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    She grew up helping her grandparents run a shoemaking shop. In college, she came up with a plan to save it.

    Miru Wong the third-generation owner of Sindart, a hand-embroidered shoemaking shop in Hong Kong.

    MIru Wong

    Miru Wong, 33, grew up with her grandparents in Hong Kong and helped out at the family shoemaking shop.For her final year project in college, she worked on a rebrand for the family business.She’s now the third-generation owner, determined to keep a dying trade alive.

    Miru Wong was working on her final year project at the Polytechnic University in Hong Kong when she realized what she wanted to be when she grew up.

    She was enrolled in a visual communication design course and, for the project, created a proposal for rebranding her family’s shoemaking shop, Sindart. Her grandfather had opened the shop in 1958 to make and sell traditional hand-embroidered slippers.

    “My plan was to rebrand the shop, by improving the old patterns and functionality of the products, adding new designs, and promoting the knowledge and heritage craftsmanship of embroidered shoes,” she told Business Insider.

    Her plan included increasing the product range, organizing workshops, and promoting the brand. She said she had sadly been watching the craft become one of Hong Kong’s disappearing trades.

    “Initially, I hadn’t thought about joining the family business, but after I made the business plan, I knew I wanted to pursue it,” she said.

    Miru Wong with her grandfather Wong Tat-wing at the original Sindart shop.

    Miru Wong

    She graduated at 22 with a bachelor’s degree and got started at the shop. Remaining true to her grandfather’s vision of providing affordable options, Wong has kept prices reasonable. The cheapest pair is made without embroidery and costs 99 Hong Kong dollars, or $12. For more detailed shoes, prices go up to around HK$300, or $38.

    Wong says most of the materials — including nylon, silk, satin, and brocade — are sourced from Hong Kong, Japan, and Europe. She says the store sells 80 to 100 pairs of shoes a week.

    But as the shop’s third-generation owner, Wong, now 33, has had to make changes. Here’s what she’s been focusing on over the past decade to keep the store running.

    Wong’s new panda design is has become a crowd favorite.

    Miru Wong

    In with the new

    “It’s important to continuously improve the product design, functionality, and aesthetics to stay relevant and appealing to consumers while preserving the core traditional techniques,” she said.

    After she took the helm, she said she focused on infusing fresh energy into the business. Introducing new designs, such as the crowd-favorite panda in various colors, she aimed to captivate a younger audience. She also honored her late grandfather’s legacy by preserving many of his timeless, original designs.

    “Back in the old days, my grandfather made the slippers for indoor use only,” she said. “So after I graduated, I wanted to create more outdoor designs while also expanding the collection to offer wedding styles and casual, everyday options.” She now has around 300 designs, including that of her grandfather’s.

    Wong reguarly hosts workshops on how to craft shoes by hand.

    Miru Wong

    Passing down the skills

    Wong said that her workshops, demonstrations, and exhibitions help spread the word and she’s been noticing a resurgence of interest in artisanal and bespoke products across Hong Kong.

    Others feel that more can be done in order to pass down the skills in Hong Kong. “We should encourage the transfer of skills from experienced shoemakers to younger generations through apprenticeship programs,” Erin Cho, Ph.D., a professor at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University’s School of Fashion and Textiles told BI. “Educational institutions could offer courses in shoemaking and footwear design to spark interest in the craft.”

    Wong shows off different styling ideas for her customers on social media.

    Miru Wong

    Gaining a wider reach

    Social media has played a large part in promoting Wong’s business. With 26,000 followers on Instagram, Wong engages her audience by offering styling advice for her shoes and sharing behind-the-scenes videos showcasing the intricate process of crafting each delicate piece.

    “My customers love to know how to dress up with the shoes and how to match them with their outfits,” she said.

    Passion is key

    Training and mentoring are needed to safeguard the traditional craft’s long-term sustainability. “It’s a very special industry because it’s a combination of two crafts — handmade Chinese embroidery and shoemaking,” Wong said. “I want to promote the craft because it’s a very valuable Hong Kong tradition and people can learn about the significance behind the designs.”

    But it’s not easy. “Rising labor costs in Hong Kong also make it difficult for traditional shoemakers to maintain profitability,” Cho said. The professor went on to say that there may be a lack of younger craftsmen taking up this profession.

    Lindsay Varty, the author of Sunset Survivors, a book about keeping Hong Kong’s traditional industries alive, told BI that the high cost of rent combined with the modern technology being used to replace these industries make it difficult.

    Wong handcrafts the shoes at the shop throughout the week.

    Miru Wong

    “But I think the main reason many of these old trades are disappearing is because of a complete lack of willing successors; in the past, you followed your family into whatever trade they were in, but now, no one with a school or university education wants to become a knife sharpener, face threader, or shoemaker when they could get a job with better hours and better pay,” Varty said.

    Luckily for Wong’s family, this wasn’t the case.

    Regarding the continuation of the business into its fourth generation, Wong is presently unmarried with no kids. She said she’ll have to see if any future children share her level of interest in the business. “I’ll see if they ask me to teach them because I think you have to be very interested in this craftsmanship,” she said. “And if you really take over this business, you have to be very in love with it, like I am.”

    Read the original article on Business Insider

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