They say one can tell a lot about a man by what he wears on his feet, and nothing says a classy gentleman like a gorgeous pair of leather shoes. Still, it’s a luxury that sometimes seems quite farfetched for us mere mortals. At a time when a dressy pair of shoes can go upwards of $1000, two men have stepped up to change the game.
Gary Ong and Jonathan Wong from Singapore are the founders of 51 Label, a brand that offers luxury shoes with none of the crazy markups. And if you find the pair familiar, it’s because they’re the same people behind Mr.G – a suit tailoring service that brings everything to the convenience of your home. Last week, we spoke to Gary to find out more about their latest venture.
Hi Gary. Tell us about the 51 Label style?
Jon and I have always focused on the essentials and timeless styles for our brands. 51 Label focuses on designs that most people can imagine themselves in. The touches are minimalistic and elegant. We envisioned having a collection that make people go “Wow, I can imagine every single design in my wardrobe and I can imagine myself wearing them everyday.”
How is 51 Label different from other ‘homegrown’ footwear brands available in Singapore?
51 Label is different in that we are spearheading this concept called “Effortless Luxury”. With the brand, we want to bring footwear of luxurious quality to our clients without the luxury mark-ups. Every pair of shoes by us carry the most premium quality materials such as Italian baby calfskin leather and French waxed cotton laces.
We’re definitely not competing on prices but on value. We manufacture all of our shoes in the Marche region of Italy, and that’s also where most renowned luxury brands such as Ferragamo and Gucci handcraft their shoes in. We pride ourselves on the fact that we produce our shoes on the same quality level as luxury brands.
Describe your typical client.
Our clients are savvy and understand that luxury can be effortless to attain. They are also particular about their style, they want shoes that they can pair easily with their everyday outfits. They also like to have shoes that they can wear every single day comfortably all-day-long and shoes that can last for a very long time.
Many people still prefer to try their shoes in person before buying. Has that been a problem so far?
This has not been a problem actually. Most of our clients understand that in order for us to deliver the utmost value to them, we would need to cut away the middleman or the overheads of a physical store-front. This way, we won’t have the unnecessary costs and we’d still be able to deliver the best for less.
What else do you think is stopping more people from getting nicer shoes, like yours?
I feel that it is really a function of preference and also the awareness. Preference is hard to control by brands, it is highly subjective. Many times, consumers do not know what they need and what they want or don’t want, if they’re not presented with options. The sole focus of Jon and I is to believe strongly in what we stand for and to communicate this relentlessly to our potential clients so they can make more informed decisions.
What are some lessons the two of you learnt from running Mr. G?
There are three main things that we have learnt, and to be honest, we’re still learning as Mr. G is growing. First, never compromise on quality; always pay attention to the needs of clients; and that luxury is not elusive and can be democratised.
You design the shoes yourself. Where do you take inspiration from?
Our inspiration come from three words: “minimalistic”, “essential”, and “elegant”. We make sure that the designs that come off our drawing boards are designs that we are willing to wear and we’ll be proud to see people on the street wearing.
Are there any footwear brands in particular you admire?
Definitely Yohei Fukuda, Carmina, and Allen Edmonds. I respect brands that relentlessly pursue excellence in their craft. We really respect the heritage and quality of the giants in this field.
Also, what’s next in the collection? How big are you guys dreaming?
Particularly for 51 Label, our first series has always been about essential formals such as oxfords, penny loafers, and monks. Our upcoming collection is going to feature more casual designs such as suede sneakers, chukka boots, and so on, playing around with premium quality materials such as top-grade suede.
We’re collaborating with Robinsons to have a series of pop-ups in The Heeren and Raffles City so that we can allow our prospective clients to come try out our shoes. Our first 51 pop-up starts on 13th September 2018 at Robinsons The Heeren!
Lastly, your best shoe care tip?
The best shoe care tip I have is to make sure that you own a set of leather care products, such as Saphir, to constantly rejuvenate the leather. Quality leather behaves like our human skin – they need moisturising and utmost care so that they look the best all the time. If I may offer one more, that is to own a pair of cedar-wood shoe trees to retain your shoe’s shape and ensure they are odourless.
Shop 51 Label here.