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Hender Scheme

Hender Scheme

Hender Scheme doesn’t make finished products. 

The company’s founder, Ryo Kashiwazaki, views each new pair of Hender Scheme shoes, created from scratch by a team of specialist craftsmen in Japan’s Asakusa region over the course of a few months, as only 80% done.

“Ideally, once a person has a pair and starts using them, it becomes their own.  They might look nice on display, but [the shoes are] a tool meant to be used,” Ryo has said. “The way the sole wears down, whether someone likes their leather dirty or clean, in the end, I see a new pair of Hender Schemes at 80% of its journey. The remaining 20% only takes effect once someone puts them on and starts walking.” 

Such a philosophical approach becomes less of a surprise when one learns Ryo’s background.   A Tokyo-born psychology graduate from Mejiro University, Ryo says he pursued his academic path because he had trouble sleeping as a teenager.

“So, in a way, I wanted to learn how to consciously make myself more unconscious of things, if that makes sense…I’m not so sure if what I learnt there directly relates to what I’m doing now, but on a subconscious level, I think there may be a link between then and now.”

Whilst he was still a university student, Ryo volunteered to assist at a shoe atelier opposite his house.  He began visiting shokunin (specialist shoe craftsmen) in Japan’s famous leather region, Asakusa, around the same time to learn the craft.  Over the course of the following years, Ryo’s fate was decided.  Crafting shoes from hand, the old fashioned way, was his calling.

In 2010, Ryo founded his company. He called it Hender Scheme after Sandra Bem’s ‘gender scheme’ concept – a theory to explain how individuals become gendered in society.  His ambition was to do away with conventional, gender-based fashion, and instead let great design dictate the product.  The resulting collection of unisex, premium leather accessories has seen Hender Scheme become one of Japan’s underground lovemarks.

His simple leather belts, soft suede and waxed canvas bags, classic portfolios and accessories have won the hearts of the notoriously fickle Japanese market, and keeping up with demand is a challenge verging on the impossible, given Hender Scheme’s focus on ‘manual industry’ – balancing human hands with machines.  

Every Hender Scheme piece is made from a mix of Japanese and imported leathers – depending on the product - and instead of deliberately trying to design a collection with an overall theme, Ryo’s collections always start with an abstract word.  (This season’s was ‘contemporary’.) More keyword brainstorming and sketching ensues until a huge portfolio is created, from which final designs are selected.  Then comes the creation of the patterns and lasts, before final construction – which in the case of many items can take several months.

Outside of Japan, Hender Scheme has achieved cult status for its ‘homage’ collection – handmade, leather recreations of the iconic sneakers of our time.   Ryo has said that he used to wear a lot of Nike Air Force Ones, Dunks, and Adidas Superstars, and his ‘homage’ collection pays tribute to some of these greats, taking some of the world’s most famous and instantly recognizable sneakers and transforming them into a gallery-worthy, bespoke leather shoe.

Piquing the interest of publications like High Snobeity and Sneaker News, the overwhelmingly positive response to the ‘homage’ collection internationally has meant that Hender Scheme has had to become notoriously picky about their stockists.  Currently they only work with 35 stores around the globe, with Barneys, Mr Porter and Sorry Thanks I Love You among them.  

Ryo says the ‘homage’ collection is an expression of the idea that something mass-produced can be turned it into something completely different. But the company’s surprise cult status is hard to explain.

“I think maybe it is because I made things that people have already seen before, but at the same have never seen, as well,” he muses.

It’s even harder to explain this international success to the shokunin. “These craftsmen, who come from very small towns, have never even been overseas before. It almost seems like a paradox,” Ryo has said. “To begin with, we never even thought of making these to sell overseas. So it’s been an interesting process to see the growth. The craftsmen are often in disbelief.”

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Hender Scheme’s newest collection is available now.

With help from Intelligence Magazine.