A Review of the Allen Edmonds Kenwood Black Penny Loafer (+ M.Gemi Comparison)
You may already know this, but just in case you don’t, I’ll let you in on my personal struggles. I, and many others, have been looking for a classy, comfortable, and affordable black penny loafer for years. I tried the M.Gemi penny loafer, and although it was super sleek and somewhat reasonably priced, it was not a great fit. Well, guess what folks??? I FINALLY FOUND THE PERFECT PENNY LOAFER! And it was ol’ reliable Allen Edmonds that came to the rescue.
(DISCLAIMER: If you are looking for a super comfortable, super high quality, super sleek, perfect-looking-loafer, then stop reading right here. That is not what this shoe is, nor is it what I was looking for, nor will you find such a shoe for under $300, minimum. More than any other item, shoe perfection will almost always cost you a “pretty penny.” This shoe, and this article, is about that middle-tier shoe, that is really well priced, very nice, and respectably sleek. If you’re looking for a shoe in that range, READ ON!)
Our Secret: Allen Edmonds Factory Seconds
We are going to let you in on a secret that discerning shoe shoppers may know, but most people don’t. Allen Edmonds has a separate part of their website for “factory seconds.” What are “factory seconds”? I’ll let AE explain: “212 Steps and 100 pairs of hands. That’s what it takes to handcraft an Allen Edmonds shoe. Sometimes mistakes happen. The result are these lightly “Blemished” shoes that have minor defects. Though they last as long as our other shoes and are re-craftable, they are not “First Quality” shoes and are sold as Allen Edmonds Factory Seconds for a reduced price.” Now, I’ve purchased all of my AE shoes as factory seconds. I almost never can even find these “minor defects,” and they’re always worth the price I pay. So, if you’re looking for high quality shoes at an affordable price, always check AE factory seconds first before buying anything from their regular store or website. They won’t disappoint. The only slight downside is that there is a $25 restocking fee for returning factory second shoes if they don’t work out. So, only buy a factory second shoe if you’re really sure you like the style, and are comfortable that you will choose the right fit for your foot. (Factory second shoes fit the same as the regular AE shoes do, though, so drop into your local Nordstroms or AE store, try on a few pairs, and learn your size before ordering. That’s the trick.) Alright, let’s get on to the details.
Quality, Construction and Style
As we have said before, the single most important factor in how long a shoe will last, how good the quality is, and how much it costs, is how well it is constructed. Construction is more important in a shoe than in almost any other item of clothing, as no other item takes wear-and-tear quite like a shoe does. We will also closely analyze whether this shoe is more classy or casual in style, since loafers often swing both ways.
Where It’s Made: This shoe is “proudly handcrafted in the USA,” in Allen Edmonds’ Port Washington, Wisconsin factory. That’s a huge benefit and tells you right away that you are getting quality construction. Yes, “made in Italy” also connotes great quality, but damn, it doesn’t get better than ‘merica!
Construction Type: As you may know, there are three main methods of shoe construction: welted, hand-sewn, and cemented. The gold standard in shoe construction is welted (specifically, Goodyear welted), while the lowest quality shoe construction is cemented. This AE loafer is hand-sewn, so it falls right in the middle. The main quality that makes hand-sewn better than cemented construction is that cemented shoes cannot be reconstructed, while hand-sewn shoes can. There are also some shoes that combine a hand-sewn upper with a cemented sole. This penny loafer has no cement, rather there is a single piece of leather for the upper part of the shoe that is hand-sewn using needles and waxed thread. After that was done, the leather midsole and sole were attached by machine stitching. This process usually produces a very comfortable and non-rigid shoe, and this shoe was no exception. So although this sole is not the best in the world, it’s still very, very high quality craftsmanship, and is typical of what you can expect from Allen Edmonds.
Stitching: This is more of a style point, but the raised and hand-sewn stitching on the upper front (or “vamp”) part of the shoe is really well done. There are no “defects” on this part of the stitching. This raised stitching is clearly the first thing that hits you when you look at the shoe and AE did a great job here. It looks very elegant and borders the dressy/casual line quite nicely.
Sole: the shoe has a single oak leather sole which means that AE made a conscious choice to lean in the dressy direction rather than the casual direction. For those who don’t know, a double leather sole is definitely more durable and long-lasting, but it gives the shoe that sort of clunky, big-ish look, which leans more casual. The downside of the single leather sole here is that it will wear pretty easily. So it’s not great on the durability scale. What I’d recommend is to take this shoe to a shoe repair shop and get a thin rubber sole protector to keep the sole long-lasting without sacrificing its classy look. (Side note: I personally happen to love the AE rubber soles, especially for my winter dress shoes. They’re incredibly durable in all weather and very comfortable too.) Oh, and the actual leather used is unlined premium calfskin and grain calfskin on the leather upper. Although they don’t say so explicitly, this leather is clearly corrected grain. So it definitely doesn’t have the full grain quality that some of the other AE shoes have.
Style: This shoe is not just a traditional moc-toe beefroll penny loafer (beefrolls refer to the visible stitching on the sides of the penny strap, which looks like beef tied with cooking string); it’s much more than that. It has some nicer sophistication on the beefroll on the saddle plus a really cool hand-sewn kicker in the back.
The Defect: Although I mentioned above that I’ve never been able to discern the “defect” that made a shoe into a “factory second”, this time I actually was able to. The dude or gal who sewed the kicker in the back of these loafers clearly messed up the stitching and made a bit of a hole in the shoe. Is it a huge deal? Not at all. Would I have returned it if I had bought it at full price? Certainly. But if I’m paying full price I would likely return it if it had even the slightest of nicks anywhere. At factory second prices, though, this bothers me a whole lot less, and I have more of the “well, I was going to scrape it up eventually, anyway” mindset.
Bottom Line: These shoes are significantly above average in their construction and style, though they are not the best of the best.
Fit and Sizing
If there’s one thing that AE has over every other quality shoemaker it’s fit and variety. Every one of their shoes comes in both half sizes and numerous width options. So, if you don’t find a shoe that fits you well at AE, then you certainly will have a hard time somewhere else. So, without me getting super detailed here, I can just say that AE hits it out of the park on sizing.
Like we have said before, “it’s very important that loafers be just a bit more snug than lace-up shoes, since otherwise there will be some heel slippage and there are no laces to tighten to keep your foot in place. Thus, it is very common to go down half a size (or sometimes even a full size) when buying loafers. This way, although in the beginning it may be a bit tight, after a few wears it will get a bit looser while still staying snug. So, although I am an 11E shoe for my lace-ups, I have always gone down to a 10.5E for loafers.” And I did that here, too. I got a size 10.5E loafers and it fit me absolutely perfectly with just a bit of snugness, which is exactly the way a loafer should fit. Case closed.
I will say, though, that this loafer runs just a tad narrower than other loafers that I have worn from AE. So if you’re right on the edge between two width sizes, then definitely go a size up (on width) for these loafers.
Allen Edmonds v. M.Gemi
When I compared Allen Edmonds to M.Gemi in our previous M.Gemi article I had not yet found a penny loafer from AE that I loved. That has changed. I love this new AE loafer. And even though it doesn’t look quite so cool in the pictures on the website, it really looks quite sleek when you see them in person.
Let’s take this quick comparison one-by-one:
Quality: The overall quality of the shoes goes to AE since AE’s loafers are made in America v. M.Gemi’s shoes being made in Italy. America wins always. In terms of the actual leather used in these shoes, they are both not full grain leather, so it’s a draw in that regard.
Construction: M.Gemi’s are Blake welted, which is better than AE’s hand-sewn construction. No questions here: M.Gemi’s loafers take this one.
Style: This is a tough one since both M.Gemi and this pair of AE loafers are cool and stylish in their own ways. This is a draw, since M.Gemi wins on the overall design of the loafer, but AE wins on the fine details, like nicer stitching and the cool hand-sewn kicker in the back.
So how do we decide the better shoe if each of these shoes shine in their own way? Well, price of course!
Value and Conclusion
Before we discuss price, you must be wondering how I found these shoes. Well, a world class blogger sent me a link right before black Friday telling me that I should check out some of the factory seconds stuff as there were some great discounts. I scrolled through and came across this pair of decent looking penny loafers, which ended up costing me a very reasonable $109. Now, if you were to get made in the U.S.A., Allen Edmonds loafers for under $150 it would be a damn good day. For $109? That’s robbery. Yes, these shoes aren’t the best that AE has to offer, but for the price you’re paying you are getting way more value than you paid for. Here is where AE just blows M.Gemi away. So, the ultimate winner of the AE v. M.Gemi battle is going to have to be AE. And I can’t say I’m surprised.