Everyone deserves to own at least a pair of well-fitted shoes, regardless men or women. Agree? Bespoke luxury shoe-making is a domain of very few today and it is not always easy to find a good shoemaker. Donovan Leow, a Singapore-based bespoke shoemaker with several years of experience, unmatched craft skills and a unique eye for beauty, is undeniably one of them.
I met Donovan last October during one of the media events organized by Reebonz. My fiance was intrigued by Donovan's brand as he gave a speech on how he started his shoemaking business from his living room. Dave (my fiance) being British struggles to find shoes from retail stores (in Asia) that fits his feet properly and with the wedding coming closer, he knew he needed to make a trip down to Donovan's shop. We headed down to Donovan's shop based on the appointment date. I didn't expect such a big crowd on a Saturday afternoon but it was great where people were served based on appointment. I was very impressed with the layout of the shop (located on the second floor of the shophouse), not only was it clean and spacious but it had a very chic and modern feel. Simplicity was the word that came into my mind.
While Dave was running through his asks, requests, wants and needs conversation in customizing his shoes, I was amazed at how Donovan took his time to explain every detail on what to expect and what is best. 30 minutes later, Mr Dave was a happy customer and so was I. Not only did I get to document Dave's experience (part of our wedding journal) but I had the chance to interview an inspirational young chap who made his dreams come true.
Here's my interview with Donovan, the owner of CustomMade.
Tell us the story of how you got into making custom made shoes. It started more as a need, rather than a love for shoes. I was studying in Nanyang Technological University (NTU Singapore) and needed a pair of leather shoes for my internship and also presentations. That was when I started shopping for shoes in Singapore and realized how challenging it was to get a good looking pair of shoes without breaking the bank. I ended up having to borrow a pair of shoes from my elder brother.
It was during an innocent family vacation to Vietnam that I discovered custom shoes. The experience was interesting to me. I could get the pair of shoes in the design and color I like, in the size I want. It was a simpler and better process. That got me into custom shoes once I graduated! Tell us about Custom Made (e.g. How was the name derive?). What services do you offer? Initially, we started off as Custommade shoes. I wanted a name that is very self-explanatory and explained the product immediately. After a while, I just shortened it to CustomMade! We predominately do Make To Order (MTO) custom leather shoes for men. Where did you learn your apprentice skills? I did a few short courses with TAF.TC, Singapore's own fashion school. While I do know a thing or two about shoemaking and what makes a good shoe, I would not call myself a shoemaker. Instead, we partnered with shoemakers, craftsmen, and workshops to produce beautiful, well-fitting leather shoes! Do share with us your experience in making your first pair of shoe. As mentioned above, I would not consider myself a shoemaker but I did make a pair of shoes before. And let me just say, it is a challenging process. The skill and time that goes into making a shoe are more intensive compared to making a shirt or pants. It is a skill that takes years to learn and even more to master. This is why men shoes, in general, cost more than shirts or pants. Custom Made has gained a good reputation with locals (Singapore) & gentlemen internationally. How much effort and work was put into penetrating into this shoe market? It was more of a lucky accident. While we are further than where we started, we still have a long way to go in terms of building up the brand and exposure. I believe men shoes have quite an undeveloped market which leaves space for players like me to come in and fulfill the needs of the market. We do not spend much effort or resources in terms of marketing. It was just the initial website and then the manually pasting flyers around! Who is the typical Custom Made customer? The Custom Made man is from 25 to 40 years old. He is well dressed, not fashionable. He knows that image is important and he is confident. Comfort is important to him as he wears a pair of shoes for more than 8 hours daily for at least 5 days a week. But he is not just looking for comfort. He wants the right balance between aesthetics and comfort. How long does one need to wait for a pair of custom-made shoes by your company? What is the process? At the moment, our waiting time is 6 weeks. We are working to reduce the waiting time to 4 weeks but that would still take us another 6 more months to achieve that. Our process is fairly simple. You just have to make an appointment at our website.
Once you arrive, we'll discuss your needs for a pair of shoe and what color and design you're looking for. After which, we'll do a quick measurement of your feet and recommend our different shoe last (mold) and sizes for you to try. Once you feel that it is comfortable enough, we'll make the style and design that you want in that sizing! In 6 weeks' time, you can come and collect your shoes! What are the challenges of being a traditional shoemaker in Singapore? Shoes are products which most men don't understand, especially in Singapore. Perhaps this is because the shoe culture for men in Singapore is not strong. I would say one of the biggest challenges is education. Teaching people more about shoes, how they are made, why some things cannot be done (e.g. shoes that don't crease) or why if you want certain things are done, it would cost a lot more. (e.g increasing the heel height, etc) On the brighter side, more and more men are being more fashion conscious and thus, being able to discern good shoes from lousy ones. What is the one message you would like to share with people who are interested in getting their shoe custom made? If you do not need a pair of shoes urgently, I believe this is a much better way to shop for shoes. You get better value compared to the shoes that you can find at the departmental stores. How can our readers learn more about CustomMade? You can check out our website at www.custommade.com.sg Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CustomMadeSingapore/ Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/custommadesg/
CustomMade is located at 82 Telok Ayer St, #02-04. Prices start from SGD250 onwards. Why wait? Make your appointment today to get your Custom Made shoe!