Raymar, often called “the Japanese Meermin”, has been making waves domestically in recent years and grown their steadily. Now they also start to turn to the international market with their highly affordable Goodyear welted and hand welted shoes – with the latter offered from less than €200 – not least with the participation at the London Super Trunk Show next month. Here’s an interview with the two brothers behind the brand.
Last year I was in Tokyo during Saint Crispin’s day on October 25, the day celebrating the patron saint of shoemakers. Every year around this date shoe enthusiasts host an event where they gather a bunch of Japanese shoe brands and leather accessory companies, and host sort of a mini-version of the super trunk show events I organise. When I stepped into the exhibition room and looked around, even if there were several really good exhibitors, there was no doubt in which corner the real crowdpleaser was. The corner of Raymar. Loads of people were browsing around the tables, and there was a line of men waiting to get a chance to test shoes to find the right fit.
The two most busy in this gathering of people were the two brothers Yusuke Oishi and Takeaki Oishi. Together with their mother and father, they run Raymar. The brothers have become quite acquainted with this situation, they frequently hosts trunk shows in various locations around Japan.
– It’s a great way for us to meet our customers directly, get input and feedback on fit and quality, and learn what they like and what they want to see more of, says Yusuke Oishi.
The Oishi family lives in the countryside of Japan, in the Shizuoka district. As long as Yusuke and Takeaki’s can remember, they parents have worked with shoes. They ran a company who was a middleman between shoe factories in China and various Japanese shoes and clothing brands. After a while, it was one specific factory that they did most of the work with, where a former colleague and good friend to the father was factory manager.
Yusuke Oishi moved to Tokyo to study at university, and after graduating and starting to work as a sales person, he needed to get a proper pair of dress shoes. Since he had learned a bit about shoes from his parents, he wanted to get something of reasonable quality, but the price for this was expensive on the budget he had.
– That was the spark that set it all in motion. Once I started thinking about it, I couldn’t stop, Yusuke says.
The thing he had started thinking about was if he could start a brand of his own, with welted men’s footwear, with clean make, at a price point that made them accessible. This was about eight years ago. He knew that the factory his parents worked with made welted shoes, and the process was on. Yusuke went to the factory with his father, started learning more in-depth about shoes, and after a while had the first Raymar models in place. This is the factory that among other things produce the Mattina Shoes, which is why you can see resemblances between those and Raymar.
At first though, this was just a small side thing for the family company, where they sold the shoes to customers themselves, instead of the regular OEM production the business was built on. This was during a time when more and more companies in Japan selling shoes started to struggle.
– The family company had less orders from the regular companies, so it was good timing to get that second leg to stand on. The thing was that when Raymar started selling more, these companies didn’t like that we sort of competed with them. So after a while, we only focused on Raymar.
At this time the older brother Takeaki also started working with Raymar, and now it was a full on family company. The two brothers are the faces outwards, have all customer contact, do all communication, and so on, while the parents sort logistics, economy, administration etc. Especially after a famous style blog wrote about the brand three years ago, things took off.
– Before that we sold about 125 pairs a month. After the article there was a big boom, and more and more people started talking about us. After that we well about 250 pairs per month, even during the pandemic, and it now again continue to go up, says Takeaki Oishi.
Raymar’s shoes are very classic, with what one would describe as British style as a base. They have both formal and more casual stuff. The shoes are either Goodyear welted or hand welted, with machine stitched outsoles, slightly bevelled rounded waists with closed channel on the leather soles, leather board heel stiffeners, and European upper leathers. To keep price down they only polish the shoes very basic, this is done by themselves in Japan. All lasts have been developed by Raymar, and are unique to them.
The prices are impressive for what you get. The Goodyear welted shoes start at about €180 (27,000 yen. Note that as always on Shoegazing it’s domestic prices listed, price for international customers is higher and may vary, among other reasons due to very high shipping costs and bad conversion rates on the Shopify site), and all styles are below €200. For hand welted, they have a few styles that are lower priced, to give as many as possible the chance to try hand welted shoes, these also cost below €200 (29,000 yen), even if standard for hand welted offerings are around €240 (35,000 yen). They have about 50 styles, half Goodyear half hand welted. If you look at the shoes, they certainly seem to cost more than they do, when handling them you feel the same. Not least that they are rather clean and neat in make, despite having more advanced details, is a combo that is rare to see together with a price tag this low.
The fact that they operate rather remote in Japan where rents for company premises and living costs is relatively low, is one of the reasons they can keep prices down.
– We also just want to make enough money to feed the family, so we can keep margins very low. If we wanted to really build things we should probably move to Tokyo, open our own shop and raise prices. But we like our life now, even if we of course want to continue to build the company stronger and better, Takeaki says.
Therefore, they work on various innovations. They have what they call Revo which is like a customer community where new models are developed together with their customers. They also have a really interesting remote size testing system called Aciele Service that they got a patent on. Here a sort of “plastic bag shoe”, which are shaped on the same lasts as the shoes, is sent in an envelope to the customer, who can get a better idea of the sizing and especially see that the length and the heel to ball measurement is right.
The Oishi brothers have started looking also abroad. The launch of the new international webshop was the first step in this, where they intend to add more and more models. The participation at the London Super Trunk Show on May 13 is the next.
– We really looking forward to that event. For us to travel to London and showcase for shoe lovers, it’s a bit of a dream coming true, Yusuke says.
Growing up with shoes, loving shoes their entire lives, and now running their own shoe brand with their mom and dad. One can understand that these guys want to spread the gospel.
– We love to see more men, not least younger ones, wear good shoes, shoes that they can care for and use for a long time. We want to do all we can to play a part in this.