"Finding the perfect suppliers is a constant challenge for me," says Suzanne George, 34, who launched her made-to-order shoe business in the summer of 1995. Since she makes all of her footwear items by hand--one pair at a time--George is continually searching for the finest items to comprise her creations.
"The components that are used to make shoes are called `findings,' and they include everything from the glues and nails to the fabrics and the leather. Typically, you can get everything you need from the same suppliers," George explains. "While finding acceptable items such as laces and eyelets is a breeze, it's a lot more difficult to obtain affordable, high-quality leathers and decorative components."
George says that because the American shoe industry has largely relocated outside the United States, it's difficult for individuals practicing the craft here to find suitable items they need. "The most important component for me is the leather that I use because, apart from the craftsmanship, it makes the difference between a shoe that looks good and one that really looks great," George says. "One problem, though, is that available leather offerings change constantly, even from the same suppliers. Because the right leather can either make or break a shoe, I have to constantly revisit even my regular suppliers to keep up with changes regarding pricing and quality.
"Another problem is that, when I find the perfect leather at a great price, often the suppliers aren't interested in selling me just one skin. They want to sell me 20 skins or more. That costs far more money than I want or need to spend, so I have to use all of my negotiating skills and hope for a positive outcome. The same thing happens when I try to buy decorative components, such as fancy buckles for men's shoes. When I find something I like, the supplier wants to sell me a minimum of 1,000 or even 10,000, when I only need two or three. I can't afford to spend that much money, and I couldn't use all of those buckles in my lifetime."
Despite all these challenges, there is one supplier that George has worked with from the initial days of her business with whom she still works exclusively today. Because many of her creations are made-to-measure shoes, she utilizes the services of a man in San Francisco who makes precise molds of her clients' feet. "His quality was among the best I could find, he works with me on price, and I like his work ethic," she says. "Unlike many other people who just want to get paid to do a job, he is committed to the entire process and always comes through with top-quality work."