Le Hoang Trung, 36, lives and works in Tokyo. Nine years ago, he decided to leave Vietnam for Japan to seek job opportunities in IT. At that time, he could not imagine that the decision would lead to work as a shoemaker.

Trung experienced a hard time in his first days in Japan because of his poor Japanese language skills.

“At first, I was very stressed as I could not understand what customers said to me or the content of emails. But later my Japanese skills got better and I got a job promotion which brought higher income,” he recalled.

At that time, a friend of his introduced him to a shoemaking workshop owned by a famous artisan. The IT engineer’s passion for making bespoke shoes arose when he looked at the sophisticated shoes.

To pursue the craft, Trung learned how to make shoes with the Japanese artisan. He learned all the steps of the manual shoemaking process.

“In order to make a true pair of bespoke shoes, shoemakers have to take 200-300 steps, depending on the complexity,” Trung said. “It takes them a lot of time to create a pair of beautiful handcrafted shoes."

In general, Trung needs six months to make a pair of bespoke shoes. He is now thinking of solutions to shorten the time.

Each pair is worth $5,000-10,000, depending on the complexity and the individuality of products.

The more he learned about shoemaking and the more shoes he made, the more passionate he became. Later, he created a shoe brand of his own.

The shoes made by Trung are highly appreciated by famous shoe blogs around the world and Trung has received more orders recently.

In the last nine years, during the day, Trung works as an IT engineer, ‘playing’ with algorithms and software, and at night is immersed in the creativity and meticulousness of shoemaking.

Making shoes at night and on weekends helps the IT engineer balance his emotional life and eases the stress from his work and life.

The first pair of bespoke shoes made by Trung were for his Japanese superior. All the steps to make the shoes were made manually, including the upper.

It took Trung more than a year to make the first handmade pair of shoes. However, he felt proud of the product as his mentor was satisfied with the shoes and he advised Trung to continue making bespoke shoes.

To date, Trung has fulfilled orders for 30 pairs of bespoke shoes, while many orders have continued to come.

Business in Vietnam

Trung said he needs from six months to one year to make a pair of bespoke shoes. His clients have to wait a long time for their shoes, but as they understand the shoemaking process, they are very patient.

“They need a good fit and they want the shoes to show their characteristics. They need original shoes that only they have, so they don’t rush the shoemakers,” he explained.

Asked about difficulties during the shoemaking process, he said it’s difficult to meet his clients to have their feet measured because clients are always very busy and many appointments are broken.

Meanwhile, it takes time to wait for materials to come, which also prolongs the shoemaking process. In some cases, it takes 2-5 years to make a pair of shoes.

Trung’s clients are mostly from Europe and are very difficult to please. However, it is the clients’ high requirements which have helped Trung improve his skills. He considers his clients as friends for whom he gives advice.

For the IT engineer, the making of one pair of shoes is not enough. He wants shoes to have sophistication, creativity and originality. In order to do this, artisans need to have a great passion for their profession.

Trung said he learned a lot from Japanese artisans. His teachers are all very conscientious and meticulous. Through shoemaking, he has cultivated discipline from Japanese culture.

Trung plans to train people to make ready-to-wear shoes, and he will still specialize in making bespoke shoes.

The IT engineer has even thought of giving up his current job which brings high income to spend all of his time on shoemaking.

Trung said he can see the great potential for handmade shoe-making in Vietnam. In 2008, there were only three handmade shoemakers in Tokyo, but there are now over 100 and 40 are in Tokyo.

Ngoc Lai