A Very Special Interview!
I enjoy writing interview articles very much. Not just because of the fact that the content is usually exciting and unique to the format, but it also allows me to take a breather. Misiu Academy is a hobby and running for the past 2 years without generating income or having ads yet takes a lot of time. Time I need to invest into writing, taking photos and of course bringing quality content and my thoughts on classic shoe/menswear. Last week I featured Andy from Pure Polish and this week I am very excited to present to you Aji from Vahtia Shoes Indonesia.
I talked before about the increasing amount of decent shoemakers that come from Asia over the past few years many times. CNES Shoemaker, Onderhoud, Yeossal and recently I discovered Vahtia. Needless to say I reached out to Aji’s Instagram and asked him if he would be interested in an interview article. Lucky for me, he was more than excited to contribute and a chance for you (and me!) to discover a bit more about a relatively new brand.
Let’s get the ball rolling!
1. Hi Aji! So glad to have you here! Why don’t you tell us a bit about yourself first?
Hi, everyone! First of all, thank you for taking the time to read this. No words can describe how grateful I am.
My name is Aji, an Indonesian born and raised in the capital city of Indonesia, Jakarta.
Talking about footwear, it has always been in my life for ages. I remember that sneakers like Vans, Converse, Adidas, Nike, and so on were my staples back in my younger years. While I an not obsessed with shoes I always made shoes the top priority every time I had enough money to treat myself.
I remember the happy feeling when I bought a pair of Vans Caballero because they were like the G&G of sneakers back in 2006, and I was still in middle school. Things didn’t change much even when I was in university until 2013 when I first acquired my first dress shoes. That was the year when I started working in an office environment as a website developer, so I had to dress properly in order to meet clients, attend meetings with the executive and so on. I can’t remember which local brand made them and they were not so high quality but I loved them.
I fell in love with dress shoes since then and slowly began learning about dress shoes. As time went by, here I am now as the founder of Vahtia and a solo entrepreneur.
2. I also made the transition from engineering to shoes. But how did you end up from website design to the actual shoe industry?
The first time the idea popped up in my brain was in 2015. It was still just an idea because I was still focusing on my career as a website developer. I was also busy with my preparation to pursue a master’s degree in Germany, which eventually failed due to some reasons. Unlike you who are living in UK, USA, or Europe in general, you have more options when it comes to footwear.
You can easily find shoes from entry-level brands to bespoke shoemakers, whereas it’s the opposite side for us here in Indonesia. We have limited options here to find quality shoes. You either buy overpriced low-quality shoes at the shopping mall or MTO shoes from local shoemakers. That’s if you’re willing to wait for months or buying international brands from a local retailer, which makes them extremely pricey due to the tax. I also noticed that so many “handcrafted” gimmicky brands emerged, claiming that their shoes are handmade even though they use a lot of machinery during manufacturing. I’m not saying they are wrong or evil, just a bit misleading, but who am I to judge.
This was also the year when I was living in Australia where the case was the same as in Indonesia. I couldn’t find shoes that have the same quality as the ones that I bought from the Indonesian shoemaker. So, my options were buying designer shoes or low-quality shoes from K-Mart. But, thank god R.M Williams exist, their shoes saved me. Therefore, I wanted to create a brand that fills the gap between low-quality RTW shoes and MTO Shoes at the sub $400-$500 price point. With the leather from world-class tanneries, hand-welted construction with closed channel stitching and free worldwide express shipping. I began working on this brand in July 2018. It took almost 2 years before the business is up and currently learning how to fly.
3. For me this is very exciting as I can strongly relate as I began only 1.5 years ago too! Finding a name for your creation is very important though. Does the name “Vahtia” Shoes mean something specific?
Yes, it does. In fact if you are Finnish you will definitely understand the meaning of this word. Vahtia means roughly “To keep” in English, it took me a couple of weeks to find this name. Because I wanted something short, simple also easy to pronounce. The mission of this business is simple, I want those of you who wear our shoes to feel that you’re on top of your game because everyone craves to go up, but no one wants to go down. So, imagine yourself as a King, and my shoes are the Knights guarding your dignity as a ruler. If you combine the translated name and the mission, it will be something like “To keep you on top of your game”.
4. Fascinating, I had no idea! So you got the idea and the name. What are the challenges to start a new shoe brand in such a competitive industry?
The most challenging part so far is to educate the local market due to the price point. People here in Indonesia still think that all dress shoes are the same just as I used to think haha! As such they are still not willing to pay a high amount of money to get shoes that almost look the same as cheaper ones.
As for the global market, I’m selling products at the same price point as well-established brands which I respect such as Carmina, TLB Mallorca, Carlos Santos and so on. Those brands already have die-hard followers so it’s challenging to convince them to get my products, but they all have been supportive so far.
5. There is a recent emergence of quality shoemakers from Asia lately. Can you describe the change Indonesian Shoemaking underwent over the years?
It’s getting better and more interesting now. It was hard to get shoes with material from European tanneries such as Ilcea, Annonay and Du Puy among others. Only specific shoemakers were capable to source leathers from big tanneries back then. But it slowly began to change since probably 2017. I noticed that shoemakers were able to source exquisite leathers from the tanneries I mentioned earlier.
I saw one of Winson’s post on their Instagram which was an Adelaide oxford in Museum Calf, Sagara with their French Bison and so on. The Indonesian shoe industry is still relatively small, but I can see that it’s on the right track towards greatness. Just give us time to grow, and we’ll rock the shoe industry.
6. That’s the spirit! Another thing we share in common is that you are a solo entrepreneur just like me. What’s the biggest challenges to run a small international business?
Man, it’s challenging but rewarding! I practically do almost everything by myself. From taking photos, retouching them with software that I never thought I’d ever use (and they are quite expensive). Spending countless hours watching photography tutorials on YouTube, books, as well as lurking around on Reddit, Styleforum and blogs to get more references about shoes and style in general.
So, pardon me if you see the pictures on Instagram aren’t good enough, I’ll get better, promise. I could hire a photographer and digital marketer but I prefer to stay like this for now. There’s also something else I seek from running this business which is the sense of adventure. Not only about photos, but I also spent a lot of time finding suppliers that let me buy leathers in small quantities.
7. Really, I know exactly how it feels! It is a massive challenge but extremely satisfying at the same time. Now onto a more grim topic. Covid affected luxury retail and shoes tremendously. Does it help to be online only right now in 2020?
It does help a lot. Being an online business means I can drop the price while it allows me to cut some expenses such as rent, staff, and operational cost. It’s still not radically cheaper but it certainly helps you save money. I know a few brands can sell their products at a remarkably low price point but I can’t do that unfortunately.
The reason is that the Indonesian Rupiah is not a potent currency and then you have shipping fees and tax. There was a time where I wanted to manufacture shoes in Vietnam or China which is cheaper. But I decided to stick with the local craftsmen, because there are plenty of talented shoemakers here. They just need more spotlight and a chance to shine.
COVID-19 also unfavorably affected me because the initial plan to launch the brand was in April. But the lock-down forced me to postpone everything because the workshop stopped operating while production was already at 90%. I have friends who also had to close their store and let go of some of the staff because the sales went down exponentially.
8. As an online business myself, I know how important it is to get the sizing right. How do you find the perfect fit for new customers?
Yes, fit and sizing are what concern me the most to be honest. This also took the longest to develop. I’d like to thank Emil of Winston Shoemaker for helping me out developing the last. He’s like my mentor and a fun guy to talk about shoes in general. Because having no physical store is another challenge for the customers, they can’t do the fitting like you usually would in an actual store.
It’s still possible to have a face to face meeting if you’re living in Jakarta. You can go with your usual size because we use European true to size if you’re not in Indonesia. Additionally, you can find the conversion chart on the website. I never had complaints regarding the fitting so far, maybe you can ask Mike (@mbshoedoc on Instagram) for feedback!
9. It’s great to see people in the same industry be helpful to each other. You mentioned developing the lasts. What about designing the actual models and styles?
Well, it was hard the first time I decided to work on this business. I was never good at drawing and sketching but I had to do it anyway since there was no one else. So, I went to Officeworks (I was still living in Australia back then) to get drawing books and everything I needed to do the sketching. I eventually got better, but one day I discovered a shoe designing software where I could see how the design would exactly look like and it saved me a lot of time.
Do I plan ahead? Most of the time yes, especially when I’m developing the Signature series the concept is wild and experimental. I mean, I’ve seen quite a lot of Balmoral boots, but I’ve never saw Austerity Brogue Boots. Therefore, I decided to develop this design while the same also applies to the Siegfried Wingtips. Imagine Adelaide oxford wingtips, but it’s the derby version of it. Also, the color is very bold making them the perfect shoes for you that prefer wild and out of the box style.
10. I am always happy to see Austerity styles! Onto another important question though. With so many established brands to choose from, why would someone pick Vahtia Shoes instead?
Well, name RTW shoe brands that offer 1st-grade leather from world-class tanneries, not just random Italian, French or German leather. Hand-welted construction with closed channel stitching, cork-filling, leather toe-puff, heel counter, heels, insole, outsole, all the good stuff, free worldwide express shipping under $400, and out of the box designs.
11. Very few can boast that claim that’s for sure. Handwelted for less than $400 is insanely good. Being online only there is a strong focus on social media while one also needs a good functional website. How important are those for you?
It is essential and necessary as a website developer to make sure that users have a comfortable experience while browsing the website. It also includes information about the mission of the business, useful tips, and I can share my thoughts on the blog page.
Almost everyone uses social media nowadays. That’s also the reason why I pay special attention to develop a presence on social media. Learning photography, photo post-production and copywriting among others. I also have to make time to be creative and develop a new shoe design.
12. Time balancing and efficiency is indeed key. How about actual shoemaking itself? Do you see yourself learning it or will you stick with the administrative side of the job?
Not at the moment but probably in the future. But I did consider recently taking a shoemaking course. It could be a local shoemaking course or somewhere else like Stefano Bemer for example.
Why don’t I build a place like a shoemaking lab? A place to train young shoemakers to share their knowledge, develop and hone their skills for free? So, the impact will be on a bigger scale and my way of giving back to the community using a portion of the profit from Vahtia to cover the operational expenses.
I still don’t know how and when but it’s the long-term vision that I’ve been having. Hopefully, I can get the funds from my ultra-rich friends’ corporate CSR, hahaha!
13. This was very enlightening and entertaining Aji! Any last words or advice for our readers so we can wrap things up?
Hmm… it’s a bit tough. I know it’s hard to step out of your comfort zone to buy shoes from a brand that you’re not familiar with. I mean, you’ll feel confident if you always buy shoes from well-established brands like Carmina, G&G, Allen Edmonds etc.
Because you know that their products work for you. But, discovering new brands like us or other names also has its own pleasure. As long as the products are excellent of course. You will never know if you found a hidden jewel or unpolished gem if you don’t try.
Last but not least, brace yourselves for the Indonesian shoemaker’s invasion in the coming years. We are on our way to rock the shoe world, hahaha!
Vahtia Shoes Indonesia – An Excellent Interview!
Well folks, that brings this Interview with Aji from Vahtia Shoes Indonesia to a close! Very excited to have him here and I appreciate his time to take photos and share elaborate thoughts about his business and vision. Alongside the journey to get here of course!
Handwelted, bold designs and colors, good leathers and a great price point makes Vahtia a worthy consideration for those looking for something new, or something classic. I must admit I am a big fan of the Austerity Brogue Boot and would love to have one in my collection. Maybe I will be lucky enough to review one for you in the future.
If this picked your curiosity make sure to give Vahtia Shoes a follow on Instagram and check out their Website and support Aji’s quest for world (shoe) domination! Let me know in the comments down below what you think and be safe! And don’t forget to Subscribe if you are new here!
Thank you for reading,