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Leather And Lace (HKTDC Fashion - Footwear, Vol 02,1999)

Vol 2

Leather And Lace
- Golden Bridge Shoes Fty

Sure-Footed Success
- Sanwo Int'l Co Ltd

Leather And Lace
Golden Bridge Shoes Fty

WOMEN'S shoe maker Golden Bridge Shoes Fty combines the best of two worlds: the flexibility and low cost of manufacturing in mainland China, and the fine styling that comes from a design team with 30 years' experience.

Its factory in Huizhou, Guangdong province, specialises in ladies' footwear with "semi-handicraft" production, where each shoe requires some degree of manual labour. A ballet sandal from the recently launched Mes Chausseurs line, for instance, is a shoe that could only be done by hand. An elastic leather strap holds the foot to a TPR sole, which sits on a leather-trimmed heel. The upper, crafted from supple Japanese leather, has the shape and foot-forming qualities of the best ballet slippers.

The sandal sells well in design-conscious Japan, where simplicity and quality craftsmanship are appreciated.

"Most factories manufacture by machine -- they can't meet the high quality standards of demanding customers," says export manager Jeffrey Li. "For shoes with soft, thin genuine leather, like we use, the leather has to be applied by hand over the last with special care. If it were done by machine, it would tear or stretch. This is why quality leather shoes always require the finest materials and skilful techniques."

Li explains that Golden Bridge's owner and designer, Lai Cheong, opted to use handcraftsmanship from the beginning. He has always been interested in shoe design and knew that using a fully automated factory would give him less production flexibility, especially for shoes with exclusive designs and special lasts.

Another model from the Mes Chausseurs line is a jungle camouflage slipper with white faux fur trimming. The camouflage is an unexpectedly hip touch, and the fur, for a shoe that will sell primarily in the tropics, shows a sense of humour. But the shoe is so impeccably designed, with a modest black rubber sole and a simple, comfortable form, that high-street matrons could wear the item with ease.

The company has two labels, Catwalk and Copycat, which are exported to Japan, Taiwan and the mainland. Golden Bridge targets the middle and high-end fashion market, and sells well in Hong Kong's tonier boutiques.

"We are expecting to get bigger in the European market, and we are about to make deals with wholesalers in Italy and Spain," says Li. "The Asian economy is suffering, but that has only reminded us to broaden our market. We are confident we have the design and quality to sell anywhere."

Golden Bridge sources materials and accessories around the world, according to the needs of whatever design it is working with, such as Japanese leather and elastics, Italian buckles and Brazilian leather soles, Li says.

The company produces about 20,000 pairs a month, with about 60% going to the mainland market and for export. It won a Huizhou regional-government award for outstanding quality production in the early 1990s. "We are known for our quality and design, and our business has grown on the strength of this reputation," says Li.

Sure-Footed Success
Sanwo Int'l Co Ltd

SANWO Int'l Co Ltd has beat a path to success so familiar to Hong Kong manufacturers: do something right and stay focused until business takes off.

This footwear design and manufacturing company started 12 years ago, producing sports shoes under licence for Dunlop and Slazenger, in small quantities. The company now has it own brand, Mosquito Classic; production has increased tenfold to 200,000 pairs a year; and it sells through its own chain of stores, Trample Art.

Sanwo left behind sports shoes manufacturing years ago to focus on men's and women's fashion lines. Its biggest sellers are men's casual footwear but it makes its mark with women's shoes -- its showroom is stuffed with fluorescent-coloured, spike-heeled, fabric-covered, multi-accessorised clogs, pumps, sandals, trainers, formals and slippers of every form conceivable.

A made-to-order specimen for a Japanese retailer shows how flexible the company can be. A women's platform shoe is covered in a fine denim fabric, measures about five inches high and three inches wide, and weighs half a pound each. The incline from heel to toe is about 70 degrees.

"We get these crazy designs from Japan, but we do it for them and they sell well," says general manager Kieth KS Lee. "They give me design suggestions and I tell them how to make it work. For example, they wanted to make the sole flat, but I told them you had to put a curve in it or a person couldn't go up the stairs. It's little things like that."

He says the company uses its experience designing women's shoes to style its men's lines. "Women's fashion always leads the men's. We take design elements from ladies' shoes and see what we can do with them in the men's lines, but in a much more conservative way."

Lee pulls out a mock-up of a men's shoe he is designing. He has put a reflective silver tape around the heel of a basic, black leather men's dress shoe. It is a nifty touch -- it turns conservative footwear on its head with a simple twist. Lee then brings out the shoe that inspired it: a ladies' dress shoe with a coloured metallic heel.

Lee says that Sanwo struggled when it started out. "We concentrated first on style, comfort and quality. In the first two years people complained that our prices were not competitive. But as customers began to notice our designs and they came to know our quality, price was less of an issue," says Lee.

Sanwo's main export markets are Japan, Taiwan and Singapore, and orders are increasing from Thailand, the Philippines, Australia and Saudi Arabia. The biggest sellers are men's casual wear from the Adventure Collection, featuring tough leather boots and shoes, with sturdy work-boot soles, high ankles and leather laces.

The firm accepts small orders, sometimes even accepting factory orders for 50 pairs. "I let the customers order in small quantities so they have the confidence to buy. That way they won't be left with any unsold shoes," says Lee. "I know that they will sell out and soon order more."

For its export business, the company tends to sell directly to retailers. It works quickly and closely with clients on their orders, so they can catch a shoe trend and bring a style to market quickly. Manufac-turing is carried out at two factories in Zhongshan, in mainland China.

"We follow a lot of Italian designs, because that's what the market wants right now. But Hong Kong has its own international style and I take that, and we put our own touches into our shoes," says Lee.

Written by Jasper Moiseiwitsch

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