‘Fancy shoes’ aren’t anything superficial at Shoe Artistry. Sleek shape, perfect seam lines and neat brogues – all totems of high status are well united here. These shoes aren’t made in a historic Italian workshop – it is an old master and a young passionate duo that give life to what are adorably called ‘fancy shoes’. Yet Shoe Artistry does not mean to sell high; it exists just to preserve a historic bepoke shoemaking studio MING KEE, as well as the traditional craft, on the verge of dying out. WE talked to Kit Lee, owner of Shoe Artistry and a Central Saint Martins graduate who with ‘freelance unpaid consultant’ Jeff brought local bespoke shoes back to vogue.
How did you first come across with MING KEE when it was still in Jordan? Or what about shoemakers in Hong Kong caught your attention in the first place? I had a student intern last year and she asked me where she learn how to make a pair of shoes in Hong Kong as she planned to make a pair of shoes for her final degree work. So the first thing that came across my mind is asking a shoe maker in Hong Kong to teach her. We went to Kowloon City to look for a few, and even spoke to them. We ended up in deep conversations with a shoe maker and he started to introducing other shoe makers in Hong Kong. This is how we ended up knowing MING KEE on Bowring street, Jordan.
It has been a norm of many years that people either buy expensive shoes from fancy brands, or go for what they call ‘low-end’ pairs on Grandville Road etc. How do you see this attitude to shoes in Hong Kong? For Shoe Artistry too, we are targeting a niche market here. Our customers comes to us because for many reasons, supporting the craft, wanting to purchase a good pair of comfortable shoes that could last you for a life time, or curiosity or vanity…etc
We meet different kind of people from different walks of life that makes shoes with us, and they too purchase “low-end” shoes from in Hong Kong. For example a chauffer needs a good pair of comfortable and good-looking shoes for his job. This is due to long hours of driving and his left foot had a bit of a awkward shape. However during the periods he is not working, he will wear his sneakers or trainers, but because of his profeesionism of work, he needs to have a good looking, smart comfortable pair of shoes.
We are not worried that these companies that produced low end shoes are monopolizing the shoe market in Hong Kong, and we are not worried that customers finds the prices a bit steep on our shoes comparing to those mass manufactured ones. There is a difference between measured to made, handmade shoes than mass manufactured. The mass manufactured ones are those with standard shoe last that only fits very standard feet shapes. However as we are already explaining that all of our feet are different not only in sizes and shape too! Even our left foot is different from our right feet. This is human nature, as we are made out of a machine too!
So some people might be able to wear comfortably with these standard mass manufactured shoes, however there are of course a part of the customers no matter how expensive they purchased off the rack shoes, they still feel pain. Shoe Artistry is here to help these people. We do not wished to be compared with these shoe companies that produced off the rack shoes. We only wished to educate our customers, why our shoes are priced at this price, and why we are so different from them, that comparing is out of the topic.
In an interview you mentioned the difference between a well-crafted pair and mass production. Could you tell us more about what you believe in a pair of hand-made shoes? I had explained this on the above point. A well handmade made to measure pair of those involves all these intensive steps. Majority of these steps are done by the human hand. No machinery to produce these for us compared to the mass production shoes. So we measure and drawn your feet. We need to customize the shoe last for you in order to feet the shape of your feet as accurate as possible. So that you can have a very comfortable fit.
After which all these will be done by hand to complete the shoes. Every customers that comes in to make a pair of shoes, all have different shape feet. That’s why its so intensive. Whereas mass produced only have standard sizes and they need to make a lot of pairs in order to cover the cost of operating the machines and the staff that needs to handle the machines. That is why there is a minimum qty when you order shoes from them. The more quantity, the cost of operation is well distributed. Whereas for Shoe Artistry, we are making one pair at a time, and there are a lot of personalization involved in every pair, and every pair is very labor and time intensive. That’s why the steep price.
In your own words, what are the values behind shoes crafted at SHOE Artistry that people should know? To sustain this unique craft and educating the public on the importance of heritage preservation. Our social initiative is to harness their shoemaking skills with a brand new retail concept and image in order to sustain this craftsmanship.
What I really love about SHOE Artistry is that it proves seasoned shoemakers in Hong Kong don’t just make old-fashioned shoes. Your shoes are very stylish and well-designed. Could you tell us about your design aesthetics? Do you design the shoes? As we are a tailor to made bespoke shoe business, only the initial shoe samples are designed by us for display. The rest are shoe designs that we had developed together with our customers on the spot when they come in their appointment. Usually we will let them know through the phone appointment to maybe research on some shoe designs before coming. Or they can go to our FB page to look at the shoes we made. So when they come they have a rough idea of what they want, which makes it easier for us to communicate and develop the designs on the spot for them.
What’s upcoming at Shoe Artistry? Shoe Artistry will be organizing shoe making workshops for both beginners and advanced. Men and lady shoes.
Beginners are for those who had not had any experience in making shoes, and advanced for those who had some experience in making shoes. Making leather bags is not seen, as an experience in making shoes, as the techniques between making bags and shoes is completely different. We will be also be collaborating with secondary schools to teach these workshops too.
Last question – what would you say to those who are obsessed with Western names / fast fashion chains? I do not want to offend anyone due to choice. And again it’s all about personal choices! I just want to let them know to come and take a look at our shop and also to know what are doing for our cause. Have an open to mind to try us. We might not be as popular as the big brands, but our quality is comparable.
I was talking to a friend the other day, and he told me he actually wanted to take a course at SA! I think it is a really good sign. I remember a friend in Ghent, who does secretarial work but learned to make shoes, it’s encouraging to see HK picking up on this. Thank you so much and thank you for helping us to write this.