The rows of shoes in the factory captured one’s attention immediately, not least because of their bold colors and variety of designs.
The shoes are made by Tina Wahono, whose eponymous startup shoe company is also the name to its women’s shoe line. The men’s shoes are known as “Massimo” — Italian for maximum.
“[We chose the name] to reflect the efforts we put in to them. The shoes are hand made from the finest leather,” says company director Triasto Wahono Aji Effendy, Tina’s husband.
Starting out with a personalized touch
“Tina Wahono has been specializing in custom-made footwear since its inception. We wish to introduce the feel of high- quality leather and the craftsmanship that comes into making the finest shoes to the Indonesian public,” Aji says.
“I got the inspiration to start out making custom shoes when I saw their manufacture firsthand in Milan when I lived in Europe in the early 2000s. I was taken by the craftsmanship and meticulousness of their work, which truly raised shoemaking to an art. Another characteristic that I found with the shoemakers is that they’re family businesses, so that’s as good a start as any.”
From then on, Aji says he was determined to attain similar heights in footwear.
“I asked the shoemakers about their know-how, the sort of materials that they work with, as well as the items they use for manufacturing shoes,” Aji says.
“Among the elements that influenced me are the wide range of styles, colors and materials that I saw there, some of which are custom made and hard to find here, rendering them unfamiliar to many Indonesians.
“Among the techniques that would make the shoes one of a kind was embossing the leather with metal plates to make exquisite, one-of-a-kind patterns. Other elements include using leathers that are known for their longevity, like nubuck and suede, but are otherwise little known to the Indonesian public.”
While full-grained, high-quality nubuck and suede either whole or two-toned comprise much of Massimo’s footwear, they are not the only material Aji works with. He also uses exotic materials like ostrich leather, which is one of the most expensive materials in the world, and local snakeskins dyed with natural colors.
Stepping up from utilitarian roots
While Tina Wahono has made a name for itself in the custom shoes market, it started off with mass-produced items nearly a decade ago.
“We manufactured shoes under the name Shoe or ‘Sus’ Factory in 2005, before we took on the name Tina Wahono two years ago. The shoes, which are manufactured in our factories in Bogor and Bekasi, were made for employees of companies like Unilever, XL and Garuda, as well as footwear for patients of places like the Orchard Clinique and Ellen Kwan,” Aji says.
“We also manufacture shoes for retailers like Sogo and Takashimaya. The mass production of shoes in the factories still make up most of the business.”
He adds that he trained his workers in shoemaking techniques himself.
“The shoemakers who make the custom shoes were picked from the best workers in our factories at Bogor and Bekasi. There are five of them, each of whom work on the upper and lower parts of the shoes, the lining and soles,” he says. “I manufacture 150 pairs of custom shoes each month, while the factories can produce thousands of shoes each month.”
Aji points out that Tina Wahono’s shoes sell for Rp 500,000 to Rp 3.75 million ($44 to $330), making the shoes a tall order for many prospective customers.
“I admit that my prices are a bit steep for a local producer,” he says. “But then again it’s worth it because the high-quality materials and good craftsmanship in the shoes are good value. After all, it’s better to have a Rp 1 million rupiah pair of shoes that lasts five years than a Rp 200,000 or Rp 300,000 pair that won’t last out the year.
“Besides our custom shoes take about two weeks to make, whereas elsewhere they take about three weeks,” Aji adds.
Spreading the word
“The Indonesian market is a tough sell. Most people focus on low prices rather than craftsmanship, while more affluent buyers are more fixated on imported big-name brands. The malls aren’t much different, as they hold the conventional wisdom that local manufacturers should cost less than their foreign counterparts. But some people are slowly coming round,” Aji says.
Tina agrees. “We have managed to get some regular customers, some of which come all the way from Singapore. Some of the men have made the journey about three or four times, some women have come 10 times,” she says.
She also points out that special occasions are good for business. According to Tina one client ordered 40 pairs of shoes for a wedding party.
Like many a local startup, Tina Wahono spread the word about its wares by opening up outlets in malls, namely Grand Indonesia, Kelapa Gading and Blok M Plaza.
“Of the three stores that we used to have, only the outlet at Blok M Plaza remains open. The store is a way to acquaint our wares to the public,” Tina says. “Many of our customers also got wind of us at fashion events like the Indonesia Fashion Week and the Jakarta Fashion Week. But regardless of how our customers heard of us, they have the chance to go to our workshop and choose their options from there.”
She says that customers are able to choose shapes, sizes and colors and negotiate the price. Tina also attributes her company’s fame to social media, particularly on Instagram.
Aji adds that Tina Wahono plans to extend its line to other items.
“We started making planners and cellphone holders last January as they feature leather printed with various designs from company logos to cartoon characters. Initially they grew out of the printed shoes that we make,” he says, pointing to a printed leather children’s shoe featuring the Japanese cartoon character Doraemon.
“The shoes aren’t very well known, as they are more in demand from Singaporean and Japanese clients instead of those in Indonesia. Since we announced production of planners and cellphone covers, which cost about Rp 175,000, we’ve received orders for over 5,000 of them.”
Aji adds that the items also use white leather, which is not in very high demand in the Indonesian market. Regardless of whether the leather goods that Tina Wahono makes will be toted in one’s hand or worn on one’s feet, Tina and Aji say you can be sure that they are made to last for a very long time.
For more info, visit tinawahono.com
Originally published in The Jakarta Globe on April 14, 2014