Walking Windows KAZUO CRAFT & ACID LAB
custom shoe craft with Hanada Kazuo in Osaka, Japan,
KAZUO CRAFT is creating uniquely modern shoes
that fuse Japanese artisan craftsmanship with traditional
English techniques and style.
ACID LAB is the kind of place that—if you’re skilled enough to find it—will renew your belief
in the potential for spontaneous creativity. Southwest of the Taipei Zoo in Muzha, down a
narrow cave-like ally, ACID LAB greets you with a mix of traditional architecture, astroturf,
colorful tents, blow up animals, graffiti, and a small coffee shop. It all connects to the
main workshop, housing the entire ACID LAB team. The building must be more than a
hundred years old, but has been rehabbed into a simple co-working studio space and home
of KAZUO CRAFT shoes by EJ So.
With his green felt fedora, vintage Levi’s, and polka
dotted Henley giving us a peek at his large chest tattoos,
EJ So is just the kind of guy you want designing and
crafting a pair of shoes meant to last a lifetime. His
passion for collaboration and sharing ideas is what
attracted him to working with Duopel for his latest shoe
exploration. His smile is welcoming, and his style easy
and inviting. Here EJ talks about his craft, Doing More
with Duopel, and why being respected is more important
than being liked.
You grew up in Taipei City. What was that like for you and
how did it impact who you are?
I grew up in Taipei, but I grew up in a very open-minded family. My parents never told
me to do things just because I should. I learned how to explore and how to find what I
want in life. I had opportunities to go traveling in different cities. My personality was
built by this experience.
How did you get into making shoes?
I started a streetwear brand and tried running that for a
year, but it didn’t last. You need to give people what they
want, and what the market demands. I knew that’s not
something I want to do. I wanted something more original,
that would last longer. I found shoes—It’s something I think
can last forever. At least the spirit, anyways.
Is this what led you to create your brand KAZUO CRAFT?
I did a lot of research and went to Osaka to learn shoe making with a master crafter,
Hanada Kazuo. This is where my brand name comes from. It’s a way for me to honor my
teacher. I still put my own thing into my shoes. I make them in a traditional way, but
with some new elements.
How would you describe the shoes you make?
I do bespoke shoes. I never made exactly the same pair of shoes twice. It’s like getting a
tattoo, it’s a very personal thing. It’s not just buying a pair of shoes. I want to make sure
they fit your feet properly and the design is what you want, and that you can't find it
somewhere else in the market.
What do you think of the Duopel material used in this
Duopel material is something I really wanted to play with because it’s not just the look
that can be nice, but it can be functional as well. It's a very innovative material to work
with. As designers, we always want a challenge, and to work with interesting new
things. The fact that Duopel is more environmentally friendly, but still has a lot of
functional benefits is where I see possibilities.
Talk about the material you designed.
My design concept was to create a window for its sock
to be seen inside of the shoe, and that way the color of
the sock could change or influence the look of the shoe
itself. So what I designed with the Duopel was a
semi-transparent material with colored dot pattern
Did it turn out how you expected or hoped it would?
Leather is a super strong material. Any material I use needs to be similar, so I was
worried about Duopel’s ability to meet such high standards. When I received the
samples I was surprised, to be honest. It was way more than I expected. It’s strong and
waterproof and flexible. The design came out looking very nice, so I’m happy and
planning to do more. I’d like to create a whole new collection using this type of material.
You think people will like a shoe made with this type of
Totally. I believe this could be a new thing for traditional shoe design and construction.
Having material that’s like leather but also waterproof is amazing. The fact that it’s
biodegradable is even more amazing and very attractive to consumers these days.
What are some things you do with
your personal time?
I listen to a lot of music, play guitar sometimes. I go out
with my friends, and have conversations which inspire me
and make me think about ways I improve my life, my
work, and my shoes. How can I really be alive?
What’s the difference between living and being alive?
If you only live without passion, without knowing what you want, then it’s like you just
live. But when you feel alive, you will discover what you want in the world, and you will
find the world is different to you because you want to live with that.
If you could change one thing about
the world what would it be?
No weapons. No guns.
Do you have any suggestions for
aspiring shoe designers?
To those people who want to get into shoe making: do
more, practice more.
Did you have any style icons growing up?
Do you feel it’s more important to be liked or respected?
To be respected is more important. People might like you, for your look, your job, or you
are cool. But if people respect you that's different. That means you are more important
than someone they just like for simple reasons.
3 things people should doing more:
- Paying more attention to the environment.
- Being compassionate.
- Appreciating things, and being grateful for life.