George Esquivel is a menswear accessory designer in a league of his own. He has been creating exceptional leather shoes since 1994, and his custom creations have been sported by pop stars like Janelle Monae and NBA ballers like Tyson Chandler and Amar’e Stoudemire. He learned his craft by apprenticing at a local cobbler, and he makes it a point to infuse his DNA into every pair of Esquivel shoes. His designs have been honored by the Vogue/CFDA Fashion Fund (he was a finalist in 2009) and he has also participated in high profile collaborations with household brands like Tommy Hilfiger. 

In addition to the achievements with his own brand, George Esquivel was also recently appointed as Creative Director of the high-end, global travel accessories brand, Tumi. We recently caught up with him in NYC to ask him about his eponymous shoe brand Esquivel and his new appointment at Tumi. Enjoy below ..

” I like things to happen organically …”

How were you initially drawn to designing shoes in the first place? 

I designed my first pair of shoes almost 20 years ago when I was on a trip to Baja Mexico, I walked into a boot maker and asked them if they could make me a pair of shoes, they replied “yes” –  I did a quick sketch of what I wanted. I returned a few months later for my shoes and that’s how the addiction started.

You experienced a childhood in LA that was tougher than most people could imagine – who/what was your guiding light that helped you navigate this period and be successful?

I would have to say that my mom and her advice is the person that I always credit with my siblings and I not following the same path as my father. She always would say to us, work hard and have faith in God that all will work out and all will be good. I would have to say that things have turned out much better than just good. 

The dress shoes you make are definitely one of a kind – what would you say is the overall aesthetic that governs your design approach?

The main aesthetic that I think governs my design approach, is the ease of my designs. I like my designs to appear as if they aren’t too fussy but upon closer inspection the layering of the colors and the hand work to each pair becomes very apparent. 

How long does it take to make a custom pair of Esquivel dress shoes? 

The leather and the style/type of shoe determines the length it takes to make a pair of shoes. Time frames range from 12hrs to 40hrs. These are actual hours where manual labor is being done (cutting, sewing, burnishing, mounting etc). In between each stage, there is drying time. 

Also you were recently appointed Creative Director of Tumi – Congratulations! What are the main duties and requirements of your position?

At Tumi my job is to influence and touch most aspects of the brand (design, branding, marketing, etc) in some cases my influence could be 5% and in some cases it is 90%. The goal would be to further marry what Tumi has been so great at, which is technical superiority and quality craftsmanship, with my design aesthetic. By doing this we feel it will help to further attract the next generation of travelers and business people. 

Tumi is a huge name in the world of global business/leisure travel – do you have to travel a lot to test your own products? 

I travel a lot –  last year I traveled 150 days, this year will be the same number or more.

Back to Esquivel, you have done some recent collabs with Hilfiger and LACMA – are you a big believer in the collaborative process – or do you prefer working alone?

I really do love to collaborate with other designers. It’s fun to see what the end result is when different people or groups that may have very different taste and opinions work on the same project. I also enjoy solving the issues that are almost always associated when 2 creative groups come together. 

Being that you split your time between both Los Angeles and NYC, what are some of your favorite places to dine or just relax in each city?

In NYC, I love staying at the Gramercy Park Hotel, Takahachi for sushi, no fuss really good food. Mercato on 39th, I love the octopus.

In LA,  Animal is a favorite of mine. The Spare Room is a cool place to hang out. And for tuning out I love mountain biking on the trails in Orange County   

What is your cocktail of choice when you’re out for a nice fun evening? 

I’m a lightweight, so a glass of Prosecco or champagne is enough for me

You have already accomplished so much in your career – are there any big things on your list that you feel you still need to attain?

I don’t really plan much in terms of the next thing I want to attain, I like things to happen organically. 

Why do you feel it’s important for a man to invest in a pair of handsome dress shoes?

I don’t necessarily think it needs to be a pair of dress shoes, it could be a great pair of boots. But I do think that every man needs to invest in a pair of shoes or boots that will last many years and age beautifully. This process can only happen if the quality of the leather and construction of the footwear is of really good or great quality. 

Lastly, what’s coming up on the horizon with both Tumi and Esquivel shoes that we should be looking for? 

I think that for both Tumi and Esquivel the future looks very bright. At Tumi, there are so many technical innovations  that we are starting to develop. For Esquivel it’s a bit of the same just on a much smaller scale (special treatments, leather finishes, etc) 

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