One truth in life is that there is always more to learn. This hit home a few days ago when I was figuring out who the recipients of the Neiman Marcus award were. Much to my embarrassment there were two names I should have recognized but didn’t – William and Faie Joyce, the founders of Joyce Shoes who received their award in 1946. I knew of Joyce shoes, but all I knew was that it had been a large Californian shoe manufacturer bought out by United States Shoe Corporation in 1955 and was best remembered for making slippers. However, now I know the whole story…
Twenty-nine year old William Henry Joyce Junior was working for a West Coast finance company in 1929 when he decided it was time he became his own boss. After researching various businesses he picked shoes and lined up $150,000 in venture capital to buy a small Brooklyn shoe factory. However, just as he arrived in New York to close the deal, the stock market crashed. With $10.00 in his pocket he returned to Pasadena where he borrowed $250 from his father to rent a space above a drug store. He hired a seamstress to sew uppers for soft leather-soled rehearsal footwear for the theatre and slowly began to build his company. By 1933 his factory had grown to ten employees.
He began making a casual play shoe with a wedge heel that became a hit and by 1938 Joyce shoes had grown to become the largest shoe manufacturer in California with sales of a million dollars a year. That same year William Joyce hired a designer by the name of Faie Jarmel. They were soon married and travelled to England where they launched their first licensing agreement, supplying an English manufacturing company with the designs, advertising, production notes, and training needed to make Joyce shoes.
Perhaps because Joyce was so distant from the traditional U.S. shoe making centres of New England, New York, and St. Louis, the company moved away from traditional manufacturing and used a new method for making shoes called ‘California construction.’ This construction was ideal for women’s and children’s slippers, sandals, and casual shoes and could be made almost entirely by seamstresses rather than trained shoemakers, keeping production costs low. The upper, usually a sandal or open toe sling-back style, was sewn to a textile insole as well as the textile or leather covering for a midsole filler. The midsole, usually of cork and thick enough to create a platform often with a wedge heel, was then inserted and the midsole covering was glued and sewn around the midsole to hold it in place. Finally, an outer sole of rubber, leather, or composition was glued to the bottom. This is a difficult process to explain in words but one of the easiest methods to make shoes.
In 1948 the company made 8.4 million dollars in sales from their shoes that typically sold for between $2.95 and $10.95 (marginally more in England.) Further licensing arrangements were made in Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina, Mexico, Peru, and France. The downside of this construction was that the midsole created a heavy looking bottom, which was fine for 1940s shoe fashions, but fell from favour in the 1950s.
In 1955 the conglomerate ‘United States Shoe Corporation’ acquired Joyce shoes and the name Joyce gradually became a brand of foam-soled slippers and house shoes.