When I was younger, I was obsessed with hand embroidery. My library had a reference book with giant, closeup photos of the Bayeux Tapestry that I checked out repeatedly. I studied the panels, wandering about the people who had worked each woolen stitch so many years ago and what they were thinking or feeling in that second. I felt as if handmade objects captured a piece of the person who had spent so many hours creating it… each one is almost like a memory (or a positive Horcrux, for you Harry Potter fans out there). That is one of the reasons I enjoy writing about independent designers in Taiwan, because many of their items are painstakingly created one by one by people who put a lot of thought into every step of the crafting process.
A couple weeks ago, designer Hsing-ju Lin (林倖如) of Liebe Hsing took me down to Greater Taichung to check out Juisheng Shoemaking Center (瑞晟鞋樣中心), the workshop where her shoes are made. Owner Lu Kuang-mao (呂光茂) began crafting shoes by hand more than 30 years ago, when footwear was still an important part of Taiwan’s export industry. In the mid-1980s, however, the number of Taiwan’s traditional shoemaking factories began to decline as work was outsourced to China and Southeast Asia. One of Hsing-ju’s goals is to help draw attention to the artistry and quality of shoes handmade in Taiwan.
I was very impressed by her dedication and attention to every facet of the shoemaking process. When I asked her where her design inspiration comes from, Hsing-ju showed me a French book called La chaussure pour homme faite main, which describes the making of men’s shoes in minute detail, and scrapbooks filled with leather samples, sketches, color palettes and photos. At Juisheng Shoemaking Center, she unrolled lambskin and cow leather and discussed the difference between each hide’s grain and pliability. I watched Mr. Lu carefully nail the body of a brick red lambskin Mary Jane to its sole while balancing the last in his lap.
I think Liebe Hsing shoes are very reasonably priced (they range from about NT$3,480 to NT$7,280), especially when you consider that mass-manufactured footwear sold in a department store like SOGO costs about the same price. You can order custom shoes from Liebe Hsing or ask for adjustments to be made to an existing pair. While I was visiting the workshop, Hsing-ju and Mr. Lu discussed how to make a pair of flats belonging to a customer slightly wider without weakening the leather. The shoes are comfortable and can withstand repairs and years of use (one of my pet peeves is when I take a pair of shoes to a cobbler and find out that they were so cheaply produced that they can’t even be mended).
In case you can’t tell, I’m a huge fan of Liebe Hsing shoes… they are one of my favorite companies I’ve written about so far. For more information about Hsing-ju’s background (she wrote her Master’s thesis on “Stylistic Change in Women’s Footwear” at the University of Leeds) and how Liebe Hsing shoes are made, please read my article for the Taipei Times. For information on where to buy or order Liebe Hsing shoes, visit the company’s bilingual blog or check out their Pinkoi store.