Kung Fu shoe maker Mrs Tam
Meet Mrs. Tam, the woman behind Tam Kwok Kwong Leather Shoes—a small hand-made kung fu shoe shop set up by her husband 56 years ago. She talks about what motivates her to keep the business going.
HK Magazine: When did you learn how to make kung fu shoes?
Mrs. Tam: My husband taught me how to make the shoes about six years ago. When I got married, he wouldn’t let me to find a job of my own, so when I got bored I would visit him in the shop and I gradually picked up his techniques. Then about three years ago, my husband had to retire due to a leg problem. We didn’t want to close this shop—He started it from scratch more than 50 years ago. We have never moved, and we’ve seen all the changes and developments on Hollywood Road. That’s why we must go on.
HK: Why are they called “kung fu shoes,” and how are they different from western shoes?
T: They’re the best footwear for practicing kung fu. Unlike western shoes, they’re lighter with a soft base so they are better for movement and swift motions, such as high kicks. But in my personal opinion, kung fu shoes are more comfortable then western shoes, and they go well with baggy pants on hot summer days.
HK: Who is your clientele? Has it changed over the years?
T: Surprisingly, quite a lot of young people want to buy the shoes these days. I guess kung fu is kind of hip these days and that’s why the shoes are in fashion. But before that, my clients were mostly middle-aged and older people who dressed in traditional Chinese clothing. Of course we have tourists, but I think after September 11, there are less of them walking past the street. I also get some celebrity customers as well, such as Dr. Patrick Ho, the retired Home Affairs Secretary.
HK: Do you know if any other shops like yours still exist?
T: I don’t think so. There’s a factory that makes kung fu shoes in Kwun Tong. But they’re mass produced. We’re a little shop that hand-makes everything. But not all of the shoes are tailored; there are ready-made shoes in the store for the customers to choose as well. But we still hand-make them all.
HK: What if you retire one day? Will you pass your shop on to your children?
T: I really can’t tell. We only have a daughter and she’s still studying in primary school, so we don’t know whether she would be interested in taking up the business. We won’t force her. We don’t even force her to come to the shop very often. Plus the rent has gone up so high, even though we’re just occupying a corner of the staircase.