Announcing that I'm going to follow in my fathers footsteps and venture into making luxury brand shoes - but not just any shoes! The nitty gritty details further down the page.
In addition to this new venture, I shall remain as CEO of Mirai Kabushikigaisha and continue to do what we do at Culture Japan.
In this post I talk about what shoes I'm making and how I came to make them through my experience with working for my father. Those of you who read my ramblings regularly will notice some copy pasting from previous posts ^^;
Many people know that my father is the shoe designer Jimmy Choo and because of this, many automatically think that I must be loaded with cash - but just because the people who are saying this would easily accept or ask their parents for cash, it does not mean everybody would.
It's unfortunate that there are so many folks in the world who use money as an excuse and blame others for the rut that they are in. Folks like this generally believe they do not have the ability to do achieve for themselves and that life can only be handed to them on a silver platter.
My parents gave me everything I needed to earn for myself - a pair of arms n legs and a reasonably healthy body - I do have asthma and spinal hernia but not complaining as thats nothing compared to illnesses that some others have to deal with.
The best thing that my dad has ever done for me was to let me achieve and earn on my own - he didn't want me to turn into a vegetable. You can read what happens to some people who accept to be silver spoon fed in the Why Money Doesn't Motivate Me post.
Anyway, if I wanted pocket money then I had to earn it and I did so initially by working for dad part time.
This is the Metropolitan buildings in Dalston Hackney. It's an old hospital where my dad rented out some space to build his business - it was here where I spent time working for dad who taught and mentored me.
This photo snapped a couple of years ago when vising the UK.
While working for my dad, I learned everything about the shoe design and the manufacture process. I learned how to design, cut patterns, stitch and last Uppers too. Dad also gave me the opportunity to make shoes for his clientele including the late Lady Diana.
I also worked with fashion journals such as Elle and Vogue to get them samples for their model shoots and attended many of the fashion shows. While the work was interesting, I knew that this wasn't something that I wanted to do in life.
As I continued to learn more Japanese and discover more of the culture through anime, manga, games and spending time with my Japanese friends, I found a purpose in life at last which was to pursue my knowledge of Japan - I knew that I couldn't do that while working part time for my dad. As I was living with my mum, I didn't see my dad for a few years after I left his studio.
You can read more about what happened during this time, how I learned Japanese and how I made it to Japan in the How Discovering Japan Changed My Life post.
Making shoes was interesting and the skills that I gained were applicable to producing accessories too such as bags, hip pouches and wallets.
But Japan was where my passion was and while I didn't have any contacts or leads to get to Japan, I knew I had to focus on studying Japanese.
Not working at my dad's studio anymore meant no more income at all which is generally a bad thing ^^;
I signed up to a talent agency called Richard Starnowski. Whenever Asian looking folks were needed, I would be given a call and have been in TV dramas, commercials and documentaries.
A memorable moment while on a shoot in the sticks for a documentary about fireworks for the Discovery Channel was when a bi-plane flew by the cast and camera crew at low speed and altitude. It was a clear blue evening and the sight sent a tingle down my spine. Was an inspiring sight that made me want to do something with this life.
I also started to work part time at a Japanese restaurant called Benihana. Not as one of the chefs who threw around knives which occasionally hospitalized customers but as one of the waiters who ran around the halls carrying dishes, washing dishes and occasionally breaking dishes ^^;
I chose Benihana for a few reasons. One of the reasons was so that I could speak Japanese with the many Japanese customers that Benihana had.
The other reason was so that I could save enough moolah for a ticket to go to the land of the rising sun. I wanted to travel to Japan and absorb as much of the culture as possible.
I remember my first paycheck at Benihana - I worked a tough schedule only to see a couple of digits. But I knew not to expect too much at the beginning. It took a year to save enough cash for a ticket to Japan with some money leftover to spend. I would come back to the UK and continue to work at Benihana to save enough money for a trip the following year.
I eventually made it over to Japan by getting a Web Marketing position with the scientific journal called Nature. You can read in detail how I made it to Japan and also what my first years in Japan were like.
As for myself, I went on to build my career in the IT field and served positions such as Website Manager for Amazon and Product Manager at Microsoft.
I then left Microsoft to startup a company called Mirai Kabushikigaisha (Mirai Inc) and now focus on sharing and making Japanese culture more accessible to the world through our Culture Japan label with the help of our mascot character Mirai Suenaga.
We currently have millions of viewers of our TV shows Culture Japan and Japan Mode and for the fiscal year of 2012 we managed to generate half a million USD in revenue and are set to double that very soon. You can read more about our business structure in this post.
In 2013, the Japanese government appointed me as a member of their Creative Industries Internationalization Committee (CIIC) where I gather regularly at the ministry with the presidents from companies such as Bandai Namco Games, Sony Music Entertainment, Horipro, Kodansha, Isetan, Mitsui Fudousan, TBS etc to decide what measures should be taken to help the proliferation of Japanese content around the world.
Mirai Suenaga Smart Doll is completely modeled digitally and printed using modern 3D printing technologies.
The made-in-Japan robot doll is designed to be your everyday companion and will do things like tell you when you get Facebook, Twitter, mail, calendar notifications, teach you Japanese, be your car navigation, tell you when you need to buy milk by communicating with the Smart Refrigerators on the market and most importantly - make sure you are never ever ronery anymore.
You can see her moving below in our first motion test.
Mirai Suenaga Smart Doll is planned for a 2014 release with the Standard Frame Version due out as early as the end of 2013.
Some folks ask whether Mirai is just a dolls head stuck onto a robot frame - nope! All the robotics fit inside Mirai's Outer Shell.
I introduced my dad to the world of Japanese anime dolls and he loves them! Naturally he was surprised that I would end up making some myself ^^;
I produce every component of my line of dolls - the outer shell (soft vinyl skin), frame, robotics, AI, makeup, wig, eyes, clothes and now shoes.
I still have my shoe making skills from the time I was working with dad and have applied those same processes to make shoes for dolls.
Dolls care about their footwear too and don't want just simplified versions of what humans wear.
The result is rather cute ^^; Its still in prototype stage though which is why its rough around the edges.
My first design is a simple one that goes with Mirai's Summer School uniform.
The material for the Upper and soles are real leather and is built the same as a human sized shoe to withstand the strains of them being used to walk in.
While I initially didn't design the Smart Doll to walk, my human robotics engineer said to me "CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!" ^^;
While the first design is the Japanese school girl loafer, I will be rolling out various designs soon after. Mirai Suenaga Smart Doll is currently due to wear them at various fashion shows around the world.
The first design will come with all units of Smart Doll and will also be sold separately too at events and online through our Culture Japan store due to launch this year.
The green foot shaped object is called a Last and is basically the mold used for making the shoe. This Last is hand-crafted but the mass production ones will be printed in 3D just like the molds for Mirai.
And here are what human sized Lasts look like. The metal plate at the bottom is there to flatten the nails which are hammered into it when Lasting the Upper (top soft part of the shoe) onto the bottom of the Insole.
The green circles expose the green plastic part of the Last and is where one would nail the Insole on to the bottom of the Last.
While we are looking at human sized Lasts, I thought we'd take a look at my dads studio in London and talk about the various equipment used to make shoes.
These are heels which come in various shapes and sizes. It has a metal pipe down the middle for reinforcement and is also becomes the hole where the Top Piece is punched in. The Top Piece is the term used for the heel tip.
These are Insoles - the base of the shoe. The Upper is attached to the Insole and sole attached to the bottom of it.
This machine attaches the heel to the Insole - it is loaded with a few large nails and once the heel and Insole is set, a lever is manually pulled down to force the nails into the Insole.
This machine helps attach the Stiffener to the back of the shoe. Inside the back of your shoe you will notice that its hard and thats because there is a Stiffener at the back to support the structure.
This is a Postbed machine and is used to stitch Uppers. The protruding stump makes it easy to stitch especially boots.
My dad many moons ago when working on the building blocks of his business.
Here are some Backers ironed onto some material which will soon be the Upper.
A Backer is cut out from a roll and Ironed onto material or in some cases thin leather. The material is cut out leaving a margin around the shaped Backer where the process of Folding takes place.
Folding Tape is usually placed around the Backer where upon the margin of material is folded over the Folding Tape. What we have now is the Upper which is then glued onto some Lining which is then stitched to complete the Upper creation process.
Another sewing machine used for the Uppers.
Heavy duty cotton used for the Uppers.
This is a Scything Machine which is used to shave off the edges of leather pieces - this makes it possible to fold the edges of leather for stitching.
Various sheets of leather - mostly from Italy.
About to make myself a wallet for use back home in Japan ^^;
The design process of a shoe starts off by Mummifying a Last by taping it up with masking tape.
Then a design is hand drawn onto the masking tape. Here I'm in the middle of working on a Black Rock Shooter themed shoe.
Once this is done, I would cut out the shapes and stick the tape onto card to make a pattern. This process is called Pattern Cutting.
And here is the finished prototype. I tried to include the iconic features of Black Rock Shooter such as the white zip, star and flames.
The "flames" on the side turned out to be a bit iffy due to the lack of the material in the color that I wanted.
This was another rush job so if I was to improve it I would have the flames as translucent perspex material to better simulate the Black Rock Shooter blue flame.
I also wanted to have some chains on the shoe too - maybe for the next prototype.
Yes thats a working zip ^^;
The plan was to originally start a brand of shoes (for humans) where I would focus on anime, manga and game themes licenses like Black Rock Shooter - and then Smart Doll happened ^^;
The human sized shoes will come soon after the doll ones ^^
Now that you have seen how human shoes are made - my line of doll shoes are made exactly the same - the only difference is that we don't use nails for the doll shoes.
To be honest I never thought I'd follow in my fathers footsteps to make shoes - but now that I have my own line of dolls - it only makes sense to build upon my experience of making shoes and produce my own line of shoes for dolls too.
This photo taken with my dad in Penang Malaysia where he was brought up. I also spent a bit of time growing up in Penang too and now we are back to attend Culture Japan Convention - its the first con that I'm doing together with penang Global Tourism which is in a couple of days ^^
If you don't have tickets yet then just turn up at 8:30AM at SQCC!