Review what makes menswear startup Ace Marks’ shoes so unique and comfortable in this interview with founder and CEO Paul Farago.
There are tons of Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) brands selling dress shoes, loafers and leather sneakers for men. It can be confusing to filter through all of the price points, features and styles.
One company that consistently catches my eye is Ace Marks, a great example of a digital-native brand helping men dress sharp in the digital age.
Ace Marks sells extraordinarily unique, affordable luxury shoes that are handmade in Italy.
I had a chance to interview Founder and CEO Paul Farago, who grew up around shoe factories, about what makes Ace Marks unique.
“We set out to make real luxury affordable for everyone, so we work on slim margins and sell at attainable prices.”Paul Farago, CEO, Ace Marks
About Ace Marks
What makes Ace Marks so compelling? I’ll tell you what attracted me to the brand in the first place, and then let Paul weigh in with some features that never even occurred to me.
Unique, Italian-made shoes at “unheard of” prices
For me, Ace Marks shoes are striking for their deep colors and features like rich patinas, two-tone designs and detailed broguing.
Look at their Kurt Monkstrap, which comes in a gorgeous bourbon patina or the Wholecut Carlo, where a cognac leather settles into a dark brown base. The Wholecut in Avio Antique, pictured above, features a rich blue with glossy, burnished toes.
I particularly like the look of their two-toned wingtips like the Vincent, whose brown antique color and detailed broguing are punctuated by a contrasting blue suede upper.
They are one of very few Direct-to-Consumer brands that handcrafts their shoes entirely in Italy using Italian leathers and Italian components.
“Even within Italian manufacturers, we are one of only one or two Direct-to-Consumer brands that hand dyes and burnishes their shoes in house,” notes Paul. “Our highly skilled artisans put their personal touch on each pair making each pair a unique piece of art,” he added.
That quality comes at a relatively affordable price.
Let’s be clear. Ace Marks shoes are not cheap. If you want cheap, you can find shoes for under $100 at a big-box retailer or department store, but you get what you pay for.
Rather, Ace Marks shoes, which start at around $299 (and as low as $224 on sale), are a tremendous value for the quality of materials and construction and a small fraction of what you might pay for similar luxury brands.
Ace Marks also layers on free shipping with every order to a U.S. address.
Paul told me that, “we set out to make real luxury affordable for everyone, so we work on slim margins and sell at attainable prices.” He noted that many of the larger luxury brands manufactured alongside Ace Marks’ shoes retail for over $1,000.
Those luxury labels “see us as a threat,” he said, because “we are selling their quality product at prices that are unheard of.”
This tremendous value-for-quality has made Ace Marks one of the best-funded men’s shoe campaigns on Kickstarter.
Introducing the “Ace Last”
While other brands simply design their shoes, Ace Marks also created a proprietary last known as the Ace Last.
“The last is the most important part of the footwear creation process,” Paul told me. It is what dictates the fit, sizing and the look of the shoe.
Ace Marks built their last according to U.S. Brannock Standard sizing and with the goal of reducing common pressure points around the ball and heel of the foot.
“Our last is one of the main reasons that our shoes tend to fit better and feel more comfortable than other brands, and customers are less likely to exchange or return our shoes due to size and fit problems,” said Paul.
Once a customer knows their Ace Marks size they can be confident that they will be that size across their entire collection of shoes because they use the same last consistently throughout their entire collection.
“Creating our own last also allows us to offer our shoes in multiple widths as well as hard to find small and large sizes,” highlighted Paul. Ace Marks makes both D (medium) and E (wide) widths, and their shoes are available in men’s sizes as small as 5 to 15.
Ace Marks buyback and donation programs
Ace Marks also has a unique buyback program.
Paul explains that, “if, at any point, you decide that you want a new pair of shoes and you don’t want your old ones sitting in your closet anymore, you can ship [the old pair] back to us and we will give you a $50 credit towards a new pair.”
(You can read about the terms and conditions of Ace Marks buyback program online.)
Ace Marks partners with Career Gear, a nonprofit organization that provides services to men in need, to donate these previously-loved pairs of shoes to help men get back on their feet and re-enter the workforce.
What do you think of Ace Marks?
Have you tried Ace Marks’ shoes? What has your experience been like? Let me know in the comments.
Photo credit: All photos courtesy of Ace Marks and were used with permission.
About JakeJake is passionate about exploring entrepreneurs' global journeys. He founded Modern Fellows in 2012 to get to know the entrepreneurs behind the innovative brands helping men dress sharp in the digital age. Jake has written about entrepreneurship, international business and/or fashion for outlets including Business Week, Forbes, Inc., Details Style Syndicate and Primer Magazine, and has provided analysis on international business for BBC Radio, NBC News, CNN and Time Magazine.
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