6 Feb 2008
Comfort Counts(HKTDC Fashion - Footwear, Vol 01,2008)
|Art Star Co Ltd demonstrates a high degree of workmanship in its men's footwear line, such as this model featuring baby buffalo skin uppers|
Men may never attain the stiletto heights reached by women, but when it comes to comfort the boys are definitely putting their best foot forward
Women may well plump for style over substance, but the key component in footwear for the modern man remains comfort, closely followed by durability.
So say Hong Kong shoe manufacturers such as Art Star Co Ltd Manager Leo Lee, who relies on a workforce of contented designers and workers - because a happy team means happy feet.
"If this concept is added to a combination of the best materials, highly skilled workers and professional quality control, you stand a greater chance of keeping the customer satisfied," he maintains.
Art Star has been utilising this approach to produce quality leather men's shoes and boots for the best part of a decade in China's Guangdong Province. "We use baby buffalo skin, mainly from Europe and the US, and craft well-made, traditional men's shoes," Mr Lee says.
The company - which was founded by a family steeped in the art of shoe-making and boasts a local staff of 300 workers - offers a large range of mid-priced products.
These extend from the practical to the fashionable, and include a stylish pair with waxed baby buffalo skin uppers, pigskin lining and rubber assembly outsoles for maximum durability and comfort.
Art Star's commitment to quality keeps buyers happy in many major markets. "Our main markets are the US and Europe, and our clients include household names such as Clarks," Mr Lee adds.
Producing on an OEM basis for major overseas brands ensures Hong Kong manufacturers keep a close eye on the latest trends, which, according to a recent Hong Kong Trade Development Council report, see casual shoes continuing to be the most popular category in the global market - particularly among young consumers.
Athletics-inspired footwear, which offers both comfort and stylish designs, is also keenly sought by discerning male consumers, while the trend towards formal dressing gives rise to greater demand for leather shoes.
As a result, footwear made from soft, lightweight yet strong leather is increasingly found in the market and plays a leading role in the offerings from Hong Kong manufacturers.
Keeping up with the latest trends is vital in the competitive men's shoes' sector, admits Taizin Co Ltd General Manager Benjamin Chan, but in his view it plays second fiddle to comfort.
"Trends are changing so quickly, and it has become even faster over the past three years," he observes. "It is very important to keep up but I believe that it is comfort that defines a good man's shoe - though delivery speed is also vital and we strive for that."
The 20-year-old company specialises in the more rugged, outdoor product and uses full-grain and cow suede leather for the upper, opting for either rubber or phylon for the outsole. "Full-grain leather is very durable and can be imported from many countries, but it is now becoming more easily available in China," Mr Chan explains.
Taizin's catalogue boasts a large variety of comfortable footwear that includes brown leather lightweight casuals (813871A), brown suede mid casuals (811472), brown leather nubuck mark toe (816301) and taupe suede/nylon mesh hi-top (706902) models.
They find particular favour in the US and Europe, partly, Mr Chan believes, because of an ethical certificate that forms the cornerstone of the company's shoe-making philosophy.
Ethical sourcing is an increasingly common practice for major international footwear companies, with Nike establishing a code of conduct for labour conditions at its contracted factories throughout the world.
Reebok, another leader in athletic footwear, has likewise introduced a code of conduct for factories to ensure safe and healthy working conditions in the contracted factories.
Hong Kong companies such as Taizin aren't immune to these demands to protect human rights in the workplace and have introduced measures to monitor the working conditions in their factories.
"We have been audited by a number of human rights groups regarding our working conditions and we have passed all the tests," he proudly notes. "A happy workforce makes better shoes and we are very proud of that."
Comfort is king at five-year-old Aintex (HK) Enterprise Co, which specialises in men's and ladies' shoes featuring synthetic and genuine leather uppers.
Aintex's men's casual shoes, sandals, dress shoes and moccasins all benefit from this focus says Director David Chan, who also believes comfort is becoming the most important factor in the masculine footwear market. "A good man's shoe needs to be well finished, of course, but the trend is now heading towards more comfort, which we can provide," he says.
The company, which mainly serves the Asian market and counts Indonesia as one of its biggest outlets, ensures its shoes are competitively priced at US$4.50-13.00 FOB Hong Kong per pair. "We are a professional manufacturer of shoes, and guarantee a competitive price and grade-A quality," Mr Chan assures.
This commitment is warmly welcomed by men all over the world, who know that nowhere beats Hong Kong when it comes to putting their best foot forward.
TEXT BY NIALL FRASER
Year Established: 2003
Year Established: 1997
Best Business Worldwide Co Ltd
Year Established: 2007
Pioneer Exports Ltd
Year Established: 2001
Taizin Co Ltd
Year Established: 1988