ed et al. Shoemakers: Artisanal Shoemaking in Singapore
Anyone who’s tuned in to the heartbeat of #menswear knows that there is a movement afoot (pun intentional) in East Asia. From the drool-worthy Chinese, Japanese, English and Neapolitan wares stocked at The Armoury in Hong Kong, to the products that emerge from the careful handwork of the artisanal craftsmen and craftswomen who work in the ateliers of small producers like ed et al. Shoemakers, Vanda Fine Clothing, and Kevin Seah Bespoke of Singapore, the dominant, yet misguided, perception that anything manufactured in East Asia (outside of Japan) is of poor quality, questionable taste, and produced under oppressive conditions is being changed one carefully handmade shoe, garment, and accessory at a time. Artisanal craft is alive and well in Asia, and perhaps especially so in Singapore, a fact that is clearly evident in the fine shoemaking by Edwin Neo of ed et al. Shoemakers.
Edwin Neo, the master shoemaker behind ed et al. Shoes, which he runs with his partner Edwin Koh, cut his teeth in the shoe repair business. After years of mastering the ins and outs of shoe construction and repair, Edwin developed a desire to channel his creative passions into custom shoe manufacturing. To take his skills to the next level he apprenticed under a master shoemaker in Budapest, Hungary, home of Vass Shoes as well as a long and storied tradition of fine hand shoemaking. Today, to my knowledge, Edwin Neo is the only person in Singapore who does hand Goodyear welting, and his ability and desire to produce fine handcrafted shoes out of Singapore is something fans of fine footwear ought to take note of.
What has impressed me most in my conversations with Edwin Neo has been his extraordinary commitment to making his shoes better and better, despite their already being exceptionally fine. The current line of shoes is amazingly styled, and crafted to exacting standards. The pair of ‘Mountbatten’ boots Edwin graciously offered for me to review are beautifully crafted of soft and dusky light tan calf leathers, perfect for a misty Fall day. The stitching on the boot’s uppers is straight, strong, and true, and the polished leather soles are elegantly topped off with an imprint of the brand’s logo. The beveled-edge soles reflect an additional dimension of attention to detail that help these boots ride the fine line between ruggedness and refinement. The last is slightly narrow, though without any extremely pronounced nipping at the waist, providing a boot that looks like it is equally at home in the city or country (I’ll be wearing them a lot with my Lands’ End waxed cotton coat this F/W). The fit is extraordinary, and I was struck by how comfortable the boots were as soon as I slipped my feet into them and laced them up.
Impressed as I am by the shoes in ed et al’s current line-up, I was intrigued by Edwin’s news that there is a new line in the works that will be a significant step-up from even the fine shoes currently on offer. Mind you, this is not, to my knowledge, the introduction of a new more expensive line, it is just the application of Edwin’s new vision for his evolving line of shoes.
When I asked Edwin what the most notable upgrades will be, he mentioned that the new line will feature: nicer leathers; pitched heels; more stitches per inch on the uppers; more elaborate and detailed finishing including on the soles; nailing patterns in the Hungarian-style (to evoke the aesthetic of Edwin’s training); a more exaggerated fiddleback; and some more agressive last shapes with more tightly nipped waists. The lookbook for the new line has recently been released, and the shoes look amazing indeed. The plan is for me to do a two-part series on ed et al. shoes, and to report on the differences between the already top-notch older line from which my boots are a part, and another pair of shoes to be determined at a future date once production gets rolling on the new collection. Needless to say, I am highly anticipating the side by side test, but I think the more important thing to note is that ed et al. is a company whose ethos seems to be embodied by the fact that with a solid collection of beautifully styled shoes already available, Edwin as an artist and craftsman was compelled to push himself a bit further to develop a full new line of beautiful shoes that, from what I can tell, look like they give shoes of a similar aesthetic like Gaziano & Girling, St. Crispins, Carmina, etc., a serious run for their money. Especially so since ed et al. shoes are relatively affordable in the world of handmade Goodyear welted footwear: their double monks and brogued captoe Balmorals run about $230 US, which puts them in the Allen Edmonds on-sale range, and I would say that the attention to detail on my ed et al’s exceeds those to be found on any Allen Edmonds in my rotation.
Though I can’t be sure, I imagine the current collection will undergo some price drops too as the new line is introduced, and that would be an excellent time to pick up a pair or two. Though e-commerce isn’t up and running on ed et al’s website yet, if you drop them an email they ought to get back to you quickly with any relevant information you may seek. Ed et al also has a tumblr that’s been pretty active of late, and it’s definitely worth a follow.
Stay tuned for more reports from the real world as I break my ed et al ‘Mountbatten’ boots in this F/W, and for any news I can share in the future regarding the release of the new collection!