Why Are Leather Shoes Expensive?
Why are leather shoes so expensive? Because good ones are actually worth it!
The simplest way to answer that is good leather shoes are expensive because they're made with quality materials and are also made to last. That is, they are most of the time; not all necessarily fit that description.
Some leather shoes are expensive for other reasons.
However, if you're buying a quality pair of leather shoes from a good manufacturer or cobbler, it's because you're investing in a quality item that you can wear for years, if not decades, and that will reward you for doing so.
In other words, good leather shoes are expensive because they're worth it. Not quite so good leather shoes...can be just expensive.
Quality Leather Shoes Are Made With Quality Leather
Manufacturers of leather goods, such as leather shoes and boots, look for leather that is good or leather that's good enough. You want to get shoes or boots made by the former.
There are many tanneries across the globe, but many of them specialize in volume rather than quality and consistency of product. If you buy materials for volume you usually get them cheaper, but buying quality is almost always more expensive.
Let's put it this way: Ikea furniture, mostly made from fiberboard, screws and dowels, is cheap. Stickley furniture, made from quality hardwoods and joinery, is not. And the materials are where that starts.
Quality leather is not the easiest thing to find domestically in terms of selection. Only a few commercial tanneries are still in operation in the United States. Those that remain specialize in the highest quality of leather, such as Horween, Hermann Oak and Wickett and Craig.
Granted, is the amount of leather that's used to make a pair of leather shoes or boots really that expensive? Not really in the grand scheme of things, but a lot more so than cheap imported leather from elsewhere.
So you're starting with higher quality leather in most instances. The higher quality of materials does demand a premium.
But is that all you're paying for? Actually, it's most likely the least of it.
Quality Leather Shoes Demand Specialized Labor
Most of the cost in quality leather shoes or other footwear usually isn't in the materials, though some of it is. Most of the cost is actually in the labor.
Handmade boots and shoes are typically made with the more strenuous construction methods.
Factory boots and shoes are often glued together. It's cheap, it's fast, and you can pump out product like crazy...but they usually don't last. That's why cheap boots are cheap. Quality boots, on the other hand, come at a bit of a premium.
Goodyear welting stitches the outsole to the upper. It's durable, reasonably waterproof and can be done by machine, so there's less manual specialty labor involved. However, the machinery isn't cheap and does require some skilled labor, so it's a bit spendier.
A lot of very good footwear at anywhere from very reasonable to not very reasonable prices is made this way, including some very high-quality leather shoes and boots for dress or work, is made this way.
Then you have handmade boots and shoes.
Handmade shoes and boots are typically made by a Blake stitch (the upper and insole stitched directly to the outsole with no midsole; common for dress shoes) or stitchdown construction, made by crimping the upper to create a skirt, and stitched to the midsole and the outsole.
However, making shoes this way requires skilled workers with a lot more training under their belt, and any worker of that description is more expensive. The process also takes a lot longer.
Instead of a shoe that requires hours of labor, it may require days.
Expensive materials, along with expensive labor, adds up to a more expensive product in most cases.
However...you're also getting something.
High-end cobblers and bootmakers that make handmade leather shoes and handmade boots use premium materials and construction methods to create a more durable product as well as one that's more attractive.
You get a better and better-looking shoe than you would from a store that has "mart" in the name. Blake stitching, stitchdown construction, and Goodyear welting also make a pair of leather shoes resoleable.
So long as the upper isn't ruined, you can give your shoes new life every year or two with new soles. Some manufacturers even offer rebuilding programs, so potentially the upper can be recrafted as well, keeping you from having to pay full price for new ones.
But Some Leather Shoes Are Expensive Because Of A Name, So Shop Carefully
With that said, be in no doubt that some leather shoes are expensive because of a name or because of how they look, not necessarily what they're made of or how they're made. So you'll want to be careful when shopping for a pair.
Start by looking at the materials used. Unless you know for a fact the brand uses premium leather from a reputable producer, you may want to stay away. If you don't know for a fact how they're made, you might want to look elsewhere.
While you obviously don't need to spend thousands of dollars on a pair of leather shoes, you should be prepared to make an investment in a pair that's actually good, or else there's basically no point.
However, if you do invest in a great pair, you'll be rewarded with years of use and a great feeling every time you put them on.