Cecil Lyon and Eliza B.

Did you ever buy something you just love and then can’t find it again?  Did you ever get so delighted with a purchase that you had to tell someone?  Did you ever meet someone who impressed you with his or her commitment to quality?  All three things happened to me just before I went on my camping trip.  (Spoiler alert:  remember last week’s Photo Friday.)

I bought these great pair of flip-flops in Hilton Head.  I was attending a conference and the flip-flop sandals were an end-of-season-great-price in the resort gift shop.  The flip-flops were $30.  On sale.  It was 10 whole years ago.

What? You’re probably asking.  $30 for a pair of flip-flops?  I hate to shop; I’m not that woman who moans when she smells good shoe-leather. (That’s my sister, Deanna.)  Still, every once in a while, I decide to treat myself to something purely unnecessary; something that makes me feel pampered; something a wee bit extravagant.

This year, one of the sandal toe-ribbons on my flip-flop broke.  Oh how I love that gentle gross-grain ribbon between my toes; no break-in-my-flip-flop blisters to welcome me to summer.   Okay, maybe it is time I gave them up anyways.  The fabric is getting a little tattered looking.

My 10 year-old sandal; the one with the ribbon still intact. Okay, it IS a little worn out.


Yes, I was wearing the same sandals for the past 10 years.  A quick trip in the washer, and dried in the sun, and I am set to go again.  Good as new.  Lucky for me, the leather Peanut still proclaimed loud and clear:  Eliza B.  So for $30 over 10 years, that’s just $3 a year.  A pretty good deal.  One I want to repeat.

I had to sleuth around on the Internet for a while, but at last, I found the Eliza B/Leatherman/AustinJeffers website.  Oh my.  I can design my own sandals.  Three different sole designs, almost 120 fabrics (plain, plaid, and print in various colors), 38 ribbons, 4 sole colors, and 15 peanut variations:  that is a whopping, 273,600 possible pairs of flip-flops.  I bought two.  Did I tell you I love math?

Thank you Muffy Aldrich for sharing your photos of Eliza and Cecil.

I got my new sandals with a little note inside telling me about the history of Eliza B.  Each pair is made and designed in Essex, Connecticut, by hand using a “last” or fake-foot.  Each pair is “Steadfastly Guaranteed by An American Company,”  with an invitation to call the owner if I’m less than happy.

I am thrilled with my new sandals.  I had to call this owner who invited customers to talk directly to him.

Cecil Lyon, owner of Leatherman, Ltd. bought the company 27 years ago.

Cecil and his daughter, Eliza, have been making shoes for the past 12 years; the sandals came on the scene 10 years ago.  Eliza talked Cecil into making the sandals.  I must have purchased one of the very first pairs.

Leatherman, Ltd. employs 30-60 Essex area people, depending on the season; seven are administrative.  The process is straightforward:  cut, shape, detail, sand, clean.  Cecil has a small Research and Development group who keep track of what’s new.  They introduce new fabrics and designs, like the ballerina flats and pumps.  Belts can also be custom-made in about as many variations as the sandals.  (Check it out.  I will leave the math up to you this time.)

Leatherman’s original business was leather belts.  The Chicago Country Club buys their signature belts from Cecil.  I was at the Chicago Country Club once for a wedding.  I must say, I was too busy taking in the rich smell of leather and pipe tobacco, and the deep walnut surroundings to notice anyone’s belt.

Leatherman has no Quality Control department.  There is no formal testing.  As Cecil says,

It’s lunacy to ship anything out that is less than perfect.”  He is almost more disappointed when someone misses a mistake than when a mistake is made.  “Mistakes happen to everyone.

Complaints due to poor quality manufacturing are zero.  Sometimes people order a gay-pride rainbow belt expecting a pot-of-gold-at-the-end-of-the-rainbow belt; sometimes customers order the dolphin fish, and expect the dolphin mammal.

The Eliza B sandal sizes run small, so if you normally wear a size 8, you need to order a size 9.  This is off-putting to some women, and they don’t want to buy a bigger size.  Eliza B flip-flop sandals fit close to the feet and the soles break in to feel ever-so-comfy on your feet.

Twenty-seven years ago the company didn’t have a culture of quality.  Cecil changed that.

“I’d like to say everyone got on board, but sometimes it just doesn’t work that way. “  It can be frustrating at times.  Everything in the plant is set up for adaptability.  The plant floor must change to accommodate the goods in the queue.  Even the electrical outlets are movable.

“Developing a culture of quality is like raising a child.  You have to be part shrink, part cheerleader.  Perhaps we’re a dinosaur.  We make, sell, and deliver our product.  I love it.”

Cecil, I love it too.  Thank you Eliza B for talking Cecil into making flip-flops. 

A note about compensation:

  • I get no monetary compensation for writing about Eliza B or Cecil Lyon;
  • I do have a sunny feeling in my heart when I make a new friend;
  • I am always delighted to share products that impress me with their quality and;
  • I feel proud to share my math skills.

Non-monetary compensation feels good, too.

For more on Eliza B and her sandals, hop on over to Muffy’s site, The Daily Prep.  A midwest math geek may just learn to be a bit preppy.



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