A day in the life of a bespoke shoemaker

It’s not just the women who splurge on shoes anymore — the men do get it, as bespoke shoemaker EDWIN NEO tells us. Just don’t request for kicks made from elephant skin

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The Moneymaker:

EDWIN NEO, 35. The shoemaker founded luxury bespoke shoe label, Ed Et Al, in 2010. These days he regularly makes shoes for the local glitterati and foreign politicians whom he declines to name for privacy reasons. For a guy who wore dress shoes to army camp, Edwin owns just 40 pairs of shoes, which he says is bigger than his wife’s shoe collection.

HIS HOME IS: A landed property in Serangoon with his wife, two-year-old daughter and in-laws.

HIS RIDE IS: A Nissan Murano SUV. “I bought it ’cos I needed to do deliveries for work. Before that, I was driving a two-door coupé, which isn’t the best car when you have a kid.”

WHAT’S IN HIS WALLET: Edwin switched from a typical wallet to this cardholder from his own label “after we started selling our own leather accessories”. He carries $20 cash, credit cards, business cards, and a country club membership card ’cos “my daughter loves swimming there”.

8 DAYS: Have you met customers who try to squeeze every cent out of their purchase?
EDWIN NEO: Of course. They pay good money and want the best there is. If it’s not up to their expectations — like the fit being a bit off — we will remake it. We either offer the [rejected] shoes to clients at a steep discount, or sell them at our sample sales. I had a customer who asked for lots of discounts and kept finding fault with his shoes. I eventually rejected his order and refunded him his money ’cos he was just making trouble for us. The funny thing was that when we put up his shoes for our sample sale, he came by and tried to buy them. We refused to sell them to him (laughs). Every industry has customers like that. It was just bad luck we encountered him!

Are Singaporean guys willing to splurge on shoes?
Yes, if they understand the value of the shoes. I don’t think Singaporean guys are dressing up more per se, but the difference is that now, they want quality. Those who try to [stretch their investment] tend to be first-timers who order customised shoes. To them, a good pair of shoes is an investment ’cos it can last them up to five years with proper care. When we present to them the options, they get overwhelmed and [get carried away] and order a lot of details.

What are some weird requests you’ve received?
A customer paid $12,000 for a pair of crocodile leather shoes that had shoe buckles made of solid rose gold. Gold is a little bit too weak for buckles, so we convinced him to go for stainless steel plated with rose gold instead, ’cos he’s going to lose gold every time he scuffs his shoes! We had to take the buckles to a jeweller to get them plated. We only deal in leather that can be legally obtained, like calfskin, crocodile or ostrich. A customer once asked for elephant skin. We told him we couldn’t make the shoes!

Have you spotted your shoes being resold online?
I saw a pair of my shoes on Carousell. The guy was selling it for $250, which was not that far off from the price we sold him at. Our ready-to-wear range starts from $349 now. I didn’t know whether to feel angry or happy about it! After all, it’s his shoes so we can’t ask him to take it down (laughs).

How much have you spent shopping on clothes this month?
About $2,500. I just commissioned a tailored suit, shirts and some pants ’cos I needed more formal wear for our next trunk show in Hanoi. Some clients ask us for style advice, so we try to set a [good] example. But I do buy from [mass brands like] Uniqlo too. I buy clothes at least once a month. If I don’t buy anything for a month I’ll feel uncomfortable and want to get something! I also like to buy gadgets to look at how the designs work. I consider it my bad habit ’cos my spending gets out of control. My bank offers a spending budget e-mail alert. I set a $2,000 limit every month. Once I hit it, the bank will e-mail to tell me I’ve busted my budget! In a year, I get that e-mail about twice or thrice, especially during festive seasons. Sometimes I ignore the emails and continue spending (laughs). But when it comes to business expenditure, I’m very thrifty. I have to think of my staff.

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