The Style of Cobbler UnionBy: José Manuel Simián
When he was growing up in the Patagonian city of Puerto Madryn, Argentine entrepreneur Daniel Porcelli couldn’t have imagined he’d one day be a bespoke-shoes entrepreneur. But after emigrating with his family to the states, working in multinational companies, in 2011 he was given the chance to invest in a shoe atelier in Barcelona, and he fell in love with shoes and the craft behind them. And after that experience, Porcelli realized something: he could do for luxury shoes the same thing companies like Warby Parker are doing for glasses—disrupting the market by selling directly to the consumer and thus eliminating the markup of 200% to 250% retailers normally impose on luxury items. And so, he founded Cobbler Union—a company that offers made-to-order shoes as well as handmade, bespoke-inspired ones.
Porcelli talked to Manero from his office in Atlanta.
I started Cobbler Union because I love beautiful things: I’m a shoemaker first and an entrepreneur second. I discovered a way to bring a luxury product to the consumer at an exceptional price, and I thought I could achieve two things: to preserve and promote the craft of shoemaking by giving the artisans work, and to give our customers access to a product that generates more satisfaction than perhaps any other product. I thought of the impact acquiring his first pair of luxury shoes would have on a man.
You’ve mentioned that your aim is to reinvent the market of luxury items.
Yes, it’s what we call “luxury reinvented.” We’re defying the rules of luxury items that mandate that things need to be very expensive—rules that were created by the oligopolies of luxury. I think a luxury item needs to be handmade, with love and excellent materials, but they don’t need to keep getting more and more expensive. So I do believe that we can redefine luxury, and I won’t be the only one doing it.
Your ready-to-wear shoes start at $395. What would you say to a guy who can afford that but still may think, well, I can get a pair of shoes at, say, Aldo for $95? Why should he spend that extra money on your shoes?
I think first you need to ask that person what does dressing in a certain way mean to him, because I have nothing against Aldo or Nike or Adidas—let everyone dress as they like!—but there’s a personal element to everything we use or wear. Second, I would talk to that person about the quality of both products: the two shoes may look similar at first, but a quality shoe [like Cobbler Union’s] is based on the quality of the skin. Not all leathers are the same, and anyone who has touched excellent leather knows the difference. And if you buy the $95 shoe—like many of my friends do—in three to six months that shoe will end up in the trash, as opposed to a shoe like ours: if you take care of one of our shoes, it can last 10 years. Finally (and perhaps more importantly): women notice when a man is wearing a quality shoe.
You’ve said that when you worked in the financial sector in New York you noticed that Latino businessmen often outdressed their American counterparts.
If you look at men from Latin countries where dance plays an important role—say, Venezuela or Colombia—you’ll see an important presence of both masculinity and vanity. What we normally lack is the money to invest in that vanity, but the elegance is part of our culture. Here in the United States is where the notion of comfort was invented, but the last century was a disastrous one for style. But American women are elegant, and I think American men are starting to catch up in that regard, to raise their game. I like to say that if Darwin were alive today, he’d say men need to evolve faster. But it’s happening.