Shoemaking is a tough business, and not one that attracts young people.
But, Park Dong-hee, chairwoman of Seongsu Sujehwa Town, is hoping the charm of individually made shoes over mass produced footwear will attract young people to the industry.
“They can never be the same as handmade shoes,” she said.
Sujehwa Town opened a shoemaking course for anyone interested in the job. Students make shoes during the class. (Ahn Hoon/The Korea Herald)
In 2011, Sujehwa Town opened a shoemaking course for anyone interested in the field. The program receives financial support from Seoul City and the classrooms are provided by Seongdong-gu district office. There is no training fee.
“Some 50 students complete their courses every year,” Park said. “More than 200 candidates apply for the program but we are not able to accommodate all of them now.”
Kim Ha-na, one of the students at the course, expressed confidence in the teachers’ expertise.
“This course is different from others. As most of my teachers have more than 30 years of experience, I’ll be guaranteed an answer for any question I may have,” she said.
Kim recalled when she first became interested in shoe design.
“When I was in high school, I often did sketches on my shoes, mostly the white sneakers we had to wear in the classroom. When my friends saw my designs, they wanted me to draw on their shoes as well. I enjoyed it.”
After she majored in visual design in college, she worked as a computer designer but her passion for shoe design never wavered.
“I feel lucky because I am doing what I like,” said Kim. “Previously, I had thought only about design, but now I am also taking into account how convenient I can make shoes for consumers. For instance, I did not know you were supposed to make shoelaces so they avoid the foot’s malleolus bones. Otherwise, they’ll leave a mark.”
The 29-year-old student said she wanted to succeed as a Seongsu-dong shoemaker.
“The boundary between handmade and factory-made is blurring. Many shoes referred to as handmade heavily depend on machines. Me, I want to make shoes the traditional way, even if it means making only a small number of them.”
Yang Eun-ji, a 28-year-old student, ran a clothing shop in China before joining the class. After graduating from the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing, she opened a shop in China with a friend. She would buy clothes from Korea to sell at her shop in China.
She felt reselling clothes was less competitive, and eventually wanted to design her own brand.
“I didn’t think it would be difficult because I already had sewing experience.”
But it was harder than she expected.
“You can easily cut out cloth if the design doesn’t look good, but you cannot do the same to shoes,” she said. “Even a millimeter can make a difference. It should be perfect from the start. Shoemaking seems to need more attention to detail than clothes.”
Nonetheless, she said the challenge is still fun. “After this, I plan to open a shoe shop in China again. I want to promote more quality Korean shoes to them, this time from my own brand.”
By Shin Ji-hye (firstname.lastname@example.org)