmonds rather than replacing them, is still core to the brand.
Mixed feelings about skirting around being wholly American-made aside, the brand is incredibly consistent: Its most popular shoes haven't changed much since they were introduced, which is often well in the past. (The brand's been around since 1922, when it first started making cork insoles.) Sure, there are Allen Edmonds sneakers now, but the Park Avenue Oxford, for example, a simple, lace-up style that was introduced in 1982, looks about the same no matter whether you wear it in the Dark Chili or Walnut Brown color.
That was until this year, when Allen Edmonds introduced the Park Avenue Lug Sole. The brand swapped the classic single layer, vegetable-tanned leather sole for tall, rubber lug soles. Although lug soles on dress shoes and loafers are common nowadays, this addition felt significant for the brand. To be fair, the release made me rethink how I perceived Allen Edmonds; It's always been a brand I can trust for a high-quality, traditional-looking dress shoe, but I rarely wear those — I'm generally drawn to something more modern, with a little bit more edge to it.
Bringing the Park Avenue back to life
The lug sole gave the Park Avenue an edge, making it a shoe I'd consider wearing beyond weddings or work settings. The lug sole makes the Park Avenue a more comfortable shoe to walk around in.
The old single-layer leather sole, though sleek and low-profile, offered little separation between your feet and the street beneath you. Sure, the CustomCork insoles added to every pair of Allen Edmonds shoes help cushion your step, but the lug sole adds real distance between your heel and the hard ground — creating the feeling of wearing super-durable boots, not dress shoes.
But the differences aren't just evident in how the shoes feel. The lug sole iteration looks distinctly different from its more traditional sibling. While you totally could wear the classic Park Avenue Oxfords with jeans, casual chinos or even cargo pants, the lug sole version can be paired with these types of pants more easily. With the lug sole, the shoe becomes more versatile — a beefed up version of itself capable of dipping further into the fashion world than ever before. That's why I view this release as such a significant step for the brand, because it opens up new avenues for it (pun intended).
Plus, going lug doesn't nullify any of the services Allen Edmonds is known for. This version may come in fewer sizes and in less widths, but they're bench-welted and eligible for Recrafting, which means they can be resoled when you burn through the rubber bottom.
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