Rethinking how dress shoes are made
Ever have a nice pair of leather dress shoes wear through the sole? Or have aching feet at the end of a long day? Amberjack, a men’s dress-shoe company, was founded by John Peters because he felt like the men’s dress-shoe market was missing shoes that were both stylish and comfortable.
While working as a consultant for McKinsey & Company, Peters said that he spent a lot of time on the road traveling and that most of the dress shoes he could buy ended up hurting his feet by the end of the day or they started to wear out quickly.
“So I thought, could there be something better?” asked Peters, who graduated in 2014 from Cornell University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Applied Economics and Management. “I ended up working with some of these big footwear brands as a consultant,” said Peters, explaining that there was not a lot of customer satisfaction in the dress-shoe category. Peters realized after working with some of the larger shoe brands, that many of the issues he had with the typical men’s dress shoe resulted from an undeveloped area of the market. Developing and selling men’s dress shoes was not as profitable as doing the same with athletic shoes.
In 2019, Peters stepped back from his job as a consultant to focus on starting his own company to solve some of these problems. Two years later, Peters officially launched Amberjack in 2021.
The name Amberjack is a nod to Peters’ past. He said that most people mistakenly confuse the name with a fish (which shares the same name). However, the real story behind the name pays homage to his grandfather Jack who was a “… successful guy in business and just someone I really looked up to – was kinda my role model. I just thought he was the coolest guy and super innovative.” The name takes his grandfather’s name and the word amber, that represents fossilized resin, said Peters, thus, representing the old with “amber” and the new with “Jack.” Peters said, “Amberjack is an apt name for what we're trying to do, which is modernizing kind of a traditional space. And so that's where Amber and Jack came together.”
Each shoe is meticulously crafted with premium full-grain American steer hide which is shipped to Portugal where the shoes are manufactured.
Because Amberjack is vertically integrated with an ISO-certified, sustainable American tannery, “We get really quality full-grain leather. It's from American steer at a price that you probably wouldn't get elsewhere. And obviously we pass that on to the customer. That's how we're able to offer a hand-finished, full-grain furnished shoe, for $180, which otherwise would be quite a bit more,” said Peters, noting that without their partnership with the tannery, a pair of shoes would probably cost approximately $300.
Shortly after launching their shoe products, Amberjack started specifically developing, testing, and marketing their shoes for pilots. This began with an email exchange between Brett Oldfather and John Peters asking for feedback. Oldfather recounted that he remembered researching shoes trying to find a good pair to wear as an airline pilot. Besides Amberjack, which he stumbled across via an Instagram ad, there weren’t very many good pairs of shoes that were readily available.
Oldfather, who had spent close to 20 years in the Army as a Warrant Officer and was transitioning to flying for United Airlines, responded saying, “I'd like to help with this somehow. I know you guys are a startup … but I'd like to help get this going.” Oldfather pitched the aviation community as an untapped market for Amberjack and started, in his own words, “torture testing” shoes. While testing the shoes, Oldfather explained that he spent time walking through de-icing fluid and put salt on the shoes (among other things) to simulate some of the environments that pilots might deal with on a routine basis.
“They were super good,” summarized Oldfather, who was based out of Chicago. The airplanes “de-ice right at the gate …When you're walking around, you're gonna get de-ice fluid all over your feet … when you're out on the curbside, after it snowed, you're gonna get salt all over … nothing ever broke down the shoes or anything.”
According to Amberjack’s website, the shoes feature a non-FOD carrying tread that is slip resistant; a supportive insole which forms itself to the shape of the owner’s foot; and a non-pointed, wide toe box to help keep feet from feeling cramped. Additionally, the shoes have a non-metal shank which helps them to be TSA compliant. Oldfather noted that he never had an issue with the shoes while going through TSA at the airports.
Each part of the shoe is designed for long-term comfort, making them ideal for people who spend a lot of time on their feet. According to Amberjack, their outsole is crafted with their own proprietary TPU (thermoplastic urethane) material. This can be compared to other outsole materials such as EVA (elastomeric polymer) or a stacked leather outsole, which Amberjack says can be durable but cause foot pain at the end of long days.
Because the shoes are made with high-quality leather, Oldfather highly recommended spending a little bit of time breaking the shoes in before going on a long trip or walking a for a long time. “It’s the nature of the materials and design … you actually have to break in the shoes.”
On the outside, the shoes are a nice high-end, perforated leather, explained Oldfather. On the inside, they have a heat-activated insole that molds to the owner’s foot.
The typical shoe design process for Amberjack starts with an idea which is shared with their suppliers. Several samples are then created, tested, and revised until the company is satisfied with the quality of the shoe and is something that their customer base will enjoy.
Each shoe has several technical tests, such as durability and abrasion resistance, that they are subjected to during the design phase and for quality assurance. However, Peters emphasized that they value feedback from actual customers over lab-based test results. “For us, the most important by far, is not what a lab says; it is getting the product into the hands of the people who actually use it. Hearing their feedback and what they say is always the best thing.”
Peters said that a version of the shoes for women is on their horizon and that they are working on a plan to eventually integrate a women’s shoe into the brand.
Besides creating comfortable shoes, Amberjack is proud to sustainably source their materials, manufacture the shoes in a fair-wage factory, and utilize carbon-neutral shipping because they believe it is the right thing to do.
Amberjack promises to stand by their product with a one-year warranty. They will replace the shoes immediately at no cost to customers if there are any issues. They also offer free returns within 30 days and free exchanges within 60 days to help customers find the perfect fit.
From sustainably sourcing materials to ensuring quality at every stage of the manufacturing process, Amberjack’s goal is to produce a comfortable and stylish shoe. Their shoes promise to stand the test of time and live up to the company’s motto: “Obviously good, secretly great.”
For a personal recount of his experiences wearing shoes made by Amberjack and their customer service, read the review written by Craig Pieper, owner and publisher of Aero Crew News and commercial pilot. Use the following discount code to purchase your own pair of Amberjack shoes.