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IS: What in the world makes a young guy start a shoe company on his own?
JJ: Soon after I started working as an auditor for Deloitte I determined that it was boring and unfulfilling. So I started a menswear blog, The Fine Young Gentleman, as a creative outlet and to foster my growing interest in menswear. As time went on I became pretty removed from my job and I longed for a way to combine what I had learned at Deloitte with what I had learned from blogging. I wanted something that was fulfilling, purposeful, challenging and having to do with menswear. I also wanted to be my own boss.
I started chatting with friends, readers and family about ways to make a move into menswear. The idea for a well styled, well priced and well made line of shoes came about. Eventually I had to stop talking about doing something and actually do it. So I left my job, moved back to Philadelphia in January of 2013, and soon after that started putting together what is now Jay Butler.
IS: Tell us about the design process.
JJ: When I started this adventure I had no idea what I was doing. I wasn’t completely a chicken with his head cut off, but I was close. Once I got on track the first step was to sketch the shoes to figure out the style and type of lines and shapes I wanted. Then I had two different lasts developed, one for the rubber soled shoes and another for the leather soled ones. Then I emailed a few factories to inquire about manufacturing.
IS: Where did you decide to have them manufactured?
JJ: The shoes and leather goods are produced in Mexico. I visited factories in the US, had samples made by factories in China, and talked with factories in India. In Mexico they were using the same techniques as the American factories were using, things like hand sewing, and doing them well. The proximity to the US was also a deciding factor. And although the cost of production is higher in Mexico than China and India, it is less than it is in the United States. Which is of crucial importance in allowing Jay Butler to sell shoes for less than $200. I think there is a serious lack of good options in the sub $200 space. Yes, there are options for between $100 and $200; but I don’t think any of them offer a really solid deal to consumers. If they did, Jay Butler wouldn’t exist.
IS: So what makes them different from what else is currently out there?
JJ: I think there are a few things that give them better style, better construction and better value. The shoes have a very classic, elegant and masculine look to them. They are decidedly sleek looking, helped in part by the low profile flexible soles. I am not a fan of that whole clunky look. I am also not a fan of the excess of design accents and tweaks we see. I wanted a casual shoe that did not draw that kind of attention to itself, something that was supremely wearable. I told the factory that I work with that I wanted the leather lining to feel like melted butter and my foot like lobster. So they went out and found the softest lining leather they could find. It’s worth the extra cost over lesser leathers. Not to mention the upper leathers are also nice, both the suedes and the full grain cow leathers. All of this for around $150 is, I think, unheard of in today’s market.
IS: How did you decide on the name?
JJ: Jay Butler is a combination of the names of two men that I never had the honor of meeting. Jay Desgrange was my mother’s father, my grandfather. He was a mechanic, a fire chief and an Army man; serving during WWII. Frank Butler was my father’s maternal grandfather, my great grandfather. He was a county sheriff and an exceptional baseball player, legend has it that the Yankees asked him to try out for the team; he turned them down citing a need to care for his family. On a separate note, I volunteer as an EMT in part because of the precedent established by these men. My father was in the National Guard, a few cousins have served in various branches of the armed forces, and another cousin is an officer at his local fire company.
IS: Tell us a bit more about yourself.
JJ: I grew up in Bryn Mawr, which is a suburb of Philadelphia, and spent most of my life there; minus a few years in Boston and NYC and a summer in London. I am not quite yet 27 years of age. When I am not found in Philadelphia or NYC I am probably on Nantucket, a snowy mountain snowboarding, playing golf, or visiting my parents down around Naples Florida, where they have moved since retiring. I think the ratio of golf holes to people down there is 1:1.