Next year, Allen Edmonds will mark its 100th anniversary, and the men’s footwear brand is already recruiting friends to help it launch a celebration.
In early September, the label, a division of Caleres, will unveil a new campaign titled “My Life’s Work” that highlights the American-made heritage of Allen Edmonds, alongside stories of other individuals who channel their creative passions into successful careers.
“My Life’s Work is a direct line to our founding — the stories, the people, the pride that comes with the passion for making,” said Caleres president Jay Schmidt. “We are inspired by those whose personal path and style are notable in the relentless pursuit of their craft.”
The first star of the campaign is footwear designer and model Armando Cabral, who launched his eponymous men’s shoe label in Europe in 2009 and brought it to the U.S. three years later.
Cabral will not only appear in the Allen Edmonds marketing advertisements, but he collaborated with the brand’s design team to put his own spin on one of its existing shoes, creating the Discovery Moto Boot. And unusually, Allen Edmonds also will stock an assortment of six styles from Cabral’s luxury line on its e-commerce site and in select stores.
“That to me was the great part of this partnership,” Cabral told FN last week, speaking from his home country of Portugal. “We went into it together not as competitors, but because we shared the value of craftsmanship and great storytelling, heritage and pride. I see that in their product.”
Due to COVID-related travel restrictions, Cabral said his collaboration with the Allen Edmonds designers was all virtual, conducted over a short period of sampling and tweaks. But he feels they created a shoe that blends the two aesthetics. “It’s one of their classic boots, but we wanted to just give it a little lift, an update,” he said.
Like all Allen Edmonds shoes, the Discovery Moto Boot is hand-crafted in the brand’s factory in Port Washington, Wis., touched by over 45 skilled makers. Cabral’s additions include a harness strap, heavy buckle and wider tooth on the stitching. The boots will retail for $475, with all proceeds going to social justice causes in the U.S.
Aside from their shared love of fine craftsmanship, Cabral and Allen Edmonds are also both in a period of evolution.
In 2018, the heritage footwear label launched a new brand identity and design ethos that it continues to develop in order to stay in step with the changing needs of today’s consumers. The refresh has encompassed all aspects of the brand, from a new logo and maker’s mark to updated promotional imagery and packaging, and a modernized look for its brick-and mortar locations and website.
“Like other heritage brands in our portfolio, Allen Edmonds is driven by the goal of perpetual relevance,” said Schmidt. “We continually place the consumer and culture at the center of our process when it comes to evolution in product design and brand story telling. The brand’s American origin — combined with the spirit of invention and the craftsmanship honed over 100 years — speaks to the values of men today. We are simply evolving how that story is presented to our advocates in a way that signals alignment.”
Meanwhile, Cabral, who was born in Guinea-Bissau in West Africa and raised in Portugal, said that the death of George Floyd last year and the resulting social justice movement inspired him to reimagine his business and the impact it can have beyond the fashion world.
“I decided to really go back to my African heritage, my background and tell a beautiful story of pride,” he said. “Africa was always there with trade and craftsmanship, and very proud people. So I wanted to bring those things in, show people and combine the African artisanal techniques with Italian craftsmanship, to create beautiful bespoke shoes.”
His newly reimagined collection debuts next month and features artisan materials sourced from craftsmen in Africa. “One of the fabrics that we use is the African kente cloth, which in my country is called ‘pano di pinti.’ There is so much symbolism and meaning behind it that I think is so beautiful and I wanted to tell that story,” said Cabral. “And then we have the shoes made in Italy, where the Italians take such pride in their craft. You know, I was born in Africa, raised in Europe, and that’s part of my being. I wanted to bring those worlds together.”
And going forward, he has made philanthropy a core tenet of his business, with plans to donate a portion of all proceeds to support educational programs in Guinea-Bissau, as well as social justice organizations.
“We need to all do our part in bringing each other together and tell each other stories, celebrating the diversity and celebrating the differences between us,” said Cabral. “And we want to help our society because I feel like I’ve been helped along the way to get here. So it’s our time now to figure out a way to contribute.”
Allen Edmonds officially hits the century mark next April, and Schmidt is reflecting on the brand’s rich history, and looking ahead to its future. “One hundred years is a time to reflect. The ultimate aspiration is another 100 years.”