Review: Carmina Shoemaker MTO women’s oxford shoes

As the Covid-19 pandemic drags on to 2021, I think we can all agree that shallow stuff like shoe buying is more entertaining than a pandemic wallowing. So I’d like to share a review of Carmina Shoemakers‘ women oxfords, the 2nd big purchase I talked about last year.

I’ve been searching for a pair of white, leather lace-up when my derby’s gave up on me after 7 years (read here). But two years of scouring physical and online stores didn’t yield “the one”.

I realized that quality pair of women’s oxford shoes are hard to find simply because only a handful of good brands are making them. Oxfords are still largely considered men’s dress shoes while women are still expected to cram their feet into stilettos or ballerinas. While I do own a few pairs of stilettos, I use them once or twice a year, which makes the cost per wear ridiculously expensive. Maybe it’s my age but I now consider oxford shoes a woman’s best friend. They’re practical for both office and casual wear. I think it’s the one pair every woman should have in their closet, especially working moms.

My old derby shoes vs Carmina Shoemaker’s made-to-order women oxfords

I first considered Crockett and Jones’ Cora but the novelty of having shoes custom-made at Carmina won over the aesthetics of the Cora. Having bit of my personality added to a pair that should last me a lifetime, for a lesser price, was more attractive for the purse as well. Carmina’s production facility is located in Mallorca, Spain so that also ticks off the sustainability box.

Ordering – After commiserating about the price tag for a year and half, I finally ordered during the Black Friday sale in November 2020.

My specifications where: Calf Vitello leather, colour Bone, Madison 20 last, Alfil rubber soles, black edge, and red lining. I’m size EU 36, equivalent to UK 3.5 in Carmina sizing. The model was called Women Oxford Shoes 1200. Carmina throws in free cream and leather belt priced at €96 together as part of the promotion.

Delivery and customer service– They promised 60 days from order to delivery, but it took almost 90 days before the shoes were actually delivered. While I appreciate the open communication, they could have taken the initiative to inform me of delays. A system to track at what stage of production your order is on would have saved everybody time.

I must have sent more than 20 emails to Carmina but Ioana from the CS team was very patient with my impatience, remaining friendly and professional all throughout our email exchange.

Unboxing – This is my first custom-made shoes, and first Carmina pair, so waiting was almost unbearable. I was worried they won’t fit, that the colour would be too white, that the broguing will be ugly (I prefer no punching at all) or that I wouldn’t like them. One isn’t guaranteed satisfaction when one orders online. Made to order shoes can’t be returned, and at €448/pair it’ll be a costly joke if I hated them.

But I was very happy when I opened the familiar red box. They fit well and this shade of white was exactly what I wanted. Maybe narrower last would have fit my small feet better but I wouldn’t know for sure unless I try other lasts. The shoes are as stiff as a board but that’s supposedly normal for new Goodyear welted (GYW) dress shoes. I honestly like the more minimalist design of Cora better but this pair is as unique to me as I could afford.

Quality issues – There were however a few quality issues that I couldn’t let pass. There was a tiny but very visible cut in the upper. The sole is wrong (leather instead of Alfil which is not very compatible with the Dutch wet weather). Strangely, the heel’s sole is rubber so maybe someone rushed it when I started nagging about delivery time? The edge of the left pair wasn’t even and very unsightly while the insole of the right pair has leftover glue on it. And they gave me the wrong shoe laces (yes you can even choose shoelaces).

I wasn’t expecting a perfect pair. But Carmina Shoemaker has some sort of cult following among shoe connoisseurs online (mostly men) so the bar was set high. For a custom-made pair, they might have been a little sloppy. Carmina offered to have them resoled but I accepted the 15% refund instead of having them flown back to Spain and wait another 45 days (not exactly eco-friendly).

Will I be ordering from them again? Oh definitely! These cordovan boots are already on my list. Do I think Carmina is worth the price? Time will tell. My old derby’s were hard to beat. And if cost per wear would be the basis, these oxfords should last 21 years, at least.

What I learned about Goodyear welted shoes

I learned a lot about Goodyear welted dress shoes throughout this experience, thanks in part to our wise shoe experts online:

  1. Good GYW shoes are stiff in the beginning and generally takes 2-4 weeks to take on the shape of your feet. Once they do, it promised comfort and a lifetime of use.
  2. To avoid heel slippage, you have to tie the laces properly. I thought I ordered a slightly bigger size but when I tied the laces correctly, it became snug and comfortable.
  3. Last, that wooden (usually wood) foot form where a shoe is molded. Perhaps the most important thing to know when ordering dress shoes is your type of last. For truly bespoke shoes, the last is handmade to the most accurate form of someone’s foot. Custom-made last can set you back €500 but for people like me who aren’t willing to shell out at least €1500 for bespoke shoes, we just have to try to select the closest last that shoe brands have in their collection.
  4. Men can talk about shoes as much as women, maybe even more.
  5. Some men’s shoe collection can rival that of Imelda Marcos (3k pairs). The stereotype of women addicted to shoes is so obsolete.
  6. Carmina Shoemaker’s carries the most diverse line of ladies’ Goodyear welted shoes in that price segment. Still I find the choices for quality, GYW women’s shoes very limited. Trust me, women would much prefer stylish, comfortable and long lasting shoes rather than a collection of stilettos and ballerinas.
  7. Shoemakers, and cobblers should be relevant again, like the new generation of small-scale farmers. This is a good time to cut down on mass produced trendy, disposable, and (quite frankly) ugly shoes.