Having good taste and impeccable style doesn’t happen overnight. Sometimes, it takes learning from the best in the industry to truly perfect dressing like a fashion-forward, modern man. Welcome to our series, “How to be Stylish,” where we pick the brains of some of the most respected figures in fashion for their ultimate style tips.
For some, whether they are footwear rookies or shoe snobs, shopping for kicks can be a drag. But thanks to Ariel Nelson, finding a pair of quality shoes (free of sticker shock, no less) is quick and easy. In 2013, he and business partner Lane Gerson schemed up Jack Erwin, a direct-to-consumer brand that specialized in affordable, well-made shoes. And shortly after, their first brick-and-mortar store opened in Tribeca, N.Y. Unlike other fashion power players, Nelson doesn’t boast a lengthy resume with luxurious fashion houses. Instead, he got his start in the food and beverage business, making his foray into the fashion industry all that more of a success story. For all things footwear and style-related, we picked Nelson’s brain in the new installment of “How to Be Stylish.”
The Cheat Sheet: Why did you and co-founder Lane decide to start Jack Erwin?
Ariel Nelson: We started the company because we love great products. We believe that quality, long-lasting products should not cost a fortune.
CS: What’s the one thing every stylish, modern man should invest in? Why?
AN: Our Joe Cap-Toe Oxford is a must for every guy. This is a classic style that can be dressed up or worn for less formal occasions. With a full-grain calfskin upper, hand-stitched leather outsole, and a fully leather-lined padded insole, this shoe looks great and is built to last.
CS: Whether getting dressed yourself or designing for the Jack Erwin customer, what’s the one style rule you always follow?
AN: Honestly, we don’t believe style is about rules or guidelines. We do however strongly believe that style starts from the ground up. Investing in a quality pair of shoes is the first step. From there, everyone has his or her own approach. Our shoes are classically designed, clean, and well made, allowing them to be styled any number of different ways.
CS: Regardless of how comfortable a shoe is, breaking into a fresh pair of lace-ups is no easy feat. Are there any tricks of the trade you can provide our readers?
AN: Purchasing a quality pair of shoes made from real leather is an investment. High quality leather takes time to wear in. However, one thing would be to wear your new pair early and often for short stints. If you wear your shoes frequently the shoe will break in and the leather will begin to soften around your foot.
CS: One thing that’s so interesting about Jack Erwin is its emphasis on e-commerce. How do you think that’s changing the modern man’s interaction with fashion and creating their own personal style?
AN: We were founded as an e-commerce company because our goal was to provide a top-quality product, using the best materials and construction methods, at an accessible price. The direct to consumer model was the only way we saw this to be possible. I think the modern consumer is becoming increasingly aware of the brands they support. They care about quality, construction, and price. Our customers love that they can get the latest style simply by ordering online.
CS: What are five types of shoes that every modern man needs in his closet?
AN Classic cap-toes,wingtip oxfords, penny loafers, Chelseas boots, and combat boots.
CS: Over the past few years, there has been an increase of men opting for a polished sneaker to compliment his suit instead of a standard pair of brogues. Is this changing the design plan at Jack Erwin? Why or why not?
AN: We started this company to create products we were proud of. Beautiful, high-quality, and thoughtfully designed products we believe every man wants and needs. We wanted to build a brand not chasing trends, but rather focused on perfecting a consistent reliable offering. We believe the classic dress shoe is here to stay, and should be celebrated accordingly. That being said, we do consider the less formal approach to shoes and suits an interesting one. This is something we discuss internally quite frequently. But what we are finding is that our customer truly appreciates the clean designs of our shoes as they can pair them with a less formal look as well as something more elevated.
CS: Where do you see Jack Erwin five years from now?
AN:We are working to build a great company with great people. My hope is that we will continue to be known for well-made products, our company culture, and our innovative approach to building a business. In five years, you will see a better version of Jack Erwin, a company built to provide our customers with a great experience and the highest quality products at a fair and honest price.
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