Bespoke shoemaking is a relatively new concept among men in Singapore. But it’s catching on, says Joshua Leong, who is one of very few bespoke shoemakers in Singapore.
A business management graduate from Singapore Management University, he chose the unusual path of being a craftsman instead of a white-collar executive. In 2014, he flew to Florence, Italy, to first learn the art of making leather goods, before falling headlong into cordwaining.
“One reason for the rising demand for bespoke shoes,” he says, “is that men in the age range of 30s to 50s are looking for ways to stand out. Women show their status with their handbags – starting with a Kate Spade when they’re young, then their first Prada when they start working… and when they hit the pinnacle of their careers, they buy a Chanel or Hermes.
“For men, they show their status with their shoes, watches and cars. And among these three things, shoes are within a more affordable range compared to that of luxury watches or cars. So men, especially those in their 30s, are discovering bespoke shoes as one of their first gateways into the world of luxury.”
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Mr Leong’s bespoke shoes start at S$4,900, while made-to-order shoes begin at S$2,200. For bespoke orders, Mr Leong creates a unique shoe last tailored to the client’s exact measurements. For made-to-order, he uses a standard existing last best suited for the client’s feet.
Many who seek his services have either unusual-shaped feet or highly refined tastes that cannot be satisfied by off-the-rack designs. But most simply want a pair of shoes that are exceptionally comfortable and elegant. And Mr Leong, 33, excels in making shoes with a sleek silhouette, coupled with personalised touches such as laser-etched monograms on the back.
He says: “I’m in the business of selling confidence. So if my shoes don’t make you feel better, taller, stronger, more attractive and more elegant, then I’ve failed. “
Mr Leong first started Josh Leong Bespoke Shoes in 2015 at Joo Chiat Terrace. Two years later, he joined forces with Lusso Tailors and shoe connoisseur Winston Liang to open Seamless Bespoke, an atelier-cum-boutique housing a team of artisans on Ann Siang Road. The idea is that you could walk into Seamless Bespoke and walk out of it with the perfect top-to-toe outfit for your next engagement.
The challenges of creating bespoke shoes in Singapore, however, are manifold. “One of the hardest things about setting up any kind of shoe-related business here,” he says, “is that you don’t have that ecosystem… When I was in Italy, I could take a bus to a last factory and find the lasts I need in less than an hour. Now that I’m in Singapore, I sometimes have to fly all the way to Italy if I need something urgent.”
Similarly with leather, there aren’t many good leather suppliers in Singapore. In fact, less than 1 per cent of the entire leather industry is suitable for high quality men’s shoes. So Mr Leong has to either travel to Europe or make the necessary calls to find what he needs.
“But the part that’s even more difficult,” says Mr Leong, “is from a labour point of view. Even if I wanted to hire more shoemakers to help me to produce more shoes and increase my output, it’s impossible to find someone with the correct skill set. And not many want to be trained.”
Despite these challenges, Mr Leong is holding fast to his chosen profession, because he believes it’s important to preserve the culture of craftsmen, tradesmen and artisans in Singapore, a culture that many think is dying.
He says: “Most of the shoe brands out there are headed by designers, not shoe-makers. They’re interested in the outward appearance of the shoe, but they don’t appreciate the intricacies of its construction. As a result, these shoes are not as comfortable as they should be.”
“For me, I work from the inside out. I start with the last and work my way out. And that is why my shoes are comfortable, fit well and look great.”
Seamless Bespoke is located on 16 Ann Siang Road. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was originally published in The Business Times.