Reviving a dying trade

Reviving a dying trade
Class in progress: A shoemaking workshop conducted by Shoe Artistry.

For a month in 2012, she and her husband were in Britain learning 18th century medieval shoemaking techniques.

That was how passionate they were about the craft.

Founder of Shoe Artistry Kit Lee, together with co-founder and husband Jeff Wan, own a workshop in Hong Kong which makes and sells made-to-measure and bespoke shoes.

Ms Lee is a Singaporean, while Mr Wan is from Hong Kong. Both are 35 years old.

They also conduct workshops teaching leather shoemaking.

Ms Lee said: "I've always been a hands-on kind of person, so when I first came across leather shoemaking I was fascinated by its techniques and materials."

The couple met in Hong Kong when Ms Lee was posted there for work in 2008 and they married a year later.

In 2012, they bought over Ming Kee Shoes, a 40-year-old handmade leather shoe business. They rebranded it as Shoe Artistry and have spent about two years developing their own style of leather shoemaking.

Ms Lee said: "It takes a lot of strength and stamina to make leather shoes without heavy machinery.

"And it's not just about making a pair of shoes that look good - they have to be comfortable as well."

COMING TO TOWN

The couple will be visiting Singapore next month to hold their first beginner leather shoemaking workshop in collaboration with Tyrwhitt General Company, a store that sells handcrafted goods here.

They will be holding workshops teaching participants to make leather baby shoes and unisex slip-on shoes. Another workshop will be on shoe design and pattern making.

The workshops, which range from entry level to advanced, cost between $140 and $250, and all tools and materials will be provided.

The process of making a traditional leather shoe involves 280 steps, but the couple have reduced this to just 80.

More advanced workshops are usually held over several days, while beginner workshops take hours.

The couple, who usually conduct up to five classes a week in their workshop in Hong Kong, said their classes are fully booked until July.

Ms Lee said the trade is dying around the world, and there are only five shoemakers left in Hong Kong.

She said: "Shoe-making is a traditional and valuable craft in Hong Kong. It's part of its heritage so it's sad if it's gone."

She added that the business was on its last legs because there is no new blood entering the trade, and shoemakers have a very traditional mindset towards the younger generation taking on the craft.

Ms Lee said: "They don't feel that it's 'nice' work and think that the younger people aren't interested.

"Now, we want to tell the story of the trade in the hope that the craft will continue, and workshops are essential if you want people to appreciate the craft."

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