Hong Kong culture

Grandma’s classic Hong Kong embroidered slippers given a fashion-forward reboot

Watch: Miru Wong is the third-generation owner of Sindart, making and selling embroidered shoes and slippers in a small shop in Jordan. She talks about her influences and future plans for her business

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 March, 2017, 6:16am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 March, 2017, 9:00am

It’s a Monday afternoon and Sindart, a small shop on the first floor of a small mall in Jordan that sells embroidered slippers is full of customers.

There are Japanese tourists who have discovered the shop through a TV show and guidebooks, as well as local middle-aged women looking for dainty footwear to shuffle in at home.

Holding the fort down with ease is 26-year-old Miru Wong Ka-lam, getting different slipper sizes and speaking simple Japanese phrases to the tourists, who are happy to buy a pair or two as souvenirs of their Hong Kong visit.

Wong is the third generation to run Sindart, which was started in 1958 by her paternal grandfather, under a staircase on Nathan Road. He made the shoes and slippers, while his wife embroidered the shoes with traditional Chinese designs.

“My grandfather worked in a shoe factory and learned how to make shoes and slippers. I lived with my grandparents, so when I was little I loved wearing the shoes and slippers they made me,” she says.

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As a child Wong picked up an interest in embroidery, and her grandmother began teaching her the craft when she was in primary school. “At first it was quite difficult, but I asked my grandmother questions and I would watch her when she was embroidering so I learned many skills from her,” she says.

“I would use a pencil or pen to draw simple designs but they would look like a mess. But my grandparents would give some comments, and my grandmother showed me how to thread a needle the fastest way and talk about how to sketch and make the embroidery simple and beautiful.”

Interestingly Wong’s parents weren’t taught the trade, and instead focused more on running the shop.

After she graduated from Polytechnic University in visual communications in 2012, Wong took over Sindart, and her business plan was to implement her final year project of rebranding the shop.

This involved expanding the product range and offering not only slippers, but also footwear that can be worn outdoors, such as ballerina style flats, flip flops and heels. She also modernised her grandfather’s traditional designs, and even created new designs, such as sequin pandas and colourful flowers.

“My grandfather would use the same design for many years, but I am inspired by Chinese myths and poems, and the seasons, things like plum blossoms and snow. I also study Japanese patterns to develop new ones for embroidered shoes,” she says.

Much like a fashion designer, Wong is constantly developing new designs – about 10 every season – as many of her customers are women in their ’20s and ’30s who are keen on new styles for their wardrobes. She has even sought to capture the wedding market by developing a range of red brocade and embroidered shoes for brides wearing the traditional two-piece red and gold outfit.

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However, the young entrepreneur is also aware that some of her regular customers knew her grandparents and Sindart still carries some traditional slipper designs.

Luckily for Wong, social media has helped her spread word of her shop, locally and abroad. “When we moved to Bowring Centre [in Jordan], there were no customers for the first few weeks. Then I started to use social media to help promote my shop. I took pictures and wrote descriptions about my products which helped me reach young people.”

The popularity of her new designs produced with traditional methods is an indication, not only that there is a market for her products, but also an interest in learning the craft. Wong has held a few workshops, and some of her students are helping Wong produce some of the slippers for sale in the shop.

From initial design to final product can take several months. But once the design is determined, and the various components are prepared, it only takes three or four days to finish one shoe or slipper.

Wong is optimistic about the longevity of embroidery in Hong Kong.

“I think embroidered shoes are wearable art and not just shoes. You can wear them every day,” she says. “When my students are involved in the design process they have new ideas, like the ‘fourth generation’, and I think they will have an impact on the industry.”