by John Russel Jones

George Esquivel has been making shoes in downtown Los Angeles since 1994, recently moving to a new atelier in the city’s rejuvenated downtown arts district. While the brand has always had a wholesale business, because of the company’s size and its manufacturing facilities in Southern California and Mexico, Esquivel has also always had the ability to make custom shoes. The artisan is taking that offering to a whole new level with the introduction of a made-to-measure shoe program that is part Savile Row, part Warby Parker, and all Southern California.

“We offer a completely bespoke product, but that involves in-person fittings with my technicians and me. We spend about an hour-and-a-half in a fitting, taking both standing and sitting measurements, asking ‘where’s your bunion, what hurts,’ and all of those sorts of things,” says Esquivel. “Part of it is the experience: Meeting the team, seeing the workshop. You can even see where the shoelaces are made. The simple fact is, not everyone really needs that level of personalization. The goal for me is to make sure people are happy and that they feel special.”

“After Barneys closed and then with the pandemic, our wholesale business took a hit. However, we found that we were outselling our inventory with custom shoes at four or five to one.”

Thus, Esquivel made-to-order shoes was born. The process starts on the brand’s website. Once a customer has chosen a style and color, a concierge will get in touch to walk through a short questionnaire. Then Esquivel sends several fit samples for the customer to try on, offering variations in size and width, based on the earlier conversation. Once the right fit has been confirmed the samples are returned to the shop, and the concierge then continues the consultation, walking the client through the fitting to see what works best, and helping with final decisions on color, laces, finish, etc. The shoes, which start at around $1,000 retail, include six styles, from several variations on lace-up oxfords to lace-up, chukka, and Chelsea boot styles.

“I’m not Gucci, I’m not Ferragamo,” says Esquivel,“but I want the person who buys from us to feel super special. Like ‘Oh my gosh, they called me. They walked me through the whole process.’ We know that the maximum number of shoes we can make — depending on the level of difficulty — is around 5,000 pairs a year. We’re not trying to make 100,000 pairs here in our shop. We’re trying to make sure that everybody has an amazing experience.”

Esquivel also didn’t go too heavy with a ton of customization options. “We found that, the more we offered people, they would play with it, but couldn’t make up their minds.”

Esquivel is also continuing to do well with his sneaker collection Esquivel X (a lower price point than his ready-to-wear shoes, and made in Mexico), which he launched in 2019.

“I wanted to do something that was clean. Not as polished as Common Projects, but not as distressed as Golden Goose. They’ve got a bit of a retro feel, based on a 1960s vintage tennis court shoe. They’re unlined, with a gum sole, and are hand-made and hand-lasted. The suede style feels like a bedroom slipper.”

Known for his custom tattoos on his shoes, so the classic weekender style features one model with a laser engraved tattoo pattern. Also, a portion of every sale of Esquivel X goes to charity. “The X stands for X plus hope plus food plus love. I will do collaborations with any organization that fits in those parameters.”