How exactly did you learn to make shoes? I heard you were self-taught.
Yes, I’m self-taught — I never went to school to learn this. If there was a pair of shoes I personally liked, I would disassemble them and put them back together, and would come to learn the art of shoe construction by doing so. My understanding was that if I could re-create the shoe I destroyed, I would essentially learn how to make it. My way may not be the conventional way, but this was a rational idea to me at the time.
You currently have five footwear brands under your direction, can you tell us the distinctions between these brands?
Authentic Shoe & Co. is a brand that shares its name with our company. It is also our flagship brand for dress shoes made with Goodyear welt and luxurious materials. “Beautiful Shoes” is a women’s footwear brand; “foot the coacher” is a casual, youthful brand with high-end details; and “Footstock Originals” is a reasonably priced, daily standard shoe aimed at businessmen. The former subsidiary brands are all created with tradition in mind, while the last label — “SPECTUS SHOE Co.” — takes a more contemporary stance, incorporating a system dial in place of the shoelace.
Can you explain the meaning behind “Authentic Shoe & Co.,” “foot the coacher” and “SPECTUS SHOE Co.”?
“Authentic Shoe & Co.” portrays the core shoe designs that I wanted to create in the very beginning. I named it Authentic Shoe because I hoped to design shoes that continue to be stylish regardless of how many years have passed. “foot the coacher” was named on a whim. People always ask me the meaning, but I’m never quite sure what to tell them [laughs]. SPECTUS is a word I coined, interweaving the word “spec” and the suffix “tus,”common in mythological heroes. I didn’t want the word to make any sense or any irrelevant attachments, or for people to think of any particular designs when the name is mentioned.
Authenticity seems to be a common theme throughout your brands and retail stores. What does authenticity mean to you and why is it important to consider it in shoe design?
I always liked old school and antique shoes, but I also believe in designs that do not change in meaning or feeling over time. For example, a popular song from 30 years ago will likely sound like an old song, but sometimes it can be just as fresh and inspiring as new songs when its originality shines through. I am always seeking that aesthetic. I want my brand to be known for shoes that can be worn for years and years to come. That is why I named my company Authentic Shoe & Co.
Your SETTA shoe was selected by the Northampton Museum and Art Gallery in 2004 as the first non-European and non-American shoe in the permanent collection. How did this come about?
I knew a guy from the British Embassy in Japan and met the president of Goodyear at a party there. While footwear culture certainly originated from the UK and US, I told him that I was shocked that Asian footwear was not displayed at the Northampton Museum when I visited years ago. The president of Goodyear then asked to see my work, and when I presented him the SETTA shoe, he asked to keep it for the museum. I went to check it out, and there it was, displayed in the museum. I consider it the most traditional Japanese silhouette to be chosen for the permanent collection, I just helped with the process (laughs). I think the president was also impressed that the SETTA was made of Indonesian lizard and Italian calf leather, among other materials chosen from around the world.
How did it make you feel to be included in the Northampton Museum and Art Gallery?
I was pleased because I knew it would give my work good exposure and reach a new audience. At that time, I felt the need to prove myself, so I remember being very happy.