Kenwin Small provides the perfect fit with customised Italian shoes
Cru Non Pareil provides the perfect fit for men who can't find shoes their size or styles they love locally.
Dissatisfied with the selection of men’s dress shoes locally and the difficulty of many to find the right fit, Kenwin Small decided to look abroad for solutions.
The result, a budding shoe customisation business that delivers not only the right fit but stylish shoes for various occasions.
Cru Nonpareil sources custom leather Italian shoes from Spain tailored to fit Small’s customers.
“My friends and I liked shoes but all of us, when looking for shoes locally, always had the issue of getting the correct fit. Some of us were getting our fit but variety was an issue so to help my friends and myself I started Cru Non Pareil,” he told Loop during a visit to his Barataria home.
He said initially he wanted to become a supplier in the Caribbean for an international brand for his friends some of whom wore size 15 and could not find their size.
He said while doing research online he contacted a few people in Europe and told them of his idea. A shoe enthusiast advised him to search for a shoe factory that could assist and he did stumble upon one such factory that customised shoes.
Kenwin Small, owner of Cru Nonpareil
“I tried it out for myself and I went to work one day and a co-worker said I like your shoes, where did you get it? He asked me to bring in one for him and I decided maybe this could be a business I could use to supply guys in Trinidad and Tobago who can’t find their perfect fit or the variety,” he said.
Small, 30, started the business in March 2019.
He said at first he didn’t have many clients as many people thought the company was foreign-based because of the name Cru Non Pareil which, he explained, means a crew of men who are unrivalled and unmatched.
“Because it is a niche market, the clientele would be slower compared to a ready to wear service because the shoes are custom-made and based on the comfort level they are seeking,” he said, noting that he is not worried about how fast the brand grows.
“It must last, it must be something people can appreciate and know this is a local brand for a specific type of men — men who have abnormally long feet, men who are broad footed, men who have flat feet and men with broad insteps.”
To order your pair of customised shoes, it starts with the perfect measurement of your feet.
“The perfect measurement is important because the first thing my clients are looking for is the comfort level of their shoe. They want total comfort when they put on their dress shoe. After your feet are measured then the fun part begins, we sit down with the client and design the shoe,” said Small, who uses a combination of predetermined designs and swatches to help the customer design what they want.
He said when clients see the 3D model of the shoe they create they get excited.
“Sometimes I have to control them and tell them don’t go too wild because you still want a shoe you could wear every day and at least once a week.”
Once the design process is complete, Small sends it to the factory in Spain and in four to six weeks the shoes arrive in T&T at which point he does a quality control check to ensure the shoe meets the required standard.
If not, he would discuss the issues with courier and if they stemmed from the factory, the client is refunded or sold the shoe at a discounted price if they still want it. Small said he has never had to do that but it is a process for the worst case scenario.
Clients currently pay an annual fee of TT$800 for Small’s service which includes measurements, design and dress shoes. Accessories such as a shoe care kit, a shoe tree, which keeps the shape of the shoe and absorbs moisture, as well as a shoe horn are sold separately.
Small’s clientele includes businessmen, mature gentlemen and politicians. Saddam Hosein, the United National Congress’ candidate for San Juan/Barataria is one of his customers. He highlighted the young entrepreneur on his Facebook page recently.
Small said Esmond Forde, Deputy Speaker of the House of Parliament was his first client.
“Because of my love for shoes I see this becoming a full-time thing,” said Small when asked about his vision for the business.
“I see this as something that I could eventually hand to my son and it becomes a generational thing in the Small family where people in T&T, the Caribbean and the world will know us as the people to go to for Italian leather shoes.”
He has plans to expand his service to the region but that will entail travelling which isn’t possible now due to COVID-19 restrictions.
He said he is thinking about a made-to-order programme to supply shoes to customers in the region.
Of course, being the owner of the business, Small has been able to satisfy his love for shoes. He currently has 15 pairs of high end, high quality dress shoes.
He said he has always been fascinated with the way American and European men dress.
“It is always something I believe young black men should strive towards, always dressing like a gentleman. I am not saying you always have to wear a suit but there are chinos and shirts you could wear. Not every occasion calls for a sneakers, some occasions call for a nice dress shoe. I believe dressing well makes you feel better and people respect you a lot more when you are dressed properly,” he said.
Growing up, Small would have never been caught dead in what he referred to as a ‘kick and stab’ shoes but thanks to the exposure to the world through the Internet, he discovered a style that appealed to him.
“That steered me in a direction where I am now providing custom-made Italian leather dress shoes for men with specific needs.”
Asked what are some of the must-have shoes for men, Small said there are six he would recommend: a cap-toe Oxford, a full-Brogue Oxford, a less formal shoe; a dark brown or tan cap-toe Oxford for variety; an ox-blood monk strap, which he said is the most versatile dress shoes ever made; a Tassel loafer or a Penny loafer for younger guys; and a black Chelsea boot or a Chukka Boot which is similar to a Clarkes.