Japanese bespoke shoes

May 26, 2016


Met up with a couple of my fav Japanese bespoke shoemakers today as they are all in town for a trunk show – they’ve all been complaining about my awfully long lead time of three months along with the price of my shoe antiquing services.

Told them all, I am willing to reduce the turn around time by half, IF only they all learn to cooperate and set aside their differences and work together as a team – as for the price of my services, I am willing to do the same PROVIDING, the above conditions are met as well.

The meeting was heated, but nonetheless very candid and productive.

In summary, we all reached the agreement – in future all orders will ONLY be batched in pairs of ten shoes that all require the SAME treatment. I will also not be responsible for pre-cleaning and pre-treating the leather before antiquing any longer, this will all be done by someone else based in Japan who I need to train.

They were all so happy with the new arrangement, they presented me with a limited edition Hiroshi Kondoh semi brogue….to be perfectly honest with all of you…it’s a meticulously crafted work of art, but without antiquing, it really has as much character as a door stopper.


‘There is a quiet revolution happening in Japan…and it’s not driven by the Panasonics, Toshiba’or even the Toyota’s. I am talking about cottage industry scale enterprises where maybe two or three artisans work in cramp quarters to belt out perhaps ten or twenty hand made cuckoo clocks, prints, watches, suits, shoes per week. It’s very small, but very exciting. As many of the people who are responsible for driving this revolution see themselves in their craft.

By nature, the Japanese are remarkable people. Their attention to detail, quality and product knowledge is astounding and second to none. As an example, see what they did with their denim industry; when denim production got modernized, they reverted to buying up all the old less efficient shuttle style looms that American producers considered obsolete. Why? To produce the best selvedge natural indigo denim there is. They did the same thing with whisky and coffee and chocolates and stationary and now they’re doing the exact same thing with shoes.

That’s why I term it a quiet revolution…it’s not centrally planned…it just came about like how moss gathers around a stone. This incidentally is HOW I see Singapore reinventing itself as a creative hub.

Small is incredibly beautiful…for one I can see the whole industry flourishing like one of those time lapse images of flowers blooming. Everything is so haphazard, yet curiously imbued with an uncanny naturalness.

In many of these shoe stables, shoes are constructed entirely out of bare tools…no noisy machines…no line leaders barking orders….and each pair is perfection. Like I said, it’s a very quiet revolution driven predominantly by individuals who see their craft as a living thing and not merely just a means to pay the bills.

I just happen to be a sucker when I deal with these people. For one they are hardly folk who I would ever consider squeezing right down the marrow of the bone….can’t do it with them as they are really lousy businessmen. I don’t have any qualms being a hard nosed ruthless businessman in the plantation world…but when it comes to these bohemian artisans I don’t ever think profit at all…so I am more than willing to compromise and even bend backwards to accomodate them.

That’s really how it is when people love a thing – they just talk softly and when they look at you, it’s all funny. You may not notice it at first….but if you still your mind, even you can be part of this quiet revolution.’

For the meantime, I am just glad I am an indelible part of this quiet revolution.’


Shoes by Kawaguchi, who works with his lovely wife Yuriko. The lines are contemplative and studied – perfect rendition of the wabi-sabi style like Bauhaus, it has it’s own philosophy of simplicity, clean and uncluttered and natural….waiting time, one year, if he likes you. Be prepared for a stiff three years if you’re rude to his cat.

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