George Esquivel is a Los Angeles based shoe designer who specializes in handmade high-end and bespoke footwear. The 2009 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalist’s blend of new style and old world craft has garnered a loyal following among musicians, fashion insiders and professional athletes.
You grew up in LA and did not go to school for design – can you describe your childhood and how you came to be interested in fashion, and particularly a craft as specific as shoemaking?
My childhood was not an ideal one. I grew up moving around a lot; I went to 12 schools, elementary through high school. After high school when I had a job, concerts and music were my escape. Along with music comes fashion. At some point I had a pair of shoes made in Mexico. Later I found someone locally to make my shoes (my first mentor), shortly after I fell in love with the process and became his assistant. Over the years I had different people make my shoes, where I learned a bit more from each person. Nine years ago I opened my own shop, where I would meet with other shoemakers and make shoes at night. Slowly over the years as demand grew I hired my own team of shoemakers.
How would you describe your brand?
I would describe my brand as sophisticated casual. The treatments and processes that we put the shoes through I feel make our footwear sophisticated and our look and feel make them a bit casual. They are very Southern California
How many times a year do you release new collections or styles?
In terms of styles, I’m always developing and releasing new styles. Having my workshop 25 steps away from my office makes it very easy. My collections are released three times per year: Fall, Resort or pre-collection and Spring.
You have developed a business model that has allowed you to stay true to the purity of your shoemaking process and also remain relevant in a quick-paced industry that is always looking for the “next big thing.” How have you been able to do this?
I think I have been able to do this largely in part to having a local workshop. By having such easy access to my shop I can work with my private customers and not have to worry about overseas issues. My shop also let’s me be quick to market with any last minute ideas or changes that I may want to add or change. My shop also let’s me create special items for my accounts, which in turn let’s me offer unique pieces to all of my retail partners.
You did an apprenticeship with a shoemaker. Do you think designers spend enough time perfecting their craft before launching their own collections?
Yes, I did, my first mentor/teacher’s name was Emigdio Canales. I don’t like to criticize anyone for the path they choose, but in my opinion craft should always come before design. If you understand the craft and how things are made design comes much easier.
You have collaborated with the NBA, Maria Cornejo, Timo Weiland and most recently Irene Neuwirth. Do collaborations like this fulfill a different type of creativity? Who else do you want to collaborate with?
The collaborations do indeed let me explore other ideas that I typically wouldn’t develop in my own collection. In terms of who I would want to collaborate with, there are so many to name, but in the end I like things to come about organically and naturally.
You offer a range of custom services for consumers; how would you breakdown the buying process?
I have two types of services that we offer to my private clients. One is “Made to Order”, where the customer gets to choose style and color but we use a standard fit/size. We also offer “Full Custom”; most people don’t require this option but a lot of athletes require this service due to injuries or special needs. For this service we measure the feet and make a prototype of the shoes. We do not make the final pair until the customer is satisfied with the fit.
Where do you get the materials for your shoes?
My upper leathers are all brought in from Europe.
How are your male customers different from your female customers?
To be honest, my men and women customers are quite similar. They both want something that is a bit off the beaten path and a bit more special.
Who are your favorite menswear designers?
I really like Billy Reid, Michael Bastian, Loden Dager.
You have three children, are any of them following in your footsteps? (Pun intended.)
My eldest daughter wants to go into fashion in some sort of way (she currently started her freshman year of college). My son who is 15 is a sneaker fanatic; like a lot of boys he wants to play professional sports and has said that if that doesn’t work out maybe he’ll design sneakers. Our youngest daughter wants to be a chef.
Which womenswear designers do you think your shoes pair well with?
I recently made shoes for Juan Carlos Obando that he used with his resort collection. The juxtaposition of his gowns and my shoes was quite unexpected and beautiful. I think that in the end it’s about what the girl feels comfortable wearing. I’m a really big fan of mixing and matching and having fun with fashion.
Karlie Kloss is a long-time supporter of your brand. Does she embody ‘The Girl’ you see when designing your women’s styles?
I’m really lucky to have a diverse group of girls that support me, When designing I don’t have just one girl in mind. I draw inspiration from so many of my clients that have very unique and creative jobs (musicians, models, stylist, editors, actresses, and just cool down to earth girls.)