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Fri, Aug 16, 2013
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Perfect fit for your foot
by Benita Aw Yeong

When it comes to shoes, if you can dream it, this man can probably make it a reality.

Want a pair of moody green oxfords with a bright yellow toe cap? Or perhaps shoes made from leather with ostrich or crocodile prints?

The possibilities are myriad, says Mr Chong Han San, founder of Q Menswear.

His customers are professionals - like accountants, doctors and entrepreneurs - who have a penchant for exclusivity.

"They are typically very confident of their own style, mature and pretty sophisticated. They're also not brand-conscious," says the 32-year-old.

But the shoes don't come cheap.

Typically made from cow hide, each pair costs between $750 and $1,000, depending on the amount and type of material used.

But it is the end result, rather than the price, that surprises his customers most.

"The first reaction is usually 'wow' because it's made to suit every nook and cranny of your foot," he says.

Mr Chong launched the build-from-scratch bespoke shoe service in May last year after coming across a traditional shoe workshop in Hong Kong.

He was struck by the excellent craftsmanship. "It was a tiny place in the Jordan area, where a sifu (Cantonese for master) craftsman with about 30 years of experience worked.

"They didn't have enough business to sustain it. A Hong Kong friend of mine and I felt it was too much of a pity, so he took over the place," he explains.

Each shoe is handcrafted in that workshop according to each client's foot measurements and design preferences before being shipped to Singapore.

Mr Chong, who estimates that there are just two others in the local market offering similar services, says he considered having the shoes made in Singapore, but it was "impossible" to find craftsmen with the same level of workmanship as the old shoemakers in Hong Kong.

"There is a lack of a bespoke shoe culture here, unlike in Hong Kong. There, every member of the police force used to don custom-made shoes because of the long hours they would spend in them."

But demand for bespoke footwear here is growing, he says.

"Men are becoming more educated and vain.

"Also, bespoke services work well for men because they are typically lazy shoppers. Once they find a store which suits their needs, they are loyal and keep returning," he says with a laugh.

Medical trainee Freddy Tan is one such customer.

"I have pretty wide feet, so it's difficult to find offthe- rack shoes that fit well.

"In September last year, I ordered a pair of blue suede leather loafers. I wear them regularly, but they still look as good as new," says the 29-year-old, who specialises in anaesthesia.

Designing a pair of shoes, however, requires not only the customer's input but also their patience.

Clients typically have an idea of what they want, says Mr Chong, who also designs custom-made suits for men.

"My job is to work with those ideas, suggest other possibilities and let them know the impossibilities, such as if they want a very pointed shoe but have very broad feet," he says.

Shoe lasts - a 3-D model of the foot - are then created by the overseas craftsmen, who send over an unfinished pair of shoes four to six weeks from the client's first fitting.

"The client will try it on and we'll note down adjustments that need to be made. The final product arrives about a month later," he says.

The designer says he has not received any complaints from clients about the final product.

An enthusiastic client even bought three pairs in one shot.

"Some of them come to me saying 'I would like to buy LV, Gucci or Prada, but they don't have my size'," says Mr Chong, referring to a petite customer with a UK 6 to 6½ shoe size.

Mr Chong, an owner of 10 pairs of bespoke shoes, says each pair can last up to five to six years if the wearer knows how to care for them.

He receives about 10 orders a month.

But convincing customers of their value is still a challenging task, he says.

"We get quite a few enquiries, but you still have to explain why they should pay for bespoke.

"It's completely handmade and the emphasis is on a perfect fit for your individual foot," he says.

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