Who: Keith Poh
Years of experience: 4
Following the first of a multi-part series on craftsmanship in Singapore, we speak to bespoke shoemaker Keith Poh about his journey.
My first pair of bespoke shoes were made by a very old shoemaker in the Philippines along a very old street in Marikina. I was there for a holiday and I still remember quite vividly that I was worried that the shoes wouldn’t fit well as I didn’t have much exposure towards what bespoke shoes were. Seeing the way he worked drew me towards getting a pair for myself.
The very first pair of shoes I crafted as an apprentice was a pair of penny loafers in black smooth calf skin. I was totally excited about it because before having bespoke shoes I was never able to find a pair of loafers that fit me as my feet are extremely wide. It was also that customer’s first pair of bespoke shoes and I felt a strong connection towards making those shoes for him. It felt great! In terms of individual accomplishment as well as being able to make a pair of shoes for someone that would last for years.
My family did not really come to terms with it at first, when I decided to leave banking to pursue this craft. They knew all along that I loved shoes, however my passion for shoes grew quietly. Therefore when I made that decision to leave my job for learning more about shoes, everyone was shocked. I am glad although they didn’t really understand what I wanted, they gave me a lot of support.
I see bespoke shoemaking as both an art as well as a craft. It is a very old trade and I think all along there has been a gap in Singapore for both educating the public about the trade as well as sharing with people that are enthusiastic about it. There is a huge difference between mass manufactured shoes and handmade bespoke shoes and that is where bespoke shoemaking fits right in.
Each pair takes me about two to three weeks to make as I make sure that every detail is done precisely to the level that I am satisfied with. On average, I spend about six to seven hours a day making shoes.
My clientele seems to come from different walks of life. But they do tend to appreciate the finer things in life as well as appreciating the value behind handcrafted work.
I use calf skin and full grain leather to make the shoes. These materials afford the best composition of strength and flexibility that also shows the natural texture of the leather. I also use other unique types of leather such as crocodile, antelope, stingray and more.
The community of bespoke shoes enthusiasts around the world is huge. It is definitely growing in Singapore based on the numerous enthusiast that constantly ask me about my work. It is sustainable and this is my passion. I do plan to keep making shoes until I am really old.
I am already in the midst of setting up an atelier but I do admit it is not an easy task. There are constant issues to deal with on a daily basis. Managing human resources and piles of paper work is just tip of the iceberg. I do hope that everything would be running smooth by the middle of next year.
Photos and interview courtesy of The Balvenie Connoisseurs of Craft.