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2/07/2013

Why Handmade Shoes?



Of late, there has been a proliferation in the growing number of brands who are distinguishing themselves as a cut above the rest in the offering of traditional, handcrafted or handmade shoes. Shoe brands like Christian Louboutin, Manolo Blahnik, Gina, John Lobb, Crockett & Jones and Aubercy are some typical examples of this trend bent towards preserving a diminishing heritage.  Yes, it is business but the deliberate branding to elevate such artifacts for the feet had brought back into prominence a fading age old craft. Handmade labels comes with a premium price tag and obviously have to be priced higher than the commonly found counterparts which are machine-made.  Normally, handmade shoes are equated to artifacts of impeccable quality and overall prestige. But aren't those attributes attainable by the cheaper machine-made shoes too?

So then what's the fuss about handmade shoes? What justifies that premium price tag?



Before diving into the subject, it should be noted that there are different levels on how much actual 'hand' work has gone into a shoe and the prices varies according to the levels reached.  However, that's a story for another day. 

Right now, I'll be just touching generally on the concept of handmade shoes that are crafted purely by human hands. On the surface, when comparing handmade shoes with machine-made ones, the latter seemed to be the obvious superior piece because manufacturing processes being more efficient would produce the end product to look more polished, cleaner and precise in their finishing . Apparently, that is not the trend, because as society becomes more educated and wealthier, more and more people are looking at handmade shoes as more superior than those coming out from manufacturing lines. This is for a good reason because handmade shoes have invaluable and irreplaceable values.

Values that aren't necessarily obvious to the eye or to the touch. 



The first is because it's made out of human hands. And along with this workmanship by hands, comes a sort of unseen but intrinsic mark that is grafted into the shoe. A mark that is very like a piece of the craftsman's own 'soul'. That 'soul' is the collective makeup of the craftsman's personality and workmanship; his patience, sweat, endurance, skills, knowledge, intelligence, emotions, and creativeness. This is the unpredictable but essential aspect of handmade shoes because every craftsman has his or her own unique 'soul' and therefore every piece created, there is no exacting twin.

Interestingly, this can be seen from both a positive and/or also a negative perspective.



Positive because no machine can achieve (so far) that uniqueness and level of creativeness that are only inspired from within the master-craftsman and which he or she might use to develop and apply during the crafting process. A negative perspective perhaps, because of a possible inconsistency in the quality of the shoe's finishing and is dependent on the craftsman's skills and emotions. But, it is from these inconsistencies  - I prefer the word unpredictability here because it implies an awaiting surprise - that imperfections may arise and if subtle enough can be transformed into unique beauty lines and or marks that will distinguish one pair of shoe from another. Also, in this matter of unpredictability, it is the ability of the craftsman to minimize or beautify the artifact by striving to reduce imperfections manually which is a great testament to man's ability to surpass his or her own human limitations.  Manufactured shoes present precision and predictability whereas in handmade shoes, in the craftsman's endeavor to bring crafting to perfection, he or she brings out the best and the best is seen in the fine finishing. 

Truly, handmade shoes are a celebration of humanity. 



I think it should be remembered that handmade shoes are sculptured art pieces. So, it does require a certain amount of discernment and appreciation to fully embrace handmade shoes. It has to be like appreciating an art piece created by an artist. A handmade shoe is an artifact; it is art.  It has to be an appreciation of what is beyond the end product; the complex creative and skillful process which goes into actualizing the design into a shoe with its fine finishing and feel.  It is also the story behind the shoe; how the craftsman through his or her passionate and wholeheartedness creates and completes a shoe and in the process, communicates what is in his “soul” as reflected in that art piece. Just like a face to face conversation, or a handwritten letter, it is personal. Yes, it does require a deeper understanding but in my opinion, this reflects an understanding of what is “sophistication”.

Maybe, I'm over romanticizing. 


Though it may seemed I have only pointed out the beauty of the shoe from an abstract nature, many might not have seen that as an immediate or tangible benefit.  However,  I do believe humans have a more fulfilling experience with objects of beauty - shoes in this case - if we know how to build an emotional and philosophical appreciation for it.  Appreciation for something begins only when someone get to know the story behind the object. Therefore, with that in mind, wouldn't such "abstract" advantages in a shoe be preferable?
 


Anyway, having propounded my views in this article, it should be appreciated that I am not dismissing machine-made shoes as being worthless. What I'm trying to do is to put across the viewpoint that you can't directly compare a handcrafted shoe to a machine-made one. It is like comparing a hand-drawn portrait to a photograph taken by a camera. Both have it's own unique and deserving value which require a separate and different appreciation.
 


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