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This summer in Beijing and Shanghai, one young cobbler is making a name for himself as a lot of local celebrities are stepping out into the summer heat in his hot, colorful sandals.
For what he has accomplished, Kim Kiroic is grateful to someone he does not want to name. The 27-year-old cobbler from Shanghai has picked up all he knows about selling shoes from a stranger who passed by a shop window and saw his shoes. “He is French,” said Kim. And that’s all he would tell me.
This Frenchman sat the young designer down and explained to him how the industry works, where he needs to be and how to sell them to stores. “He taught me everything I needed to know about shoe marketing and branding,” said Kim, who followed this newfound mentor to France in 2006 and showed his shoes to many stores there.
“But I wasn’t ready,” admitted the young designer. Despite the success in Paris, he backed out of the next season. “I wanted to be more certain about my production; it was a little touch and go. I thought I should be more mature in both design and production before I market my brand.” So there, Kim and his French Guru parted ways.
Kim is from Shanghai. He graduated from the prestigious Tongji University with a degree in advertising. He then worked for a local shoe company as a marketer. After two years at Reebok, he decided to leave the corporate world for good.
At first, he dabbled: a little consulting, a little design and a lot of branding jobs, all freelance. Finally, Kim settled down to start his own collection of men’s shoes. “My first shoe was a sneaker, kind of a men’s-sneaker-and-sandal combo,” Kim chuckled, remembering how he knew nothing about shoemaking when he first started. He spent a lot of time trying to locate a manufacturer that would make his shoes. Many long weeks in the southern Chinese province of Fujian, the shoe manufacturing capital of the world.
Kim was lucky with his first collection; he recouped his money and then some. But then he decided that he was not into sneakers, he wanted to do something more fashionable. So he started to look for craftsmen who could make handmade leather sandals, and learned to color them in fun colors. Between 2010 and 2011, Kim perfected his skills by making shoes for a Korean fashion designer.
This spring, Kim Kiroic is all the rage. You can see them on various fashionable men around Beijing and Shanghai. Architect Yung Ho Chang has a pair that he flashes at dinner parties with fashion types. The conductor of the Beijing symphony orchestra has a pair as weekend shoes. Why are people buying?
“It’s a good cocktail conversation,” said Chang. “The colors are bright and fun, people always ask where I got them and the brand.”
Thanks to the anonymous Frenchman, Kim Kiroic as a brand has already made it to Paris, in the Comme des Garçons store there.
What’s the next step for the young shoe designer?
“I want to develop my own workshop, really perfect the production process. I would like to have a partner. But he has to share my creative vision. For the time being,” he added, “I would not want others to gain control of my company.”