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If the Shoe Fits

Posted by on October 10, 2010 at 9:34 pm

Today’s New York Times features a story about the multibillion-dollar Italian footwear company, Tod’s, which was started by Diego Della Valle in 1978.

I’ve long been a fan of Tod’s shoes, having bought my first pair during a trip to Rome almost 20 years ago. Tod’s shoes allow you to be comfortable, yet stylish at the same time, which you cannot say for the vast majority of designer shoes.

My husband actually bought his first pair of Tod’s shoes at Barney’s in Manhattan this past Friday. While I was sitting at my hairdresser’s, he slipped across Madison Avenue to buy a pair of dark brown, suede chukka-type boots by Tod’s.

Chukka boots are now on their second comeback tour, having first become popular in the 1940s and 50s, then again in the 1970s. I wore chukkas in the 70s, and have fond memories of the shock-absorbing feel of the crepe soles, the simple, two-eyelet design, and the soft feel of the suede of the ankle-high boot.

As the New York Times article notes, Tod’s is somewhat unique in that it continues to manufacture its shoes in Italy. Most other large Italian shoemakers, like Geox, have moved their production operations to China and other parts of Asia, in an effort to dramatically cut labor costs.

Tod’s decision to stay in Italy comes at a cost, literally, to the consumer, who can expect to pay nearly double what he or she would probably otherwise pay. But that’s really the point. Certain customers are apparently willing to pay more for the look, fit and feel of what has made Italy the envy of the rest of the design world for decades. Admittedly, it’s a risky approach, particularly in this economy, when consumers are re-thinking the value of brand and designer, and in many cases are opting for lower-cost alternatives.

We’ll see whether or not Tod’s decision to stay in Italy proves wise or euro-foolish over the next few years. I’m hoping for the former. Smart business is not always about taking the cheaper road. When brand, quality, and customer loyalty are at stake, sometimes the best decision is to stay on the same road that got you where you are — no matter how attractive that short-cut may look.

And if you’re getting there by foot, you’ll need a comfortable pair of shoes.