Oxfords, not Brogues

Creatives: Joshua Leong

Bespoke shoes might be challenging to create, but Leong is always quick on his feet.

Creatives: Joshua Leong

His training may be in classic dress shoes but his personal style sensibility veers towards sneakers. So, after starting Josh Leong Shoes in 2015, he launched Heirloom by Josh Leong the next year. The latter, he says, allows him “the freedom to design footwear and other products that are not confined to the same rules and boundaries in classic dress shoes.”

Leong, who trained with shoemakers Angelo Imperatrice and Stefano Bemer, also co-owns Palola, which offers ready-to-wear and made-to-order footwear for women.

What do you enjoy about shoemaking?

Shoemaking combines art and science. Shoes are designed to be aesthetically pleasing, but they must be made according to stringent formulas and precise measurements to be comfortable. Producing bespoke shoes takes up to 130 hours and involves more than 100 steps, each directly impacting the next. It is incredibly challenging to stay focused.

Who bought your first pair of shoes?

An acquaintance who had followed my shoemaking journey on Facebook and Instagram from day one asked me to make his wedding shoes. That was before I started my business, so I charged him cost price. As I didn’t get the opportunity to measure his feet, I had only the sizing of his dress shoes to work with. Thankfully, they fit!

Do you wear only shoes you’ve made for yourself?

I’ve only made three pairs of dress shoes for myself but I own many Heirloom sneakers. Heirloom samples are made in my size so I can test them out before launching. But I wear shoes from other brands to figure out what makes their shoes good.

How has your aesthetic evolved?

While working with some customers for my bespoke shoes, I began using Museum calf leather. It’s sourced directly from an Italian tannery Ilcea Conceria. I thought the leather would look great on sneakers so that became part of my Heirloom collection in 2017. It’s still our bestseller!

You said that to excel as a creative, one must be a perfectionist. How do you try to strike a balance?

Feeling uneasy or uncomfortable when something is not perfect always drives me to do better. But this perfectionist mindset can be a bane to a business owner — circumstances are seldom “perfect”, and things never go according to plan. So I try to compartmentalise tasks according to creative and business, and not let each interfere with the other.

Your other creative passions?

I love playing poker! To win at it, one needs to think creatively, from making a convincing bluff to maximising winnings when holding the best hand.

Read more about Singapore’s other creative minds here.

This story first appeared in the September issue of A.

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