While I steadfastly stand behind American manufacturing, there are a few exceptional stories that I can't help but share. Saigon Socialite is one of those stories. Created by LanVy Nguyen in 2007, this collection of hand carved shoes is intended to help reverse the deterioration of the traditional Vietnamese art sector. Feeling that the increasing number of factories was killing the country's heritage, Nguyen and partners Thien-Nhien Luong and Spencer Ton created an NGO called Design Capital to help refine the supply chain processes of traditional enterprises. It was during her work with them that she encountered a shoe cobbler, who she partnered with to combine French leatherwork with the time-honored craft of pagoda carving.
The amount of work that goes into these shoes is phenomenal. The blocks of wood for the soles are harvested from local orchards, and left to dry for 12-14 days. These are then hand carved with traditional tools, with respect to what would or wouldn't be culturally acceptable. For example, rather than using a four-tailed dragon—reserved for ranking pagodas— a three-tailed one which is deemed acceptable for door-frames and thus shoes was substituted. After the initial carving work the shoes are sent to the cobblers and, two days are often spent affixing the leather uppers to the soles after which the shoes are returned to the carvers who wax out the wood grain and varnish the wedge in local oils.
Together they produce limited runs of 2000 shoes a year. After that, the carvers are asked to give time or product back to the surrounding community. This can the form of knowledge imparted through teaching, or even carpentry work to help better the lives of villagers around them. All profits from the NGO that Saigon Socialite and other artists operate under go toward education, rehabilitation, and skill building for the disenfranchised. All in all, you really you can't say enough good things about what goes into these shoes. Also they are rad, and I would absolutely wear shoes with dragons carved into them. You can find these, and a variety of other colors on their website here.
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