Seiji McCarthy is somebody I’ve needed to cowl on PS ever since we frolicked in Tokyo some six years in the past. However with no prospect of travelling to Japan quickly, I turned to native author and good friend Christopher Berry to go to Seiji and report – on Seiji’s American type and MTO course of particularly.
By Christopher Berry
I lately had the pleasure of visiting Seiji McCarthy, considered one of Tokyo’s most fascinating new bespoke shoemakers. I say new, however truly he’s been in Japan for 5 years, assiduously honing his craft and constructing a model. He simply tends to maintain slightly a low profile.
Seiji first lived right here in his twenties, each to grasp the language and to re-connect along with his roots (he’s half Japanese, on his mom’s aspect). Again within the US, he pursued a profession with the NBA (that’s the Nationwide Basketball Affiliation), which took him throughout America and Asia. However then he returned a number of years in the past to pursue shoemaking.
One way or the other, Seiji has managed to make a reputation for himself in a rustic famend for its grasp shoemakers. Some might need known as the transfer foolhardy, given the nation already appears to be bursting with names. However I feel that is to misconceive the native tradition. Whether or not it’s in sneakers, fits or watches, each time a brand new participant enters the sector, everybody pays due consideration – and sometimes the bar finally ends up being raised for everybody.
When Seiji began he shared a part of the higher flooring of World Footwear Gallery, within the Harajuku district of Tokyo. However as we speak he’s in a brand new atelier – a discreet ivy-clad constructing across the nook, a stone’s throw away from Bryceland’s – and albeit it’s a pleasure to see him thriving in his personal area.
After settling into the jazz café-themed workshop, Seiji explains to me his new made-to-order service. That is faster and cheaper, and presents a excessive stage of worth to those that need bespoke high quality, however have pretty common ft.
The becoming course of is inherently an additive one. First, purchasers are guided into their best-fitting trial shoe. Then, corrections to the pre-made type are made as needed. For every altered location on the final, a further cost of ¥5,000 JPY (£30) is added.
This course of can be carried out remotely, however is barely really useful for those that can match into a typical sized final of a generally identified model. For instance, one may inform Seiji they had been a 9.5 in, say, Alden and choose a method and leather-based. The shoe would then be made in a single shot with zero fittings, in response to the client’s commonplace Brannock dimension.
For many who are travel-restricted, Seiji is glad to meet such orders, and does so to good buyer satisfaction. Nonetheless, he at all times advocates in-person fittings when attainable.
Bespoke is inevitably the place issues get extra fascinating.
Whereas Seiji’s sneakers are as removed from a manufacturing unit product as attainable, he locations a heavy emphasis on factory-like ranges of consistency: “I prefer to take as a lot guesswork out as attainable. If I’ve a gauge that reveals me how your foot seems, I can think about it in 3D so a lot better. Most Japanese shoemakers don’t work like this.”
Whereas European shoemakers sometimes favour easy tape measurements and foot tracings, many in Japan and Asia use extra concerned becoming processes, replete with plastic sneakers, stress sensors and even plaster moulds. These gadgets can present a 1:1 anatomical reference within the absence of the client’s foot, however in Seiji’s view don’t at all times assure higher outcomes.
In his expertise, topographical cross sections of the foot utilizing a gauge are all he must make an correct final, on high of tracings and measures. Though as in lots of areas of craft, in the end the right determination about which instruments to make use of is as much as the artisan, and which they discover delivers the most effective outcomes to their prospects.
It’s additionally helpful to notice that ‘well-fitting’ sneakers are thought of in a different way right here in Japan than overseas.
For instance, folks take off their sneakers with extra frequency, and nobody needs to garner even the slightest unfavorable consideration from friends or superiors by spending an excessive amount of time lacing or unlacing their footwear at skilled capabilities. Consequently, Japanese folks sometimes put on sneakers a couple of half dimension too giant, and generally extra.
Right here, folks favor to leap out and in of their sneakers in a flash, in order that the gears of society might proceed to show uninterrupted.
Seiji and I agreed these societal and office norms are additionally the explanation why males in Asia have a tendency in the direction of a extra elongated shoe. Convincing prospects to interrupt with this visible bias has not at all times been straightforward. However, with a lot of the world changing into much less formal the tides appear to be lastly turning, and Seiji is having fun with the chance to domesticate and educate prospects throughout this cultural shift.
There may be additionally a parallel with Seiji’s personal journey, from idolizing super-slim London sneakers to the extra American-oriented kinds he prefers as we speak.
“Once I began as a bespoke maker I needed to make the George Cleverly Churchill-style chiseled toe. However the type I’ve developed since dwelling here’s a lot much less chiseled and much more spherical,” he says.
“Immediately the preferred sneakers we promote are nonetheless brogues and gown sneakers, as a result of Japanese guys sometimes put on extra gown sneakers. However whereas prior to now I’d promote a brogue with an excellent chiseled toe, now we do issues way more rounded. Now I’ll push folks into grain leathers or suede, or I’ll counsel folks strive cordovan, which immediately provides that cumbersome, waxy really feel.”
It’s fascinating to listen to this, as cordovan is notoriously one of many tougher leathers to work with. With shell, particularly on the heel and toe areas, Seiji likens getting a clear pull during the last to “hog wrestling.”
And even suede skins are tougher, as a result of they should be saved spotless all through the (bodily demanding) making course of. “The supplies I like to recommend probably the most are those which are the hardest to work with as a maker, however I don’t thoughts. I benefit from the problem. I like the appear and feel of these supplies for myself and for my prospects,” he says.
Whereas many will affiliate cordovan with ready-made sneakers, you could possibly argue its sought-after properties are literally higher suited to bespoke in some methods.
On a bespoke final the fabric adapts extra readily to the foot and provides in all the precise locations from step one. Prepared-made cordovan in contrast could be tougher to interrupt in, and the ache lingers in our reminiscence (and generally ft) for years.
The writer personally wears a dimension EEE in Alden and might attest to this phenomenon. Plenty of it additionally has to do with age. As we become older, our ft unfold out or can turn into misshapen by years of ill-fitting sneakers, inflicting additional harm.
Seiji’s vary consists of each English and American kinds, but it surely’s the creation of an elevated, extra refined model of the latter that arguably units him aside from different makers. This informal class actually appears to place the sneakers right into a extra versatile class of bespoke, approachable by a greater diversity of consumers.
It’s a method heritage he and I’ve in widespread, having each spend time at college in Philadelphia. “Vast leg chinos and button-down shirts – for those who’re from the East Coast, we get born in this stuff, ? Penny loafers, khakis, rugby shirts and jackets.”
Practicality can be on the centre of the enchantment, for him: “I’m in all probability on the age now  the place I don’t need to even experience the subway anymore. I imply I’ll, however there’s a give attention to high quality of life stuff. I actually favor strolling or commuting by bike.
“I like sneakers, however I don’t need to have my toenails cut up. I desire a pair that’s snug and that I can maintain for 20 years. You don’t actually count on 20-year-olds to indicate up in bespoke sneakers. However I’m at an age now the place it makes extra sense.”
There’s little shock that his East Coast beginnings vastly inform the kind of garments Seiji pairs along with his sneakers. With that in thoughts, it should additionally come as little shock to readers that his workshop is so near Bryceland’s, the menswear retailer run by Ethan Newton.
“Ethan actually influenced my type to the purpose that if I hadn’t met him, I feel I’d nonetheless be making British-style sneakers. He bought me into classic. I consider him nearly like a Rick Rubin. He helps artists in a method that’s ridiculous,” says Seiji.
“The type I’ve developed since dwelling right here in Japan is lots nearer to my heritage and much more based mostly on each day life. Ultimately you get again to who you’re.”
Seiji is planning worldwide trunk reveals sooner or later. Keep tuned to this area and Seiji’s Instagram for updates.
Costs in JPY as of September 8 2022:
- Worth: ¥200,000 (£1225, plus ¥5,000 per final adjustment)
- Lead Time: 3-4 months
- Fittings: 1
- Worth: ¥400,000 (£2450)
- Lead Time: 1 12 months
- Fittings: As needed