Across China: Traditional handmade shoes popular gifts for Chinese mothers

Source: Xinhua| 2017-05-14 15:34:55|Editor: Hou Qiang
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TIANJIN, May 14 (Xinhua) -- Dong Jianshe remembers when he was a young child his father often purchased a pair of tiny pointed shoes for his grandma.

"They were small shoes with a cloth cover and leather sole. He brought them home after work and my grandma was very happy," Dong, 57, recalled.

Ten years ago, Dong became the general manager of Laomeihua, the century-old shoe-making store in north China's Tianjin Municipality that made his grandma's special shoes.

Laomeihua became well-known for making and selling shoes designed for the generation of Chinese women like Dong's grandma who were forced to have their feet bound as children. The practise was done to make them become "three-inch golden lotuses" which was considered beautiful and complied to feudal virtues on women.

The store was opened by Pang Henian in 1911 when the imperial Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) was overthrown and more than 2,000 years of feudal rule was put to an end.

During this period, many women stopped binding their feet and found it difficult to buy shoes that fit. Laomeihua filled the gap in the shoe market.

As the shoes designed for bound feet are no longer needed by Chinese women, Laomeihua began producing handmade shoes that target all consumers.These shoes are popular with the middle-aged and elderly due to their comfort and traditional style.

Today, the brand continues to make its products using four traditional shoe-making techniques, which have been acknowledged as China's national intangible cultural heritage.

One of the styles, known as "Hangyuan" shoes, uses particular specialized techniques and textures, said Li Lihe, a master craftsman in traditional shoemaking techniques.

Hangyuan shoes use a pure wool upper and their edges are glued with goat skin. The sole, which has been dubbed the "sole of thousands of layers," actually is made of 36 layers of thin cotton stitched together with dense linen thread.

"This traditional handicraft can only be passed on through oral and visual instructions," said Dong.

As the roles and rights of Chinese women have undergone drastic transformation over the century, Laomeihua's products are changed as well.

Facing pressure from international shoe brands, Dong said the shop has to introduce new designs and technology, for example, making their handmade shoes waterproof and more durable.

The shop has also developed a cushioned insole like that for sports shoes, which is favored by the younger generation.

Maintaining tradition while including new trends has been shop's survival strategy and has helped it develop an annual growth rate of between 5 and 15 percent since 2008. In 2016, it sold over 1 million pairs of shoes via its brick-and-mortar shop and online outlets.

Ahead of Mother's Day which was celebrated Sunday, many flocked to Laomeihua to buy special gifts for their mothers or grandmothers.

"This is our busiest time of year. Our sales volume on Mother's Day weekend last year was three times that of an average weekend," said a staff member.

"When my mother was alive, I always gave her a pair of shoes as a Mother's day gift, like my father did for my grandma," said Dong. "It is not only a pair of shoes but also a chance to show our love."