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Made To Order

Online resource Awl & Sundry is taking customization to the max.

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Awl & Sundry, an online custom shoe site for men, is letting guys channel their inner design self. The New York-based company, launched in March by 26-year-old Nikunj Marvania, allows men to create a pair of shoes from more than 2 billion options that include a range of last shapes, toe designs, materials, colors, hardware, laces and even stitching.  

The made-to-order welted footwear is produced in China by a team of 20 artisans.  Retail prices average $350 for shoes done in suede or calf, while ostrich styles sell for $700 and alligator at $1,600. "We flipped the business model upside down," said CEO Marvania, about working with a Chinese shoe manufacturer to establish a small factory in a country recognized for mass production. Financing for the business, he said, came from personal funds in addition to a minority investment from Interplay Ventures, a New York-based venture capital firm.

Marvania, formerly in the finance industry, came up with the concept after struggling to find work-appropriate footwear he liked at a price he could afford. "I had to dress well for my job," he said, disappointed in the quality of footwear he found at accessible price points. Custom shoes, he found, typically opened at $1,500.

"Our mission is to democratize the luxury of artisanal men's fashion," said Marvania, "by encouraging, facilitating and enhancing the creative role of the everyday customer via a customized and affordable online shopping experience." According to Marvania, he carefully chose the company's name to reflect its mission — awl is a tool used for piercing holes in leather, while sundry means diverse or something for everybody.   

Since the site launched, more than 70 pairs of its classic looks, which include oxfords and monk straps, have been ordered. "We have a very personal relationship with our clients," said Marvania, who's available by phone to guide consumers through the design process. "We've [already] had repeat orders and several customers have bought more than one pair." To further enhance the buying experience, there's a video on the site that takes customers through the shoemaking process.

While Marvania acknowledged that the business is not the first of its kind, its proprietary, user-friendly technology gives it an edge. Customers can view their designs in a 3-D real-time modeling platform. "You know what you're going to get," he said. "There are no surprises." However, if shoes are not a perfect fit, the company offers a 30-day exchange policy.

Orders take four to five weeks to complete, with shipping both domestically and overseas included in the price. Each pair is shipped with a complimentary pair of shoe trees, a shoehorn and travel bags. Customers can further personalize shoes with their monogram.

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