– Setting Future Trends
Creatively Playing With Fashion; Pioneering New Currents
Article ｜Huang Xingruo
Photos ｜Huang Jianbin
▲In this era of mass-produced goods, exclusive personally-designed footwear is gradually establishing itself. (Photo: Huang Jianbin)
Leafing through the pages of fashion history, one quickly discovers that trends are often hot for just a moment. Those still standing after undergoing their “baptism of fire” are often dubbed, “classics.” The biggest challenge for the industry is thus how to avoid being submerged in the ever-rushing flow of changing styles. In Taipei, in the midst of the myriad of famous international brands and fast fashions, another wave, fueled by strong design energy and the aid of markets and the Internet, has quietly appeared. These offerings, unique in style and bursting with personality, have been gradually capturing the hearts of ever more Taipei consumers, and of international buyers as well. A new fashion force has been formed that deserves attention.
AIKA Handmade Shoes – Exclusively Custom-Made Finery for the Feet
Shoes are a crucial element in the fashion industry. Nowadays, they are generally mass-produced in large factories. This keeps prices low, but results in a lack of uniqueness. As a result, a demand for customized hand-crafted shoe ware is slowly growing.
The story behind AIKA Handmade Shoes (愛花製作所) is a fashion-industry love story. To reveal his feelings of affection for the “female lead,” the “male lead” designs a pair of Mary Jane shoes on his own. He wins her heart, and at the same moment the idea of making handmade customized shoes is born. The heroine becomes the hero’s partner in both life and business, and because she is a florist, their shop is christened “Love of Flowers” (愛花), translated as AIKA.
▲At AIKA Handmade Shoes, Chen Yongchang personally crafts high-quality footwear that is comfortable and distinctive. (Photo: Huang Jianbin)
From their beginnings in a small market beside a café, male protagonist Chen Yongchang (陳永昌) and female protagonist Xiuhan (琇涵) traveled all around Taipei, setting up pop-up stores in all sorts of locations, including markets big and small, Eslite (誠品) outlets, and Huashan 1914 Creative Park (華山1914文化創意產業園區). Their reputation slowly spread via word-of-mouth and the Internet, and a solid base of loyal customers was built, including buyers coming from Hong Kong, Europe, and North America.
For Chen Yongchang, handmade shoes have a “true” character that machine-made ones cannot match. From designing, to cutting fabric, to cutting leather, lasting, polishing, sewing, and gluing, Chen brings to life each pair of his shoes exactly in accordance with his clients’ specifications. Each customer picks his or her own materials, colors, and patterns, giving each pair its one-of-a-kind style.
Though rapid change is a fashion industry norm, the confidence that the Chen husband-wife team has in making custom handmade-shoes is constant. “The types that people like may change.” Chen Yongchang says, while adding that price is not always the sole consideration when people purchase. Today one segment may consider brand, while another prioritizes functionality, and another values uniqueness. Makers of custom handmade footwear stand ready to fulfill all such demands.
Chen describes his creations as elegant articles of attire that are comfortable, affordable, and like none other. This enterprise, in which the “AI” in “AIKA” means “love,” is guided by the precise foot measurements taken from each customer. This represents a new and distinct direction in the Taipei footwear industry.
▲LOOPY’s Lin Guagua injects unbridled creativity into her fashionable attire. (Photo: Huang Jianbin)
LOOPY – Funny Ideas You Can Wear!
“Too many people nowadays call themselves ‘Gaga’ (嘎嘎), so from this moment forth I shall be called Lin Guagua (林呱呱).” (Note: “Guagua” means a duck’s quack in Chinese.) This was the first statement out of the mouth of LOOPY owner, Lin, when we sat down for an interview. The very definite loopiness of the statement, obviously intended for its shock value, was indeed appropriate considering the surroundings; for the merchandise in this store is all of the same character.
The slang word “loopy” means “silly or goofy,” and at the LOOPY store, nonsense humor is on display everywhere. People can’t help but break out in smiles and chuckles. The two owners, a male/female team, are strikingly young-looking, and in fact opened their shop when still university juniors.
Laughing, Lin Guagua talks about one item she created while in university. “I studied industrial design,” she says, “and a teacher asked everyone to design a toaster. I drew mine as one of those crocodile-tooth games – finish the game and the mouth would snap shut with a ‘Bang’ and the toasting would begin!” The team’s beyond-the-norm talents, were clearly on display in their college days – but their whimsical ideas were time and again rejected by the instructors. “One factor in finally deciding to open a store was our refusal to submit, and another was our desire to show off the work we were producing; so we started with the Internet, and then just started hustling around to markets.” Voila – LOOPY was born!
In addition to studying merchandise design, the two students were busy learning how to run a shop in their junior year. After working at a loss in the beginning, the shop’s revenue is, at last, positive now. The many setbacks they have faced along the way can be seen as the “high cost of tuition” in their entrepreneurship education, but fortunately through this process they have been able to keep working towards their original goals. As before, they continue to take the “fantasies” inside their heads and turn them into real designs, passing on the joy and mirth they both exude.
▲Handmade customized shoes allow each customer to choose his/her own materials, colors, and patterns, giving each pair a distinctive style. (Photo: Huang Jianbin)
With today’s emphasis on low price and fast fashion, conditions in the Taiwan apparel industry are very challenging. However, Guagua thinks that MIT (Made In Taiwan) is now synonymous with high quality, and thus they pay great attention to details, from the selection of quality cotton and other fabric, to lathe work and examinations on whether dyes are eco-friendly or not. In these areas and in all other matters, anything less than precision is not an option. Perhaps this is why LOOPY has seen steady growth at a time when the overall economy has been stagnant.
Refusing to blindly pursue the trends of the day and sticking to their own path, LOOPY is forging a new direction in the Taipei fashion industry. Bolstered by such things as high-quality fabric and irresistible designs that are humorous and healing, their shop is proof positive of the unlimited possibilities open to young entrepreneurs!
▲LOOPY attire and ornaments display the rich creativity of the designers. (Photo: Huang Jianbin)
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