Japanese TYE Shoemaker manufactures bespoke shoes with a lot of character, which has managed to attract both the “regular shoe nerd” and a more fashion oriented, modern dressed clientele. Here’s a substantial report about the brand.
I have visited many bespokes workshops in Europe, USA and Japan. It’s not unusual that they are quite inaccessible and anonymous. TYE Shoemaker, however, have the record in this category. The address points to a location in the middle of Tokyo’s shoe district Asakusa, even on Google Maps TYE Shoemaker is officially exposed here. But I go back and forth on the street, look into the windows, ask people I meet, not even the small shoe factory opposite what’s supposed to be the right address can help me. Eventually I get hold of Tsuyoshi Ohno on the phone, one half of TYE Shoemaker, and he goes out on the street to meet me. Out of one of the doors I stood and pondered in front of before he comes out and wave to me, and I follow him up a narrow staircase to the second floor, where a relatively large workshop is located. Here’s a small sofa and coffee table in front of some shelves with some sample shoes, both men’s and women’s footwear, to the left there is a work area with focus on upper making, to the right a part which focus on last making and bottom making. The second part of the company, Yohei Shiwamura, stands and makes coffee. We sit down in the leather couch and in a bit struggling English the interview is conducted. Both are very kind and slightly timid persons, people you instantly feel comfortable around.
Guild of Crafts, founded by Chihiro Yamaguchi, was one of the first brands in the new wave of Japanese bespoke shoemaking, which began 15-20 years ago. Tsyoshi Ohno joined there early on to go in the Guild of Crafts shoemaking school.
– It was just over 15 years ago. I loved shoes, and the opportunity to work with them in such a direct way attracted me, Tsyosho says.
First he learned bottom making and also went as an apprentice as that at Guild of Crafts for some time before he started training lastmaking as well. To the school came Yohei Shiwamura, who had learned a lot about shoemaking by himself before. When they made a shoe together, they realized that they worked well together and had a common view of shoes. They decided to join forces and start a shoe brand together.
TYE Shoemaker was founded nearly seven years ago. They just made women’s shoes at first, but after that more and more men were asking for shoes from them they soon began to also make men’s shoes, and today it is about half of each. TYE has since the beginning worked closely with the luxury tailor and fashion store ICHO, and a large part of the customers comes through them, especially the female clients. It has also affected the kind of shoes that TYE do, which is a very interesting mix of old, classic European style and modern fashion emphasized things with a Japanese touch. It’s neat, elegant, often daring.
Here in the workshop, they have only a few samples, more is at ICHO. Tsyoshi Ohno is not particularly fond of showcasing the samples he has here, as most were made six or seven years ago and he feels he has developed a lot since then.
– When I see these shoes I just see all the errors I made. There is this problem with sample shoes, that it’s usually when you start off that you have the time and opportunity to do them, but then you are often less good. Later on you will hopefully have so much work that you have a hard time to make new samples, so the samples aren’t always making the manufacturer justice, Tsyoshi says.
Sure, I can see that the level of the finished or nearly finished shoes they have in the workshop is higher than the sample shoes (even if they are far from bad), and it’s something I recognize from many other bespoke makers as well, especially the smaller players who quite early in their career starts their own brand.
Tsyoshi Ohno does the lastmaking and the bottom work, Yohei Shiwamura des the closing, the pattern making they both do. The division of labor has looked like this right from the start, and they do everything themselves, even if Tsyoshi’s wife does some leather accessories for them. She has a background as a closer at among others Clematis Ginza but is now saddler of the famous bag and accessory manufacturer Ortus. TYE’s customers today are about 50% domestic, 50% international, mainly from Hong Kong and Singapore. Production is around 30-40 pairs a year and have been around that for several years now.
– It’s basically what we can handle. The waiting time is about a year now, including a fitting with a test shoe. If more fittings are needed it may take a little longer. Should we take more customers the waiting times would’ve become even longer, which may not be desirable. We’ve talked about taking up an apprentice, we’ll see how it goes, Yohei Shiwamura says.
They are happy that it has worked so well as it has for them. Because the competition is fierce.
– There’s really too many bespoke shoemakers in Japan today. Many small and new has a tough time. It’s not even certain that it’s enough to be really good. But for customers it’s an advantage, they have much to choose from and the competition means that we must always keep a good level of quality, Tsyoshi says.
The fact that they are located in Asakusa they experience as an advantage. There is a culture of shoes that’s stimulating and practical, they can easily get hold of different shoe parts. As for the uppers, it’s more difficult though, to find hides of sufficient level of quality. Fortunately Yohei’s wife works as a shoe designer and is employed by several major footwear brands that work internationally, and she is at the leather fair Lineapelle each season, so she can help them get good stuff, and they also have an agency in Asakusa they work with.
A couple bespoke shoes from TYE Shoemaker starts at around €2 700 (328,000 yen), including lasted shoe trees. In other words, they are like many others in Japan relatively well priced compared to many in Europe. Which they work very hard for.
– We love shoes, this is our hobby. That’s why it’s okay to work ten hours a day, seven days a week, Yohei Shiwamura says.