Ryoko Hasegawa was circling her wrists as she said, “I’d love to keep on doing my job even when I’ve become old, but it all depends on how flexible my hands will be until then.” The physical demands of shoemaking are sometimes underestimated. In fact, to produce a solid pair of shoes, it actually involves a great deal of strength pulling threads through the leather; the repetitive action could eventually put an excessive burden on the body. Despite the potential occupational strain, shoemaking still brings Hasegawa tremendous happiness.
Hasegawa is now 48 years old. She only began to learn to make shoes at the age of 35. Before that, she had been a flight attendant and also had once opened a flower shop with a friend. After getting married, she went with her husband to sojourn in Germany, where the language barrier didn’t really allow her to fully express her mind. During her days in Germany, she had an utmost feeling of absorbing too much than she could discharge — it was perhaps this suppression that gave her a strong urge to create after she returned to Japan. After giving birth to her child, she signed up for a shoemaking workshop. Little did she know that would become her lifelong occupation. “After divorcing my husband, I have to raise the child alone. I was hoping to get a job where I can spend most of my time being with him. Shoemaking became an easy solution.”
She then left the workshop and entered a vocational training school, where she could no longer conveniently rely on the materials prepared by the workshop tutor; the skills she needed to learn are no longer as simple as punching holes and pulling threads. The school taught her all the necessary knowledge including designing and even the structure of shoe sole. To her, the most challenging part is pattern making, a process that requires extreme precision to translate a three-dimensional concept into a sketch on paper. After numerous attempts and adjustment, she still couldn’t really get it right.
In 2009, she already established her first brand Waldweg in Kanagawa Prefecture. After moving the business to Tokyo in 2011, she was working during the day and attending class during evening time to sharpen her skills in the weaker area. “My child was only in his third grade then. When there were classes, I could only return home by 11 at night. Sometimes my mother would help out to babysit, but when she couldn’t, my child would need to take care of his own self. He’d prepare his dinner and eat alone. He bathed himself and had to go to bed all alone. When I return home, I’d see him sleeping with the puppy in bed. I’d stroke his hair and tell myself, I have to make it!”
Hasegawa now owns a studio near Kitano Tenmangu in Kyoto. On the second floor is a living room where she can enjoy a view of shadows of trees outside of the window and bathe in the warm sun. It was pretty natural for Hasegawa to fall in love with this place at first sight and decided to move to this historic city from Ome in Tokyo. “Ome is in the country side, villagers from the community were all very kind to me. The amount of orders I received was fairly good, but I just wished to move to a new place where I could encounter a greater diversity of people.” She officially relocated in 2016 and rebranded her business to Growold. In her shop, the shoes she made are the only new things she has; the rest of the decorations and equipments are vintage items she collected from around the world, such as the wooden shoe molds, display case, table, etc. I guess it should be her wish to see the shoes she made growing old with their new owners.
From Kanagawa to Tokyo, Tokyo to Kyoto, different locations have brought along different types of customers. People from Kanagawa love to wear sandals to stroll on the beaches dotted along the long coastline. People from Ome love to order trekking shoes for the hilly landscape. People from Kyoto, where etiquette is stressed, rarely wear sandals outside but usually come to order boots and brogues. The productions have to adapt to different demands, but they all share Hasegawa’s persistence to make shoes that can age with the owners. For this very reason, she insists to only use the harm-free vegetables-tanned leathers, and go after clean and classic designs that never go out of style.
On Growold’s website, Hasegawa writes, “Our leather shoes age gracefully as you wear them and become a bearer of the trace of time. Our shoes are comfortable, durable with an appealing style, and are good companions for your daily life. […] No relationship is meant to last forever, but affection can change the tune of an object. You could treat the shoes with excessive love, or you could have a subtle distance with them; regardless of your attitude towards shoes, we always wish you would keep them for life and allow them to grow old with you.”
OBSCURA與長谷川良子合作推出特別版Room Shoes，現時已於OBSCURA Online Shop上發售。
Having experienced a series of highs and lows in life, today, Hasegawa is still wearing a bright cheerful smile on her face. Perhaps it is the life challenges she’s been through that gives her shoes a subtly tender poise.
OBSCURA and Ryoko Hasegawa have teamed up to create a special edition of the Room Shoes, which are now for sale on OBSCURA Online Shop.