"Handmade shoes are more considerate of their wearer," said Park Dong-hee, chairman of the Seoul Seongdong Footwear Association. "Compared with handmade shoes, ordinary shoes, mass-produced by a machine, don't consider the shape of the foot that differs from individual to individual. This causes discomfort," said Chairman Park. She said that handmade shoes are customized for individuals who have wide, narrow or flat feet. "Handmade shoes are made with better quality leather than that used in manufactured ones," she said.
Gabin Yang, a shoemaker who runs a shoe factory in Seongsu-dong, Seoul, said, "We produce as many as 20 pairs of shoes a day, as all production procedures are carried out by a human. Most of the shoemakers who work in factories here are master shoemakers who have 30 or 40 years of experience."
"It is no exaggeration to say that there are no handmade shoe products here that are exactly the same, as they are all made by human hands," Yang added. "Shoe-making technology used to be regarded as one of the top skills. Seongsu-dong is where master artisans, with the best shoemaking techniques, continue to make shoes that are comfortable to wear despite the challenges of making them by hand."
"There are about 540 shoe factories in Seongsu-dong alone. About 30 handmade shoe factory owners have banded together to open a joint shop, the Seongsu-dong Handmade Shoes Town (SSST)," said Chairman Park. "You can buy high-quality yet comfortable handmade shoes in various designs at cheaper prices than those of well-known brand name shoes on sale in department stores," said Park. Most men's shoes on sale in the town are priced at around KRW 100,000. Women’s shoes, as well as those for kids, suitable for seasonal or fashion trends, are also on display.
"We recently noticed that overseas customers are beginning to get to know about this area. Handmade shoes made in Seongsu-dong are already being shipped to New York for sale," said Park. "It will take around ten days to send the end product after the customer visits here to order a pair of handmade shoes," she said. Park added that foreign customers can receive their completed footwear back home after they ordered their handmade shoes in Seongsu-dong during their Korean trip.
"If I could, I wish I could give a pair of handmade shoes to President Park Geun-hye as a gift, though she has a very busy schedule," Park added with a smile, hoping that she could have such an opportunity in the future.
Seongsu-dong Handmade Shoes Town was formed in the 1980s when shoe and leather factories began to locate in Seongsu-dong. Last year, the shoemakers' association launched their own joint brand, SSST, after opening the shared shoe shop in 2011. The association plans to launch a series of top quality customized shoes in 2014. Handmade shoes are designed for individual foot shapes and are priced differently depending on materials. The ones made with top-end materials, such as crocodile skin, can be priced from around KRW 800,000 up to 1 million.
To visit the SSST store, get off at Seongsu Station on subway line 2, leave from exit No. 1 and turn around. Information about the shop is also available at its homepage (www.ssst.co.kr) where people can also place orders.