Former fashion marketer Hsing-ju Lin (林倖如) wrote a master’s thesis entitled “Stylistic Change in Women’s Footwear” at the University of Leeds and enjoys poring over books about the history of shoemaking. Lin’s interest in shoes, however, is not purely academic. Her year-old brand Liebe Hsing is dedicated to creating stylish women’s footwear while drawing attention to traditional shoemaking in Taiwan.
Once an important part of the export industry, the number of craftspeople who make shoes by hand began to decline sharply in the mid-1980s after many jobs were outsourced to China and Southeast Asia. All of Liebe Hsing’s colorful, classic designs are produced by the Juisheng Shoemaking Center (瑞晟鞋樣中心), a tiny Greater Taichung workshop run by Lu Kuang-mao (呂光茂), who has over 30 years of shoemaking experience.
Traditional shoemaking “is a part of Taiwan’s culture. I’m still a new brand, but I’ve already thought of how to bring it forward to a new generation,” says Lin, adding that her goal is to make footwear that will last for years.
“My challenge is creating a design that people will look at in three decades and still want to use because it looks contemporary and not outdated,” she says.
Liebe Hsing (the name is a combination of the German word for “love” and the first character of Lin’s given name) footwear, which ranges in price from NT$3,480 to NT$7,280 for a pair of lace-up boots, is designed to flatter a wide variety of body types and can be custom ordered. The back of a magenta suede lambskin sandal is carefully sculpted into a sexy curve that gracefully accentuates the wearer’s ankle, while the straps on a pair of classic Mary Jane high heels dip into a gentle “v” over the instep to create the illusion of longer legs.
Lin avoids sequins and rhinestones because the glue used to attach these embellishments damages leather. Instead, she adds visual interest with unusual color or texture combinations, thoughtfully placed seams and finishes that highlight the leather’s natural grain. Hidden details include narrow edgings around innersoles in a color that contrasts with the shoe’s exterior.
“I don’t like using a lot of bling because I think they take away from the wearer’s own light,” says Lin, who keeps inspiration scrapbooks filled with photos from fashion blogs like The Sartorialist (www.thesartorialist.com) and magazines like Elle Decor. Her frequent travels (Lin tries to go abroad once a year) also influence her designs: The sweeping lines of Stockholm sailboats and yachts inspired several sandals in her latest collection.
Lin’s emphasis on comfort and wearability is influenced in part by her mother, she says. The two women wear the same shoe size and when Lin left home to attend high school in Changhua County, she bought footwear to send back to her mother in their small hometown in Yunlin County, which only had one shoe store.
“My mom’s feet were always very delicate and she had to buy well-made shoes. She got blisters easily from fake leather, especially during the summer,” Lin says. “That’s when I started to see the difference quality makes.”
Lin, who earned a certificate in shoemaking from the Footwear and Recreation Technology Research Institute (台中鞋技中心) in Taichung, has exacting standards for the animal skins she orders from a Taiwanese supplier: Cow leather has to be 1.2mm thick, lambskin just 0.6mm. She wears all of her shoe prototypes to make sure they are comfortable and is frank about the potential shortcomings of shoes made by hand.