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The path from film school to bespoke shoemaker is not an obvious one, but it’s a journey that Benjamin Schwartz is glad he made. Schwartz, who has “had an interest in menswear as far back as I can remember,” turned to shoemaking when the TV pilot he wrote didn’t get picked up. Schwartz was intent on designing footwear that walked the line between upscale and casual, “a shoe that you could wear like your Vans but that fits in your closet with finer items.” The result is a smart-looking shoe with a moccasinlike Brazilian rubber sole and a fabric upper made from heavyweight cashmere manufactured by Loro Piana, the Italian luxury clothier. “The design for the shoe came out of not only my personal style but mirroring what’s going on in menswear currently,” says Schwartz, who founded Benjamins Shoes in 2014.
In the apparel business, shoes are considered notoriously difficult to make. “A lot of people in the clothing industry would say we are starting with the hardest thing first,” Schwartz says. Undeterred, he taught himself the trade primarily from a textbook on shoemaking and through many hours of experimentation. As Schwartz discovered, there is scant literature about crafting shoes with a cloth upper. “Most shoemaking information out there is in relation to traditional shoemaking, which is with leather,” says Schwartz. “I was really trying to get more into textiles, where you’re mixing shoemaking with seamstress skills.”
The shoe design had to be straightforward enough that Schwartz could tackle all the manufacturing himself. “I knew that if I was going to be able to fulfill orders, I would have to pare it down so that it would be easy for me to make a lot of them,” explains Schwartz. “I was trying to find a happy medium between something that I love wearing and something that’s easy to reproduce.” Each pair takes 10 to 12 hours to make.
With the fine menswear industry booming, Schwartz saw an opportunity to fill a niche. “Men are demanding more choices when it comes to their clothing, but there’s kind of this gap with shoes specifically,” he explains. The market is populated with inexpensive casual footwear that “you wear into the ground” and spendy dress shoes that “a consumer might have to save up forever to get.” Benjamins fall somewhere in the middle. “Our ideal client is somebody who is already spending a good amount of money on his closet but looking for something different stylewise and pricewise.”
Is being headquartered in Sacramento a hurdle to penetrating fashion meccas like New York? Schwartz doesn’t think so. In fact, he’s already received enthusiastic feedback from his industry contacts there. “They were shocked we’re not selling them for more. It was good to hear the support.” Meanwhile, he’s getting plenty of love here at home. “Sacramento has a great community that is supportive all across the board, especially with young brands and startups,” he says. “For whatever reason, I think we’re really in love with small business here.”
Benjamins shoes retail for $245 and are sold online at benjamins-shoes.com. This spring, Schwartz will open a manufacturing and retail space at Warehouse Artist Lofts at 11th and R streets.