He is the globetrotter who worked as a Business Consultant but finally landed in his mother’s home country to make shoes by hand. Here, thanks to the support of several Japanese in the industry, he has been able to establish himself quickly. Shoegazing has met Seiji McCarthy.
World Footwear Gallery’s (WFG) main store in the Tokyo district Jingumae is a paradise for classic shoes (read more about WFG in this report). In the large store section on the entry level you find about 250 models from over 20 different manufacturers, both domestic and international. One floor up there’s a workshop area where the patina expert FG Trente paints both customer shoes and shoes of his own range Floriwonne. Here, one of the pioneers in the new wave of Japanese bespoke shoemakers, Hiro Yanagimachi, started his business in 1999. A few years ago, he moved to his own larger workshop a kilometer away or so, and the one who has been given the opportunity to host his business at WFG today is Seiji McCarthy.
He started building his business here in the fall of 2015, late spring of 2016 he began to take orders and started the actual business, and today he has begun to establish a customer base that will allow the business to go around.
– It has been progressing very fast in the past 1,5 years, and I have a lot to thank the opportunity to be here at the World Footwear Gallery for it. There are so many good aspiring bespoke shoemakers in Japan, and I’m aware that the main thing that separates me from many of them is the opportunity I’ve got here, Seiji McCarthy says.
That’s not to say that he also has made an effort to reach where he is today.
Seiji McCarthy grew up in Philadelphia on the United States’ east coast, with an American father and a Japanese mother. He went to college in California, and his life as a globetrotter had begun. After college he settled for a while in Japan and worked here, to get acquainted with his mother’s home country, then he continued to London. He then resumed studies when he traveled to Singapore for further education in business economics.
Seiji then returned to work in his home country, New York, as Business Consultant for the American Basketball League NBA. That led him to a service for the Chinese Olympic Committee where he worked 1,5 years ahead of the Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008.
It’s this windling but rather successful journey that eventually took him to a Berluti store where he, who used to mainly fancy sneakers, tried a really well-made classic men’s shoe for the first time. It became that moment that some people has which totally change the direction of life.
– I looked at those shoes on my feet, took them off and inspected them, and thought that I would like to make people feel something like this, Seiji McCarthy says.
Said and done. He moved to Europe again, to Berlin since he had a German wife, and began to go on different shorter shoemaking courses at for example Carréducker and similar, to get a base. Then he went as an apprentice with a couple of bespoke shoemakers in Berlin, trained as much as he could, and worked on.
– But it was tough, I felt that I developed quite slowly, things happened to slow, Seiji says.
When he was on holiday in Japan to visit his grandmother, he went to visit Hiro Yanagimachi’s workshop for a day. Seiji told him his story and about his challenges, after which Hiro suggested that he come to Japan and learn from him.
So for a while Seiji McCarthy traveled between Japan and Germany for a few months at a time. He then got to know Keiichi Fukada who owns the World Footwear Gallery and who gave Hiro the chance to build his business in their space. He offered Seiji the same opportunity.
– It was obviously not possible to say no. I don’t pay any rent to be in these premises but only a commission on the orders I have, and get great exposure of being here and to be associated with WFG. It’s really perfect for a good start, Seiji says.
In general he is very surprised and grateful of the generosity of knowledge and time that people like Hiro Yanagimachi and Keiichi Fukada have to share with others who want to enter the industry.
– The Japanese are generally very open in this way. Another one that I learned a lot from lately is Yohei Fukuda, his workshop is also relatively close to WFG, so I’ve spent a lot of time there. I know I have a long way to go before I’m at the level of Yohei or Hiro, it’s very useful and inspiring to continue learning from ones like them.
After having had some campaign prices at a sort of event at WFG for one week in August and one week in February, he has received a good order base to start working. His prices start at about €1 700 (200,000 yen) for MTO, about €2 050 (240,000 yen) for MTM/semi bespoke, and €2 750 (320,000 yen) for full bespoke. All variants are made entirely by hand to the same standard, it’s the last manufacturing that separates and also fitting shoes for bespoke. During the event, he has offered a 20% discount on MTO and MTM, which means that some customers who might have bought premium RTW brands like Edward Green or similar as the finest, they dare to take the step and try MTO or MTM from Seiji.
Now at the beginning, much is about finding his own identity, his own style, which he wants to call a kind of modern interpretation of the classic. He makes small tweaks all the time, both on lasts, patterns and design details, and says that one thing that is clear when things goes as fast as it does is that he develops quickly.
– Like my first samples I did last fall now, I’m not very happy with them when I’m looking at them today. But that’s how it must be now, and that I have fast and positive development is really something I can thank Japan for.