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Going the extra mile
by Melissa Lwee-Ramsay

Above: French lace-wrapped pumps ladies shoes designed by Vivienne Lin, founder of local label Fuchsia Lane, 118A Tanjong Pagar Road.

Fuchsia Lane
118A Tanjong Pagar Road
Tel: 6227-3168

OVER the past four years, local label Fuchsia Lane has been steadily growing a solid reputation for intricate, handcrafted garments with sophisticated chinoiserie accents.

Now that the brand is on track and housed in a swanky 1,000 sq ft atelier along Tanjong Pagar Road, the time seemed right for its founder Vivienne Lin to spread her wings a bit further beyond just producing clothes. Just last week, she branched out into offering a customised shoe-making service.

"So far, all we've done is fashion. However, now that the brand is more established, we wanted to take it further and turn it into more of a lifestyle brand, so as to offer a complete package for our customers," says the bubbly Lin.

"We're looking at producing Fuchsia Lane homeware such as cushions sometime in the future, but for a start, we decided to expand into shoes. We thought it was quite a natural extension because a lady's look just isn't complete without a beautiful pair of shoes."

All of Fuchsia Lane's shoes are designed by Lin herself and currently made to order only. Each pair is handcrafted by dedicated artisans from a small workshop in Indonesia.

Lin, who has created a sample collection to go with her Holiday 2011/2012 clothing collection - Portrait of a Lady - reveals that her made-to-order offerings are based on the samples, but customers can choose the colours, materials used and heel height to get exactly what they want. A fully bespoke order can be taken although it will cost more and take longer to produce.

Booties with Swarovski semi-precious stones designed by Vivienne Lin, founder of local label Fuchsia Lane, 118A Tanjong Pagar Road.

Otherwise, the shoes generally cost from $300 to $800 and take between four and six months to make. Examples of shoes that can be made include French lace-wrapped pumps and booties decorated with some 40 handsewn Swarovski semi-precious stones imported from France. "We're not stingy with materials as long as someone likes the shoes and finds it worthwhile to pay for the effort and quality behind it," declares Lin.

When considering the new business, mass production wasn't an option. "Firstly, there are too many casual-shoe labels out there and we simply cannot compete in terms of numbers. More importantly, I think, Fuchsia Lane is a label that advocates artisanal crafts so it makes sense that we carry that through in our shoes, making sure each piece is crafted to be cherished."

Although Lin is a trained industrial designer from NUS who studied fashion designing and retail management in Italy, she is not a trained shoe designer so the process has not been a walk in the park. Not only was it difficult to find qualified shoemakers who were willing to work in small quantities, her lack of experience meant that a lot of trial and error was involved.

"It's all very new to me and to be honest, our first samples didn't turn out to my satisfaction," she laughs. "From the arch of the shoe to the height of the heels, everything was carefully considered to get a delicate balance between aesthetics and comfort. So we kept trying and it wasn't until I thought the shoes were good enough to sell that I was willing to start offering this service. We made at least three samples per shoe to produce just one sample collection."

As to whether there is a market for her handmade shoes, Lin is optimistic that there will be well-heeled clientele willing to pay for "truly exquisite stuff".

"I believe that in every business you need to find a niche," concludes Lin. "I cannot compete with the mass brands in terms of pricing, but what I can offer is a good pair of shoes that can last for many years and which is what the customer wants in terms of looks. My shoes aren't sculptural pieces that you would find in a museum, but they are functional and aesthetically pleasing footwear that you will want to keep wearing."

Step by step
Charlene Lee
[email protected]

TURNING one's passion into a viable business isn't exactly the easiest thing to do but sometimes, if it's something that you feel very strongly about, you've just got to bite the bullet and go for it.

Which is precisely what 27-year-old Charlene Lee did when she quit her job as a fashion stylist and delved straight into her first love - designing shoes. "It has been one and a half years since and I've poured my heart and soul into this shoe business," says the fashion design graduate.

A handmade shoe designed by Charlene Lee

"I spent an entire year doing research, sourcing, travelling to look for materials and trust me, I've done loads of sampling before I was ready to launch my first collection in January."

Currently sold on-line and at Lauren Jasmine boutique (Pacific Plaza, Level 2), Lee's current colourful collection of eight designs (priced from $200 to $450) are what she calls "walking art" and each pair is handmade in Indonesia, down to the moulding and the setting. "My shoes are classics with a twist of fun, they are comfortable and not difficult to match but very interesting to look at," says Lee whose biggest inspiration is Manolo Blahnik.

Now that she's got her first collection out of the way, Lee reveals that she is going to focus more on her made-to-order service (prices start from $350). "When I was doing my market research, everyone was telling me to do custom-made shoes as there is a real lack of such services in the market and women, particularly brides, are always looking for that perfect pair of shoes to wear on a special occasion," she recalls.

"The only problem I have is that I need at least four to six months per pair of shoes as I don't believe in rushed jobs. You want to take the time to make sure that the shoes are exactly what you want."

At the moment, Lee says that her made-to-order clients are mainly brides who are looking for quirkier wedding shoes. "I like shoes that aren't conventional and I try to introduce that into my custom-made designs as well and surprisingly, there are quite a few brides out there who want something that isn't just a pair of white or cream platform heels with some bling," grins Lee. "I've been asked to make a pair of bright blue wedding shoes and a pair of pink wedding shoes with bows. I like to take elements from wedding shoes and turn them into a pair that is beautiful as well as very distinctive and special."

Not that she's limiting herself to only creating one-off pieces of footwear for brides as Lee believes that there is a growing market of young creatives who would be keen for a pair of custom-made shoes."I think the demand comes from people not being able to get what they want," she explains.

"When I was in school, I used to have classmates who come back from trips abroad with pairs of really funky shoes and when I asked them where they got them from, I found out that they were custom-made. It was then that I started to ask myself, why is such a service not available in Singapore?"

She adds that custom-made shoes also have a market for women with odd-sized feet. "Before I started making shoes, I had never met anybody whose shoe size was a size 35 or smaller, but they are there, and I've met many customers who have feet that are really small and cannot find shoes."

As a one-woman show, Lee's business is small and overheads are kept low as she works from home and not at a shop. Even then, it hasn't been easy growing the business as the Singapore market can be very challenging. "I don't think that Singaporeans understand the art of handmade, sculptural shoes, but I think there is a growing group of consumers who really appreciate quality artisanal work," she concludes.

"In all honesty, I don't expect my business to sky rocket overnight. I just wanted to launch my collection and open the local consumers' eyes to shoe craft. My ultimate goal is to grow the art of shoemaking in Singapore. It may take ages, but you have to start somewhere."

A good fit
ed et al @ 28th Fevier
5 Jalan Kilang
[email protected]

IT is quite a trek getting to shoemaker Edwin Neo's atelier. After all, it is tucked away at 28th Fevier, a cool multi-purpose space right smack in the middle of an industrial estate around Bukit Merah.

But you'd soon be wishing that your shoes' soles were more worn out than they are when you're there, which would give you more reason to walk out the proud new owner of a pair of bespoke shoes. Especially when you're female.

Shoemaker Edwin Neo, founder of ed et al @ 28th Fevier at 5 Jalan Kilang.

The fresh-faced 31-year-old Neo has just started to offer his bespoke and made-to-order shoe services to women as well. "We started out only making men's shoes but frankly, right from the start, we were already keen to offer bespoke and custom-made shoes for women," says Neo, who had trained under a master shoemaker in Budapest.

"But we held back because we weren't sure how it would take off. Handmade shoes take a few months to produce and ladies' fashion trends change seasonally and so quickly, so we were worried that there wouldn't be a market for our made-to-order shoes, as we cannot offer instant gratification to our clients."

But he soon realised that women are starting to appreciate handmade shoes just as much as men do. "My male customers come with their wives or girlfriends who always ask me when I'm going to start producing shoes for them," explains Neo.

"The idea was always bubbling in my head even though I was never really sure there was a market. But after hearing from women that they were keen, I did some research and realised, hey, this may work after all."

The key, it seems, is to make sure that the shoes look classic. So for his initial run of shoes, Neo will offer mainly a sampling of designs that are best described as more feminine versions of quintessentially men's shoes such as brogues, penny loafers and boots.

According to Neo, the shoes will be slimmer than the men's versions and would probably boast higher heels that measure about two or two and a half inches (as compared to men's heels which range from three quarters of an inch to one inch) although everything, from the colour and the type of leather used to the heel height is pretty much tweakable.

Goodyear-welted custom-made shoes start from $500, and bespoke shoes - where you get your own shoe lasts, the wooden form of a foot on which shoes are made - are fully handmade and starts from $1,000 (although there is an additional one-time charge of $800 for each pair of lasts made).

A custom-made pair of shoes takes about two months to make, while a bespoke pair takes anything from three to five months. Neo, who credits the popularity of Prada's Spring/Summer 2011 platform brogues for this growing trend, points out that just five years ago, his services may not have resonated with women in Singapore.

"But now that their interest has been sparked, I think that it is a trend to stay as once women realise how comfortable our shoes are, they will keep coming back," he says.

"The main difference between us and other design houses which may offer such services is that we are first and foremost shoemakers, so we always go for comfort before aesthetics. Of course, the shoes must look good, but our primary concern is comfort and construction. Our focus is fit, construction, materials and design."

He concludes: "If this takes off, we may venture into a ready-to-wear collection for women next year but until then, we'll just have to wait and see."

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