Who would have thought that being a shoemaker was a legitimate job? Footwear maestro and owner of the sole (no pun intended) local bespoke shoe brand Ed Et Al, Edwin Neo, tells us how the job is done.
We have all had bad shoe-shopping experiences. Somehow, the size never fits, or it fits but the design is awful. Enter Edwin: this man creates shoes from scratch, to your preference and to fit feet of any size. Crocodile skin? Rose-gold buckles? Tassels? He has got it covered.
Youth.SG spoke to shoemaker Edwin Neo to find our more about his job.
WHO: Edwin Neo, 33
Occupation: Shoemaker and owner of local bespoke shoe brand Ed Et Al.
Studied: Diploma in Interior Design from LASALLE
Tell us more about yourself.
I was trained as an interior designer at LASALLE. However, I never went into the interior line. I was a regular in the army for about five years. When I got out from the army, I joined my brother-in-law’s shoe repair firm and had a lot of on-the-job training. The seniors in the company taught me a lot about hand tools, but not about shoemaking. In 2010, I went to Budapest, Hungary to be an apprentice under a master shoemaker. When I came back, I started my own company, Ed Et Al.
What a unique job! Why did you choose shoemaking?
I started off as a shoe repairer, or a cobbler, in a sense. We were repairing leather shoes from Ferragamo and Gucci. It got me thinking, why are these shoes worth so much? When we do repairs, we tend to disassemble the entire shoe, so we realised that inside, there are there are ways they build the shoe that make it of good quality.
After I finished my training in Europe, I did bespoke shoemaking – which means I only made customised shoes– and one of my customers actually told me he was requesting for bespoke shoes because he couldn’t find reasonably priced shoes in Singapore, that are of good quality. That got me thinking and this was how Ed Et Al was started in 2011. My vision has and always will be to provide high-quality shoes at reasonable prices (starting from about $200 per pair, depending on the shoe itself).
Describe a typical day at work.
This depends on the appointments I get. Usually, I have to run to the workshop in the morning then go back to the office after that. If I have appointments, I might have to go to down to our retail outlet at Boat Quay. It’s a lot of running about for me.
At the workshop, I make shoes! I have designers housed here (in the office). How we make the shoes depends on what collection the customer is looking at. We have our ready-to-wear line, wich is also custom-made and bespoke.
How long have you been in this industry and how has it changed over the years?
I’ve been in the business for 8 to 9 years. Singapore used to be a shoemaking hub. We used to manufacture footwear but everything went to Malaysia and China after that. We’re trying to make shoes at a very high level, so the good thing is that we’ve been getting a recognised. I think the industry, for designers or shoemakers, will be quite exciting in the future.
Have you received any quirky or strange shoe requests?
I had customers who requested for rose-gold buckles. That was something I had to source for and yes, I managed to meet the request. I also had a customer who requested for exotic skins like elephant skin but I only work with skins that are legal so I had to reject him.
It’s a fetish, I suppose! (Laughs) Even when I was in the army, I liked shoes so while my camp mates would book out in their sports shoes, I would book out in leather shoes.
What is it that motivates and drives you in your work?
The customers’ feedback. When I put out my shoes for sale and they sell well, that is the kind of enjoyment I get from this trade. When I do custom and bespoke, and my customers try on the shoes and are happy with them, that’s the most fulfilment I get from the job.
The creation process is another thing I enjoy but at the end of the day, it is most important that the shoe fits the customer and the customer is happy in them.
What advice would you give to youths considering an occupation as a shoemaker?
Most importantly, you have to be passionate about shoes, as it is a very tough trade. You need some kind of knowledge about shoemaking; you can’t just come in looking for a job for the money.
Being a shoemaker:
|Education: Not necessary, but it is an advantage to have a diploma in fashion design for the design aspect, and any kind of hands-on technical experience at tertiary level for the practical aspect.
Qualities needed: Technical skills, flair for design, perseverance and passion.
Working hours: About 8 hours a day.
Salary range: Average starting salary around $800 to $1,200.
Career prospects: Setting up your own company.
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