“Shoes transform your body language and attitude. They lift you physically and emotionally.” So sayeth Christian Louboutin, the creator of the iconic red-bottomed heels for which many women will gladly hand over a full month’s rent.
Ben Fischman, founder of the new Boston startup M. Gemi, wholly agrees with the sentiment—but he doesn’t believe that women should have to break the bank to own a beautiful, well-made shoe. So he traveled to Italy to find another way.
“The woman who buys shoes knows that the finest shoes in the world are made in Italy,” Fischman says. “But there’s been this really interesting thing that’s taken place over the last 25 years. If today a woman wants to buy a pair of beautiful, gorgeous, high-quality Italian shoes in the U.S., she’s going to have to spend, on average, between $500 and $2,000.”
That’s where M. Gemi comes in. Launched late last month, the company aims to deliver finely crafted Italian shoes to American shoppers at an attainable price point. “Our thesis, and I think a thesis that is probably shared amongst the consumer, is why does luxury have to be super expensive?” Fischman says.
It’s a familiar question for the serial entrepreneur, who founded the flash-sale site Rue La La and served as its CEO until 2013. But now he’s moving into manufacturing, partnering directly with small factories in Florence to produce shoes—from snakeskin boat shoes to suede wedges to sleek stilettos—that range from $128 to $298.
“These are facilities that have been passed down from generation to generation,” Fischman says. “These are craftsmen, sitting in shops, sitting on stools, sitting around tables, sitting with limited machinery and handcrafting these gorgeous pieces of art.”
As such, the craftsmen will only produce a limited number of each style. A new collection is released every Monday at 10 am, and no style is available for more than 12 weeks—though Fischman hopes most will sell out well before then.
“In many ways, this is a reinvention of luxury,” he says. “When people can grab onto craftsmanship again and grab onto some level of individuality, I think they respond incredibly well.”