|▲ Sylvie Shoes / Master Shoe Maker Jeongchun Lee|
Most luxury goods started from master craftsmen. They pour sweat by sweat in detail by detail of a product in order to give it perfection. Maybe it is only natural that some people find mass manufactured shoes uncomfortable because they lack in details of the hands of masters. Seongsu-dong in Seongdong District, Seoul is the hub of handmade shoes. Around 70% of manual shoe makers in South Korea are clustered here. And there is a street called ‘Sujehwa Keri (Handmade Shoes Street). Nestled on this street is the shoe master Jeongchun Lee.
17 year old from Jeju grows to be a master shoe maker
Born to a father of shoe industry in Jeju Island, Lee grew up watching how shoes were made and dealt. He jumped into the field in earnest at the age of 17 by working for Daeheung Shoes which then was running around 40 stores on the island. He then moved to Sungduk Shoes in Sewoon Arcade in Jongno District, Seoul on recommendation of his acquaintance. He also crossed the Korea Strait to Japan in 1989 to learn how things run there. It was 15 years ago that he nestled his permanent base on Seonggu Sujehwa Keri under the brand name Sylvie. In 2017, he received the master shoe maker prize from the Korea Consumer Association and is now serving as the president of the Korea Footwear Industrial Technology Association.
Many of Lee’s clients are professionals from CEOs to celebrities. One of the charms of Sylvie is that the factory and the store share the same place which makes fast amendment when necessary or required. It is notable that the worn out shoes can be made exactly the same on request. “All making and amendment procedures at Sylvie have my name on it so I always give 100% of my expertise and services. This might be the reason that many of my clients are professionals.” At the dawn of the year 2020, Lee listed his name in the 2020 Brilliant People & Brand Awards in the shoe making category.
Activating Korean footwear industry
It is worrying, Lee says, that the handmade footwear industry in South Korea seems to be declining due to cheap Chinese products. Also worrying is that the relatively cheap land price in Seongsu-dong is increasing fast due to the increasing number of cafés that are pushing out of the tradition one by one. But as most industry experiences ups and downs affected by ever changing business environment, Lee rather makes himself encouraged to find ways to activate Korean handmade footwear industry. And he is brewing his plans for the year 2020.