Bespoke Shoes

(Warsaw Insider, Jan 2011)

It easy to breeze pass Mr. Tadeusz Januszkiewicz’s store without noticing it even though it commands a prime location. The shop front is modest, dated and distinctly old school. But being “old school” is the whole point.

“There are very few such places left,” says the silver-haired 82-year-old Mr. Januszkiewicz, referring to workshops like his where you can order bespoke footwear. “I have been doing this since I was 18.”

“I learnt the trade during the German occupation,” the amicable craftsman explains. “There were no schools. You learn a skill and you stick to it.”

Sticking to it has resulted in a steady stream of customers from all over, including Denmark, Sweden, France, Italy and Japan. In keeping with the times, he has his details posted on a website, but he doesn’t depend on the Internet for business. His orders come from regulars and those who found their way to him by word of mouth.

“I make any designs to order,” he says. “I have some samples here. Or you can pick from the catalogues. My clients also bring their own cut-out’s from magazines.”

The shoemaker supplies the material, usually calfskin. The products are usually ready within a month. The bill for the personal touch is about zł. 1,800 per pair, depending on the cut and the leather used. Though it’s a staggering sum compared to the ready-to-wear’s, Mr. Januszkiewicz claims that he doesn’t make big money out of it, but just enough to keep him going.

“Mine is a small workshop,” he says, adding that he produces about 10 pairs per month. Back in the 70s when he had a crew of workers, his “mass-production” rate was 30 pairs per month.

“It’s not possible to hire now,” he explains. “The older ones are gone or retired. And the young ones don’t have the skills. It was a huge mistake of the State to disband the vocational schools. Now, there’s a shortage of craftsmen. The schools are starting up again, but it will take time to recover.”

The master craftsman looks pink in health and could pass off as a 60-year-old. I ask if he plans to pack it in and put his feet up.

“What can I do at home?” he answers, breaking into a broad smile. “This is my hobby. The work gives me contact with people. I’ll work as long as my health permits me.”

And most of all, he thrives on seeing the satisfied looks on the faces of his clients when they walk off with his handiwork.

(Warsaw Insider, Jan 2011)