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An artisanal conversation with Wataru Shimamoto, Japanese bespoke shoemaker ORMA, Kamakura

Dear readers, previously I had done a Q&A with a Japanese bespoke shoemaker who based in Munich, and I’ve been thinking of doing this again however having the artisan that is based in Asia. When it comes to bespoke, whether it’s suiting or shoes, our eyes tended to turn our focus to Europe, and it’s quite understandable given its deep heritage and history about bespoke creations over the century over there, but I always think that there must be some great artisan out there, who made exquisite bespoke creations that is based in Asia too, given the massive influence and inspiration of the craftsmanship and its art from the western world in recent years, and here it is! Mr. Wataru Shimamoto is a Japanese bespoke shoemaker who based in Kamakura, Japan, he founded his very own bespoke shoe brand, ORMA (which is an Italian, in English it means ‘footprints’), which creates some of the most exquisite and luxurious bespoke men’s classic shoes locally in Japan. Having been worked in Florence, Italy, one of the Italian home of art and shoes, the young Wataru went to study shoe-making under the reputed Florence-based Japanese bespoke shoemaker, Mr. Hidetaka Fukaya, for almost a decade, picking up the essential technique and the art of Florentine shoe-making, he then decided to launch his own brand afterwards which is what we know today.

With the combination of the free-rein spirit of Italy, and the traditional workmanship of Japanese shoe-making, the bespoke shoes that are made by Wataru aims to provide both the timeless sophistication and comfort, which derives from the discreet craftsmanship with the balance of modern organic shape and design, with the careful measurement and the dedication of the rigorous handwork. His work has earned him numerous awards including the World Championship Shoemaking in both 2018 and 2022 (1st place), as well as the Gold Award in the International Efficiency Contest of The Shoemakers 2019. Today, I am pleased to invite this Japanese artisan for a conversation to talk about his work, his passion about shoe making, as well as men’s style and so on; so here we go:

My Modern Darcy: Hi Wataru, many thanks for joining me for this conversation! First thing first, can you tell us what fascinates you so much about bespoke shoes that you decided to make this as your career? Do you have any influence back in your childhood?

Wataru Shimamoto: I have always loved making things and was interested in a variety of handmade work, and I was particularly attracted to the functionality and formative beauty of shoes. I chose this job because I thought it was worthwhile to pursue the complex elements involved in making them; when I was a child, my parents gave me opportunities to see beautiful things in various museums, animals, and plants every holiday, and I think this is one of the influences that led me to my current job.

MMD: You have studied and worked in Florence under a reputed Japanese bespoke shoemaker before, can you tell us why did you pick Florence? And what is the most valuable experience that you’ve learnt that it still applies to you even nowadays?

WS: Florence has several shoe studios, but most of them complete the entire shoemaking process within their studios. I chose Florence because I wanted to learn the whole process of shoemaking since I originally planned to start my own business, and I learned to be thorough and uncompromising in my training.

MMD: In your opinion, what is the distinction between the Florentine shoe-making technique compare with the Japanese one? And how do they inspire your craft?

WS: In my opinion, Japanese shoemaking is a perfect and beautiful work. Florentine shoemaking, on the other hand, is a part of the dress, so sometimes there are gaps in the work, but it is free to create beautiful things. These elements have led me to pursue delicate work while at the same time, making shoes that are beautiful and can be enjoyed as fashion.

MMD: Let’s talk about your bespoke shoe brand, ORMA, can you tell us why did you pick this Italian phrase as your brand name? And what is the specific ‘house style’ of ORMA that makes it unique?

WS: ORMA means footprints in Italian, it represents our footprints as a craftsman and our hope that we will leave many footprints for shoe owners. ORMA is characterized by the streamlined, gently rising toe and sharply shaped side forms.

MMD: Can you share with us about how’s your shoe-making process looks like? For example, from receiving your client to the finished product, how’s your involvement in the process?

WS: When an order was placed, the customer will come to my workshop, they will look at samples for reference and we will discuss and decide on the model them want. After that, I will take the foot measurements, and based on the measurement data, I will make the LAST and a trial pair of shoes with the completed LAST. The customer will then wear the trial shoes to see if any modifications needed, and the corrected points are reflected in the LAST.

As an overview, the following is the process of the pair of finished shoes:

1. Paper pattern making;

2. Upper upper creation;

3. Lasting;

4. Welting;

5. Shank setting;

6. Attaching the sole;

7. Stacking the heels;

8. Finishing; &

9. Shoe tree making.

The completed shoes will then checked for fitting and delivered to the customer.

MMD: How did you define a pair of well-made bespoke shoes, what are the criteria and the material selection etc.?

WS: Shoes that are fitting and beautiful, shoes that impress customers beyond their expectations.

MMD: As an artisan yourself as well as a business owner, can you share with us about what are the challenges that you have encountered? And how did you overcome them?

WS: At the beginning of my studies at my training place, I was not very good at my job, therefore, my master told me to decide whether or not to quit my job by the next day, back then I did not have the option of quitting halfway through my ambition, so I desperately continued my work. I think it is important to keep working and not give up.

MMD: Alright let’s talk about yourself, can you tell us what’s your personal style? And what is your favorite pair of shoes that you’ve ever owned?

WS: I wear a variety of styles from mode to classic depending on the occasion. Since returning to Japan, I have been wearing black more often; my favorite pair of shoes are old English button boots, a Christmas present from my teacher.

MMD: In the world of menswear, what does ‘style’ mean to you? And how does it relate to any bespoke creation?

WS: These days, I think the boundary between menswear and womenswear is disappearing, and I think menswear styles should be free as well. In this sense, I think the world of custom-made clothing is pandering to the times as a possibility for personal, original, and free clothing.

MMD: besides being well-dressed and well-groomed, in your opinion, what other qualities that a modern gentleman should have?

WS: I think it is important to be polite, social, fair, and well behaved.

MMD: if one day someone approaches you and asks how to become a successful bespoke shoemaker, what is your advice for him/her?

WS: As a craftsman, my advice is to continue making uncompromising products.

Special thanks to Mr. Wataru Shimamoto

Image courtesy of ORMA shoemaker, Kamakura, Japan.


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