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 specifically.
By Christopher Berry
I just lately had the pleasure of visiting Seiji McCarthy, one in every of Tokyo’s most attention-grabbing new bespoke shoemakers. I say new, however really he’s been in Japan for 5 years, assiduously honing his craft and constructing a model. He simply tends to maintain fairly a low profile.
Seiji first lived right here in his twenties, each to grasp the language and to re-connect together with his roots (he’s half Japanese, on his mom’s facet). 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.
In some way, 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 believe that is to misconceive the native tradition. Whether or not or not it’s in sneakers, fits or watches, every time a brand new participant enters the world, 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 at the moment he’s in a brand new atelier – a discreet ivy-clad constructing across the nook, a stone’s throw away from Bryceland’s – and admittedly it’s a pleasure to see him thriving in his personal house.
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 degree 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 crucial. For every altered location on the final, a further cost of ¥5,000 JPY (£30) is added.
This course of may also be performed remotely, however is barely advisable for those who can match into an ordinary 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, based on the shopper’s normal Brannock dimension.
For many who are travel-restricted, Seiji is blissful to meet such orders, and does so to good buyer satisfaction. Nevertheless, he at all times advocates in-person fittings when attainable.
Bespoke is inevitably the place issues get extra attention-grabbing.
Whereas Seiji’s sneakers are as removed from a manufacturing facility product as attainable, he locations a heavy emphasis on factory-like ranges of consistency: “I wish to take as a lot guesswork out as attainable. If I’ve a gauge that exhibits me how your foot appears, I can think about it in 3D so significantly 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 units can present a 1:1 anatomical reference within the absence of the shopper’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, finally the correct determination about which instruments to make use of is as much as the artisan, and which they discover delivers the very best outcomes to their clients.
It’s additionally helpful to notice that ‘well-fitting’ sneakers are thought-about in another 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 damaging consideration from friends or superiors by spending an excessive amount of time lacing or unlacing their footwear at skilled features. Consequently, Japanese folks sometimes put on sneakers a couple of half dimension too massive, and generally extra.
Right here, folks choose to leap out and in of their sneakers in a flash, in order that the gears of society could 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 direction of a extra elongated shoe. Convincing clients to interrupt with this visible bias has not at all times been simple. 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 clients throughout this cultural shift.
There’s additionally a parallel with Seiji’s personal journey, from idolizing super-slim London sneakers to the extra American-oriented kinds he prefers at the moment.
“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 residing here’s a lot much less chiseled and much more spherical,” he says.
“At the moment the most well-liked 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 recommend folks strive cordovan, which immediately offers that cumbersome, waxy really feel.”
It’s attention-grabbing 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 over the past to “hog wrestling.”
And even suede skins are more durable, as a result of they should be stored spotless all through the (bodily demanding) making course of. “The supplies I like to recommend essentially the most are those which might be 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 clients,” he says.
Whereas many will affiliate cordovan with ready-made sneakers, you may 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 offers in all the proper locations from step one. Prepared-made cordovan in contrast could be more durable 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 may attest to this phenomenon. Plenty of it additionally has to do with age. As we grow old, our ft unfold out or can develop into misshapen by years of ill-fitting sneakers, inflicting additional harm.
Seiji’s vary contains each English and American kinds, but it surely’s the creation of an elevated, extra refined model of the latter that arguably units him other than 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 in school in Philadelphia. “Vast leg chinos and button-down shirts – when you’re from the East Coast, we get born in these items, you understand? Penny loafers, khakis, rugby shirts and jackets.”
Practicality can also be on the centre of the attraction, for him: “I’m in all probability on the age now  the place I don’t need to even trip the subway anymore. I imply I’ll, however there’s a give attention to high quality of life stuff. I actually choose strolling or commuting by bike.
“I like sneakers, however I don’t need to have my toenails cut up. I need a pair that’s snug and that I can hold for 20 years. You don’t actually anticipate 20-year-olds to point out 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 enormously inform the kind of garments Seiji pairs together 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 believe I’d nonetheless be making British-style sneakers. He acquired 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 residing right here in Japan is quite a bit nearer to my heritage and much more based mostly on day by day life. In the long run you get again to who you’re.”
Seiji is planning worldwide trunk exhibits sooner or later. Keep tuned to this house 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 Yr
- Fittings: As crucial