Transforming Men

Daniel Porcelli 03MBA offers fine craftsmanship and value to consumers

By Michelle Valigursky

Impeccable old-world craftsmanship from Spain, rich leather, sculpted lasts, and bespoke-inspired designs are the hallmarks of Cobbler Union, an e-commerce luxury men’s footwear startup founded by Daniel Porcelli 03MBA.

Porcelli

Co-Founder and CEO of Cobbler Union Daniel Porcelli 03MBA

With a highly scalable direct-to-consumer business model and exceptional prices, Cobbler Union is poised to capture a substantial share of the men’s luxury shoe market.

Launched in early 2014, Cobbler Union offers “unpretentious luxury at an affordable price.” The company embodies Porcelli’s “passion and obsession” for bespoke products. “Bespoke” commonly refers to custom-made or commissioned items, and Porcelli infuses the essence of this customization into his shoe line with details like Aston Martin-inspired quilted heel cups, beveled waist soles, and beautiful patinas. “American men are investing more in their appearance and realizing they no longer have to walk around in bland, beat-up shoes.”

Industry statistics support Porcelli’s vision. Recent Bain and Company research* cites that leather goods are consistently the fastest growing category in luxury products, with the men’s market leading with double-digit growth. Shoes “represent one of the fastest-growing categories, with both men’s and women’s registering solid performance driven by specialist players.” Trends include “Blooming high-end and sophisticated luxury, with aspirational consumers shifting to more luxury-premium brands.”

Porcelli explains in layman’s terms. “A nice pair of shoes doesn’t just dress you up. It grows you up.” But, he is quick to distinguish, “Cobbler Union is not in the shoe business. We are in the business of transforming men by helping them incorporate style and elegance into their lives. We are also in the business of doing what we can to celebrate and promote exceptional craftsmanship.”


Building the Business of Transformation

Working with artisans in Spain, Porcelli designs Cobbler Union high quality calfskin shoes to endure. “Our company is part of a small group of independent European shoemakers who share a passion for true craftsmanship and work to preserve the skills and secrets of the shoemaking craft,” he explains. “To create each shoe, more than 200 separate processes occur. It’s labor-intensive and precise, but the resulting shoes are truly beautiful objects that men covet.” Each model is produced in small batches and undergoes countless quality-control checkpoints throughout the production process.” Our goal is to make some of the highest quality shoes in the world – we make no compromises.”

Family budgets may prevent many Americans from spending upwards of $1000 on a single pair of shoes, but they do nothing to diminish the desire to own such luxury items. “Not many of us can afford to spend that type of money on a pair of Oxfords,” Porcelli suggests. “By circumventing the traditional retail channel and engaging with customers directly through our website, Cobbler Union is able to provide the same meticulously handcrafted luxury footwear at a fraction of the price.”

An early business meeting with a key buyer at Bergdorf Goodman in New York City convinced Porcelli to focus on e-commerce as the company’s main distribution channel. “High-end retailers mark up luxury shoes up to three times before selling them to the end consumer. We quickly realized we had an opportunity to disrupt this dynamic. Cobbler Union’s direct-to-consumer model allows us to have a more efficient supply chain and to pass on important savings to our customers,” Porcelli says. “We decided that building one of the world’s first e-commerce luxury brands was our best course. By doing so, we can offer a powerful value proposition to our customers while building a more scalable and profitable company.”

With a growing team and an aggressive growth strategy, Cobbler Union is poised to redefine the way men buy luxury goods. Cobbler Union has eliminated the middleman entirely, and via its elegant website offers its shoes beginning at $395 with free shipping both ways.

“We’ve taken the barriers out of purchasing online and work with our customers to find exactly what they are looking for,” he says. Since the website’s launch earlier this year, Cobbler Union has earned the loyalty of many repeat customers. “Today, men are no longer satisfied with owning two or three pairs of shoes. Now, a man’s shoe wardrobe will include at least ten pairs that can be rotated and worn with different outfits. The Cobbler Union aesthetic is classic with a contemporary twist. Our customers definitely appreciate our quality and the diversity of our product line.”

The United States is the top country for growth in the personal luxury goods market. Porcelli and his colleagues operate on a lean business start-up model, bootstrapping funding through this initial phase of e-commerce. Drawing inspiration from the disruptive success of Warby Parker, an internet-based eyewear company, Cobbler Union has set its sight on obtaining additional funding for rapid expansion in phase two. “We have a unique opportunity to lead a significant paradigm shift in the way luxury goods are marketed and sold. To fulfill our vision, we need to offer a world-class product but also an exceptional customer experience. We want to do things right. Our next phase is all about building a capable team and the appropriate business infrastructure to support our growth,” Porcelli says.

When it comes to buying footwear, the difference between men and women’s approaches is rapidly changing. “When women try on shoes, they look at their whole reflection,” Porcelli explains. “Men typically look only at their shoes, but they are learning to take in their entire image. Shoes will transform an outfit, and in the process, make a man feel better about himself and the image he portrays.”   

Porcelli offers this observation: “The shoes we love make us taller, more handsome, more secure of ourselves. Women tell us that shoes are the first thing they look at in a man. Why take a chance, then? It's important to get them right so that we feel comfortable, and comforted, in our own shoes.”

*Editor’s Note: To explore the 2013 Bain and Company report about the Luxury Goods Worldwide Market, please consult http://www.slideshare.net/ukaszSzymula/2013-luxury-goods-worldwide-market.

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Michelle Valigursky