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Handmade shoes meet demand of modern feet

China Daily | Updated: 2017-05-17 07:52

Handmade shoes meet demand of modern feet

Shoemakers from Laomeihua showcase their traditional techniques at a museum of Chinese traditional shoes in Tianjin. Li Muzi / Xinhua

Dong Jianshe, 57, remembers how his grandmother's face would light up when he was a young child and his father bought home a new pair of shoes for her.

"They were small shoes with a cloth cover and leather soles. He would bring them home after work and my grandma would be very happy," Dong recalled.

Ten years ago, Dong became the general manager of Laomeihua, a century-old shoemaking store in Tianjin, which had made the shoes his grandmother was so fond of.

Laomeihua became well-known for making and selling shoes designed for Chinese women of Dong's grandmother's generation, who were forced to have their feet bound as children so they became what was known as three-inch golden lotuses, which was considered beautiful in feudal times.

The store was opened by Pang Henian in 1911 when the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) was overthrown and more than 2,000 years of feudal rule came to an end.

During this period, many women stopped binding their feet and found it difficult to buy shoes that fit them - Laomeihua filled the gap in the shoe market.

As demand for shoes designed for bound feet faded, Laomeihua began producing handmade shoes for feet of all sizes. This style of shoe is popular with middle-aged and elderly women due to its comfort and traditional style.

Today, the company continues to make shoes using four traditional techniques, which have been listed as national intangible cultural heritage.

One of the styles, known as Hangyuan shoes, are made using particular techniques and materials, said Li Lihe, a master craftsman of traditional shoemaking.

Hangyuan shoes use pure wool for the upper part and their edges are sealed with goat skin. The sole, which has been dubbed the "1,000-layer sole", is actually made of 36 layers of thin cotton stitched together with a thick linen thread.

"This traditional handicraft can only be passed on through oral and visual instructions," Dong said.

As the roles and rights of Chinese women have undergone a drastic transformation over the past century, Laomeihua's shoes have changed with the times.

Facing competition from international shoe brands, Dong said the company has had to introduce new designs and technology, for example, making their handmade shoes waterproof and more durable.

Incorporating new trends while maintaining a tradition style has been key to the company's survival strategy and has helped it develop an annual growth rate of between 5 and 15 percent since 2008.

Last year, it sold more than 1 million pairs of shoes via its brick-and-mortar shop and online outlets.

Ahead of Mother's Day, which fell on Sunday, large numbers of people flocked to Laomeihua to buy gifts for their mothers or grandmothers.

"This is our busiest time of year. Our sales volume on Mother's Day weekend last year was three times that of an average weekend," an employee said.

Xinhua

 

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