The Inventors: Wolf & Shepherd
March 22nd, 2016
For Wolf & Shepherd founder Justin Schneider, the problem was as clear as his friends’ gripes about their work shoes. “I was talking with a friend who was telling me, ‘I have these great dress shoes, and they're expensive,’” Justin explained. “But the shoes killed his feet to wear. He was changing in and out of running shoes to commute because his dress shoes hurt too much.” The expensive shoes, while great looking, simply didn’t cooperate with his friend’s day-to-day.
The cause of this pain in dress shoes is because construction hasn’t changed in over 100 years. In a traditional dress shoe, you’re walking on wood and nails. The leather sole is slippery and wears down quickly, the nails face the heel, and they hold their shape by way of a steel shank – the biggest contributor to weight in a dress shoe. Walking around in shoes like this is physically exhausting and limiting, ultimately make one’s literal foundation – their feet – feel terrible. As daily equipment goes, dress shoes were coming up short.
Justin is a lifelong athlete. At Notre Dame, he was a nationally ranked decathlete; and now as a dedicated runner, he continues to find himself considering daily life through the lens of training. The last thing an athlete would ever do is make compromises that could hurt their performance, such as skimping on equipment come competition time; and the new field of performance, as Justin puts it, is the workforce. You’re commuting, hustling through an office, traveling off-site, closing deals. Why would you compromise on your equipment there?
With a background in performance footwear – Justin has mass-market experience with Reebok, and served on innovation teams at Adidas and New Balance – he’s trained to think up technologies that push the boundaries of what’s expected in footwear. Coupled with his performance background, this equipped Justin to move forward in solving the long-term issue with dress shoes. His goal in founding Wolf & Shepherd? To make a dress shoe lighter and more comfortable without compromising aesthetic.
The difference would be inside the shoe – starting with that steel shank. Justin explained the physical impact of weighty dress shoes: “If you add a pound of weight to the core of your body, your efficiency decreases by 1%. If you add a pound of weight to a ‘hinge’ – like your foot – that efficiency decreases by 10 times, or 10%. After a 10- or 12-hour day, that makes a huge difference.”
To reduce the weight of the arch, Wolf & Shepherd removed this steel shank and replaced it with a molded carbon fiber version. Next to go was the unnecessary sandwiching of leather, and then traditional cork was replaced with a heel-to-toe memory foam footbed and a laser-cut compressed rubber outsole that provides extreme traction. All of this makes the shoe about a pound lighter than a traditional dress shoe, and therefore increases physical efficiency. The upper is nothing short of luxe – made of genuine, full-grain Italian leather and manufactured in Portugal, with a Parisian cream finish at the toes.
So, how do the shoes hold up? Ministry of Supply co-founder Gihan Amarasiriwardena put his Wolf & Shepherds to the test on a whirlwind trip to Asia. He explains:
"I brought the Wolf & Shepherd Honey Bison shoes along on a eleven-day manufacturing trip that took me through 7 cities – Tokyo, Japan; Seoul, Korea; Shanghai, China; Fuzhou, China; Hong Kong; Taipei, Taiwan; San Francisco – with my only possessions being a day pack. The trip included meetings in corporate offices, hours upon hours in airports, walking through cities (Tokyo in particular), manufacturer visits, and even a wedding. Other than my running shoes, they were my only option across climate shifts that varied from 20F and snow in Seoul, to a hot 80F in Hong Kong.
“Traction: In Seoul, it snowed one day. Traditional leather-soled shoes would have slipped, but the laser-cut rubber heel and forefoot areas provided great grip on a variety of surfaces.
“Comfort: I spent an entire day in Tokyo walking around. I left my AirBnB in the morning and was flying out that night, so I kept my backpack with me as I walked to meetings. The key to the comfort of the shoes is 1) they hug the arch providing support while 2) the foam heel cushions your stride, especially when moving briskly. We had two flights cancelled, which meant hours walking airport terminals. That hard concrete flooring often has my feet aching after some hours, but the foam footbed kept me from feeling the hard surface directly through the shoe’s leather/rubber outsole.
“Aesthetic: I paired the warm golden-tan oxfords with charcoal and navy Aviator 2 separates, and the shoes got multiple comments, especially with the clean, bold contrast against the darker navy. That combo was perfect for the wedding, and then for business meetings, toned down just enough with charcoal hues.
“All in all, the shoes were perfect functionally for several days on the move – aesthetically sharp enough for a wedding, while clean enough for business meetings.”
The name Wolf & Shepherd connotes non-hesitating ambition (that being, the wolf) guided from point A to point B by a shepherd. “What does it look like to combine the two?” Justin posed. “I believe you need both of those to succeed. And when you combine those two seemingly different principles, you get Wolf & Shepherd.”