from @wearweare channel on telegram~
today, i shall share the story about these pair of handcrafted woven shoes i purchased from a very inconspicuous shop tucked away along changi village, called (q. ambiguously) “Fashion Shoe Shop”. during my staycay at changi village, i wandered the shops only to be drawn to the rows of very beautiful shoes (there are both leather and synthetic variants). i was super hungry and wanted to get dinner, but couldnt help being drawn to the shoes… & i was told the shop was gonna close in 30 mins! haha so u know, i went in.
i wish i took more photos of the place, but i was busy fawning and asking the owner questions about his shoes. “where do you get your shoes from?”
“yes, these are very high quality handcrafted shoes. the designs are very unique and now production has stopped because the artisans are old, and covid pushed them to retire. so these shoes, i wont have any more of them after they are gone”
“these artisans are from overseas?”
“no, all Singaporeans! These are made locally u know! these are people who have been in the shoe trade for many years, some up to 50 years! like me. but covid, now a lot retire. so i dont think i can get any more shoes from them, unless some of them decide to produce again.”
“wow… thats sad… 🥺 i love these shoes… im so hungry but delaying dinner to look at them uwu”
“ya, ya, i know. but how, last time ah, people have to beg craftsmen and artisans to become shoemakers and apprentices, now no one wants to take over the craft. and of course, the older generation wants their children to succeed as businessmen and whatnot, so they wont force them to continue. thats how it is, last time, we can work in one industry for 30, 40 years, now its not like that…”
at this point i have nothing to say but nod slowly … picturing the people who made these shoes, who dedicated their life to shoes. but then i said “nowadays, the shoes i find in malls, they aren’t like this…”
“yes, cos the material quality is different and its usually factory produced. but then its okay also, look at charles and keith, they are doing well, from local brand become global! but i tell u a secret. its because LV actually bought a share, so a portion of charles and keith is actually designed by the crafters under LV. i know cos i in the shoe trade la!”
haha, at this point, i laughed and told him he is very cool and i want to buy this pair of shoes. he purses his lips and looks at the shoes on my feet, dissatisfied. he says, “girl, the shoes is just slightly bigger than your feet. its not a perfect fit. i dont wanna sell for the sake of it, are u sure you want this?”
ive fallen in love w the shoes at this point though, so i walk several rounds around his shop, fast and slow, and keep assuring him i will love and use them well. hahaha i was actually having to convince him to sell them to me. “i really love the shoes uncle, i will wear them!”
he finally relents, smiling, and says, “ok, ok. if only i had one size smaller.” he goes on to teach me some leather care tips, how to keep the shoes dry, and gives me a discount of the price (🥺🥰)
now when i wear these shoes, i remember the passion they carry and how much they were loved, both by the craftsmen and the shoe shop owner… the dedication to the craft that is able to celebrate the wider success of the industry beyond themselves (i was expecting bitterness in his words at how times are changing, but there were none), and just a pure, pure love for the craft of shoe making and the shoe industry…
i dont have any takehome point for this story, take what you will … it reminds me how the old/new binary we use is often a false one, its perhaps more helpful to think of what we wear in terms of cycles and seasons, of craft and workmanship instead of trends or styles … of course its also that the story adds to the shoe i wear on my feet, heh.
uncle i will wear these shoes well! ♥️
some musings on this story, after chewing on it more:
ive always been moved by the intertwining between artisanship and people; craft and crafter; object, owner and tradesmen. there is a beautiful ecosystem of trust and reliance, of dedication and skill on the side of the artisan, of patience, waiting and appreciating on the side of the owner. relationships anchor the act of consumption and production, rather than the other way around.
what i recall from this conversation is not bitterness but rather a peace in things changing and growing and evolving, as they always will be. it perhaps less important for things to stay the same as it is for stories, values, methods to live on in new ways. even though there is a prevailing sentiment that these trades are “dying”, and that we are now moving into a period of pre-emptively mourning their loss, i believe there is yet still so much Life in the work of tradesmen, crafters, collectors and artisans in Singapore, so much to be sought out, marvelled, appreciated, inspired by; so much of the values, traditions and ecosystems to be reclaimed, stories to be retold, objects and methods reworked into our daily lives. Perhaps these things can live on in beautiful new ways.
one of my absolute favourite things is to see old traditions being respectfully reworked into new styles, fashions and objects, all the while paying homage to the deep roots of where it came from.
one of my favourite designers is @sarahnsikak, an artist and fashion designer whose beautiful patchwork dresses and garments pay homage to the Heroro women of Namibia. I love how she is not only reworking their methods into her designs, but retelling their stories in new ways, and reclaiming the intimacy of consumption and production through the slowness of her craft. At the same time, the dresses pay homage to the oldness and history of the craft through the use of secondhand or waste fabrics, even as much as this choice also speaks to the urgent climate crisis that the fashion industry is complicit in… i could go on for paragraphs writing how much political, social and cultural power/ influence this dress holds within its billowing, vibrant, twirling self…
i guess what i really see here is how what we wear is so much more than a frivolous material item we put on our body,
on one hand, within each item lies economic chains of production and consumption, its environmental impact, human labour, culture, history, social ties, complicated intertwining of social/economic/capitalist agendas… on the other hand, what we wear is deeply intertwined with our perceptions of aesthetic and beauty, body image & standards, our bodily comfort in the clothing and so bringing things like health, mobility & disability into play, social status, belonging… it is at once deeply personal and entirely political (i use political to refer to systems & structure of power)
in this way, i believe the potential of fashion, as both an embodied, tactile experience of a singular individual choosing what to wear in the morning, and an intangible, rich space where society, history, politics, culture, economics and the environment intersect, to nourish and guide our way into activism: a deeper engagement with issues of social & environmental justice.
as i have written on the Wear We Are tele channel, i believe deeply in the power of enjoying the experience of fashion – dressing up, buying clothes, treasuring and owning items, in guiding and nourishing our engagement with the problems and issues it inherently intertwines with.
ive started writing Wear We Are and curating this space simply out of a desire to document and celebrate my own journey into living a more conscious and engaged life, starting with where i am, and what i wear.
as i wrote freely, i realise that it was really my ingratiation into the process of thrifting – the play, freedom and beauty it allowed me to experience in my body and self-expression – that led me to asking questions about fashion and consumerism that eventually led me into issues of environmentalism, capitalism, colonialism, gender, race… ultimately pointing me towards the urgent and beautiful vision of intersectional social justice.
may this space be a reminder that what we enjoy & desire, what is Good for us, what gives us Life, is often not mutually exclusive with, but instead imperative to, the urgent transformation and revolution we need in our world today. im seeing this for myself in thrift, artisanship, craft, fashion, dressing up, clothes… what about you?
join me https://t.me/wearweare