I first met Andrew shortly after launching the FB group Welted Shoes Australia. If I had a technical question or problem relating to welted footwear, Andrew was my guy. Andrew is a medical researcher by training; he's also one of Australia's most knowledgable connoisseur's of high-end men's footwear. With no small dose or providence, Andrew is now applying his envious knowledge to outfit men in handwelted shoes via his House of Agin webstore.
In case you’ve not heard of House of Agin, it launched in September 2020 with a with a focus on giving attention to underrepresented makers, whose shoes speak for themselves. For Andrew, it isn’t enough to just choose handwelted makers. His goal is to find the makers that offers the ‘ideal’ intersection between quality and value. That means making a few compromises to deliver handwelted shoes with high quality uppers below $500 USD.
Can you tell the reader a little bit about the origin story of Andrew Gong and his journey in high-end leather footwear?
As many do, I started my welted shoe journey more or less accidentally. I have a fairly research driven/obsessive personality, so when I decide to start doing something, it’s all or nothing. I began with a pair of Meermins and escalated pretty quickly into hunting down some rare Alden shell, NOS Edward Greens, and ordering handwelted Indonesian MTO boots.
What is the concept behind the House of Agin?
The first two banners on the site say it all really – pay for product, not marketing. Upgrade from the Goodyear Welt. There are plenty of incredibly high quality makers out there, both goodyear welted and handwelted. House of Agin aims to deliver on both of these while still maintaining a pleasing aesthetic.
Australia has also long suffered from a dearth of options when it comes to welted footwear. We have some exciting entry level upstarts such as Thomas George Collection, but historically the best way to see high end shoes has been to order online and pray that you don’t need to foot the international shipping return bill. I’m hoping to run a series of post-Covid trunk shows to give Australian enthusiasts a chance to hold and try on a pair of handwelted shoes in the flesh.
Mattina's Respighi-S is a classic split toe derby with a handsewn pie-crust apron and a reverse stitch
You’ve chosen to collaborate with Chinese maker, Mattina, which has an impressive shoemaker in Ruoda Zhao. With so much emerging shoemaker talent in the Asia-Pacific region, what was the reason behind selecting Mattina?
Zhao Ruoda’s involvement is a very exciting part of Mattina’s development, but the factory has been delivering fantastic private label shoes for the Japanese market (the most discerning welted shoe market in the world) for decades even before he came on board. There are many reasons for choosing Mattina – top end materials for reasonable cost (being a large buyer allows them to access high quality materials in bulk and offer a lower price), strong QC (the Japanese market is unlikely to accept sub-par product), highly skilled team able to handwelt, and an eagerness to expand their international presence.
Most importantly though? I fell in love with their aesthetic immediately, particularly with their Britten adelaide oxford and Respighi pie crust apron derby.
I can certainly see the attraction to Mattina. Take us through some of the models you'll be offering and why readers should be excited by them?
As mentioned, the most exciting models to me are the Respighi (both apron and split toe), Britten adelaide oxford, and Cherubini wingtip oxford. I think the patterns show both skilful execution and thoughtful design when it comes to their proportions, being ‘harmonious’ in their balance. That’s not to take away from their other great patterns, like their Elgar oxford or Seans wingtip derby – if I were to describe the Mattina aesthetic in two words, I would say ‘restrained elegance’. These aren’t unwearable, dandy options. Wearing these to a modern office will avoid a sarcastic ‘nice shoes’, while being appreciated by those with taste. When our customers wear Mattina shoes, I want them to be appreciated without the need for wild patinas or ultra-aggressive lasts.
'Restrained elegance,' seems like a term that would resonate with Australian men. How does one get their hands on these shoes? Walk us through the ordering process.
A lot of great, small MTO shoemakers out there struggle with the order process, requiring customers to go through layers of emails and requests for quotations before a customer is ready to buy. I put some time into building a transparent, straightforward MTO form right on the website with all surcharged options listed upfront – if you’re really keen, you can pay a 50% deposit without contacting us at all. 4-6 weeks later, a pair of shoes arrives with us for final quality control. These are sent out by DHL Express once the final 50% payment is received. That said, we are always happy to discuss designs and MTO features by email or Instagram.
The leather range is impressive. Do you have a feel for what leather upper will perform well?
From my time as a shoe enthusiast, I would say that smooth leathers tend to be the most popular, for the simple reason that they are the most versatile. Our Annonay Vocalou Calf is fantastic in that regard as it has a balance between firmness and flexibility that allows it to bend comfortably with the foot while maintaining the look of the shoe. I think the Annonay Inca Calf is the most exciting of the bunch though – the embossed grain performs well in rain while being able to polish up and work for Business Casual situations.
On the product pages one has a lot to select choose from. For someone who has not used a Made To Order (MTO) service before, what would you suggest they select?
We have a few great pages that give advice on MTO as well as explain our many options (see Mattina's MTO guide, here).
My favourite piece of advice is to avoid the temptation to be too unique, as this could easily result in an unwearable shoe. Until you have a versatile enough collection that house guests say ‘why do you have so many of the exact same shoe’, it’s best to take your time to gather inspiration so you can figure out exactly what you want and how you would wear it.
Visit the House of Agin website to learn more. I should also mention..A FREE pair of lasted shoe trees is provided with each shoe ordered before 31 October 2020! I will be purchasing a pair of the Matinna Desert Boots (review to follow).