How to wear trainers: Part 2. Quality

Friday, October 6th 2017
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In recent years, as premium trainers/sneakers have increasingly popular, readers have asked for my view on when they might be appropriate, and when they are, what they should buy.

I covered that last point in the first part of this series, ‘1: Design’

I will cover the style of wearing those sneakers next week in part 3, ‘Style’

Today, however, I will focus on something that is just as important to Permanent Style readers as anything aesthetic: quality.

I’ve done my own research and investigation into this area, but in order to add an insider's view, I talked to Adam Lewenhaupt of Swedish brand CQP (above) when he was in London last week.

(He was doing a trunk show at Trunk Clothiers, offering made to order versions of the sneakers.)

Adam has more than his fair share of experience here, having worked with several different factories on his shoes, seen every aspect of the production, and worked on dozens of prototypes.

He also has his own, firm views on what choices should be made as far as quality is concerned.

Permanent Style: Adam, everyone will be aware that there isn’t as much to a sneaker as a dress show when it comes to quality - but there are some important points, right? Which do you think are the most fundamental?

Adam Lewenhaupt: Well, if we start from the ground up, the first thing is the sole.

This can be glued on or stitched on - that’s something a consumer can see pretty easily.

Much cheaper shoes, such as Converse, tend to be glued. In general this is less robust and long-lasting than stitching, but it does depend on how well the gluing (and stitching) is done.

PS: Are there different qualities of the sole itself?

AL: Yes, but that’s not something you can see easily, and many brands use the same soles. We and Common Projects use a very similar sole, for example, that is more hard wearing than others.

Perhaps a more important point is what goes inside the sole.

As you will know from dress shoes, there is a bed in there, usually filled with foam on a sneaker. But high-quality makes will also use a shank - a long piece of metal or plastic that runs along the middle of the shoe.

Again, its role is the same as with a dress shoe - to give stability and support.

If you don’t have a shank, a sneaker is not going to be comfortable over long distances, or if you wear it all day, for instance.

PS: Can a consumer tell if a sneaker has a shank?

AL: Usually, yes. If you try to pick up a shoe and bend it or twist it, a shank will stop you being able to do that. Whereas a soft plimsoll or something will just fold up [as pictured below].

PS: Do designer sneakers usually have a shank?

AL: It varies. I know, for example, that the Saint Laurent SL01 sneaker, which is a similarly clean, simple tennis shoe, doesn’t.

But then other brands that are made in the same factory as us in Portugal - Lanvin, Givenchy - do.

PS: Why don’t they? Is it just a question of cost saving, or of priorities?

AL: Well none of us know why they make certain decisions, but in general designer brands tend to prioritise look and design over performance. And the shank is not cheap.

Designer sneakers will often have very high-grade materials - great leather, for example. But they don’t necessarily care how they wear over long periods, or how long they last.

PS: To a certain extent I guess it’s a case of how they intend them to be used. If all you’re meant to do is lounge around in them, longevity is less of an issue.

AL: Absolutely. I know a lot of your readers would think that’s wrong, and it’s not what we want out of our sneakers, but people can buy and sell what they want - it’s just a question of being informed enough to make a discerning choice.

If comfort were your priority over all else, you might even choose Ecco or someone similar.

PS: If designer brands often use premium materials, are athletic shoes the opposite, in that their materials are usually pretty cheap?

AL: Yes, that’s an interesting way to put it. Their product is the opposite way round.

So a shoe from a sports brand will often have cheap leather or suede, alongside various synthetic materials, but is engineered for performance.

In that market sneakers are very cheap, but I think consumers don’t expect the shoes to age well - as we would hope with our leathers - and they’re pretty happy to buy a new pair every year, whereas we’d hope ours would last for more like five years.

Another important point about sports shoes is what activity they're designed for.

An actual running shoe is often not a very comfortable thing to walk in for long periods. Whereas most vintage-looking sports shoes today are really designed for leisure wear, rather than running.

PS: Going back to that point about how long your trainers last, is there anything that can be done to re-sole or repair shoes?

AL: Well, in theory we can resole shoes by sending them back to the factory. But it would be too expensive - it wouldn’t be worth it.

One thing we can do is replace the linings on the shoe, particularly inside the heel. That’s often the first thing to go.

PS: Is there anything else we should cover as regards quality?

AL: Another area that’s important to us, but hard to communicate to customers, is consistency.

So, we use a certain factory in Portugal, but I know I could use another one that would charge half the price - with similar looking materials but from cheaper tanneries, similar looking soles from another source and at first glance similar quality elsewhere - but less consistency.

The lines of stitching would not always be straight, there might be a loose stitch inside the shoe which only becomes evident after weeks of wear. We would end up having to return more to the factory.

Partly this is just a hassle for us, and increases the cost of doing business. And partly it’s about quality again, but very subtle things that not everyone would notice or care about.

PS: There’s also a mix there of things the consumer can see, and things he can’t.

So I guess overall he can assess: the stitching/glue, the shank, the quality of the leather perhaps, and the precision of the work.

And for the rest it’s a question of trusting the brand, for which I guess the returns policy and general customer service could be a proxy.

AL: Yes. Always interesting to see how a brand or salesman responds to questions - it suggests how you will be treated further down the line if you have issues.

Read the first post in this series, on the style of trainers to wear with smarter clothing, here.

The last, on style of clothing to wear with those trainers, is coming soon.

I am wearing:

Photography: James Munro