Leading up to Styleforum’s 10th anniversary showcase and party, we’ll be talking to some of the people who’ve helped make Styleforum what it is today. First off, Tom Park, owner of one of the world’s finest footwear sources: Leather Soul. With locations in Waikiki, Hawaii and Beverly Hills, California, Leather Soul puts Aldens, Edward Greens, Saint Crispin’s, and others on the most discerning feet in the world. Tom and his Leather Soul colleagues will be bringing shoes from Alden, George Cleverley, and Saint Crispin’s, as well as select accessories, to Styleforum’s 10th anniversary event.
Fok-Yan Leung: Could you tell us a little about how you started Leather Soul?
Tom Park: I’ve always loved shoes, I can remember my first pair of Air Jordans back when I was five. I grew up in an entrepreneurial family; my grandfather owned a company and my mother had and still has a florist’s shop here in Honolulu. While in college I worked at a high-end shoe store very much like Leather Soul and learned to love high end men’s dress shoes. From that time I wanted to open my own store and knew one day I would. When my grandmother passed away she left me some money and told me to follow my dreams. I quit my job, sold my car, took out credit card debt, and opened LS back in 2004.
FYL: Could you tell us a little about the evolution of the store and about the products you carry? It’s been quite a success story.
TP: My original concept was to open a classy, comfortable shop where local businessmen could stop by during their lunch breaks and pick up a pair of shoes. I had zero aspirations of opening a location on the mainland or even in Waikiki. I started out selling everything from $75 Sebagos to $500 Aldens. As time passed, my product mix evolved and eventually when I opened in Waikiki, LS evolved into a higher-end specialty shop. Aldens, which had once been my most expensive line, became the lowest priced line in the shop. To this day, we are still growing. I went from being a one-person operation to having a staff of 10. Our next move is to broaden our offerings to include more leather goods, vintage timepieces, and a small selection of clothing. I also plan to open another location here in Honolulu later this year to serve my local customers better.
FYL: How did you find Styleforum? What made you stay? Did you participate in any other forums?
TP: Back in 2004-2005 I found Ask Andy and became very involved there. Members were extremely friendly and I was happy conversing with other shoe lovers and giving any advice and information that I could. Styleforum was always a bit scary to me because I was not into clothing back then and had zero knowledge about clothing. As I became more knowledgeable and enthusiastic about clothing, I started posting more on SF and found the crowd to be more serious and better suited for my evolving business. To this day I check SF daily and really credit it for providing me the knowledge of clothing and footwear I have today.
FYL: You have a very successful (and really, very stylish) blog. What is the traffic like? Do you ever envision having a webstore?
TP: We average about 3,000 visitors a day on our website. I have no intentions to have a webstore. I think web checkout is too impersonal for the products we sell. The website is blog based and the purpose is really to let our customers know what’s going on. I still write all the content for the blog and take all the pictures. It’s really meant to be very casual and intimate, more like I’m talking to you about the shoes. After people check out the blog, they can visit us, call us, or email us if they want to order something. I get emails every now and then complaining about instant sell outs, accusing me of being all smoke and mirrors. What people don’t realize is that we have about 15,000 customers in our database, thousands of eyes watching our website daily, 40 people visiting LSW alone per day, and 10 salespeople all trying to sell shoes. Of course we sell out quick. Our typical Alden size runs are only 66 pairs. Why not order more? We simply cannot order more and keep the same kind of selection going. We are limited by production issues as well.
FYL: You certainly taught us a lot about shoes. Did the influence ever go the other way?
TP: Of course, I learn every day from Style Forum. If I have a shoe-related question myself, I can often times find the answer on SF.
FYL: Forum people love minutiae, whether it’s about shirts, or jeans, or shoes. Any questions that you’d like to answer once and for all? This is your chance.
TP: Shoes are never perfect. Do not expect them to be. They go on your feet and touch the nasty ground all day. The stitching does not need to be perfectly straight. If there’s a missing perforation, who cares.
FYL: Could you tell me a little about the Leather Soul specials for Styleforum? How did they come about? What were the end products? Things you would have changed if you went back in time?
TP: When my business was smaller, I often times took suggestions from my best customers for new models. For instance, we were the first to do a shell cordovan Indy Boot back in 2005, which was a suggestion from a customer of mine. After successfully doing a collaboration for Ask Andy, I wanted to do one for Styleforum and after a lot of discussions on the forum, the SF Boot was created. We ended up doing an SF Shoe as well which was essentially a low-cut version of the shoe. I really enjoy doing this kind of collaboration with the forum members but it’s becoming very difficult due to production lead times. Also, there are so many limitations that are difficult to explain to people, especially when they are so passionate about the brand. Passion tends to overshadow reality sometimes and people often do not understand why we can’t do this or why we can’t order that. Of course I wish I could do anything and everything people desire, but ultimately I’m just a retailer and I have to go by what the vendor can and cannot do.
FYL: You told me that you’ve met a lot of people on the forum. Any memorable stories?
TP: Well, I’m always happy to meet SF members in person. I love to meet people at LSW especially because I love to show off the shop and I appreciate their visit so much. My most memorable meeting was probably meeting Mark (yfyf on the forum) and Parker at the LSBH opening. I remembered Mark (yfyf) being kind of distant and not so friendly (haha!). This was before he opened the Armoury. Now, we are close friends and do business together. He is such a great easygoing guy and I really feel blessed to be his friend. The Armoury is probably my second favorite store (other than LS).
FYL: Could you tell us a little about the latest projects you’ve done in collaboration with Styleforum members?
TP: My collaboration with Kiya and Self Edge was actually about 2 years in the making. We met in Tokyo (with Johan of 3sixteen), ate ramen, drank beers, and decided we wanted to do something together eventually. We have very similar backgrounds and think very similarly. We have become good friends over the past few years. Look for another Leather Soul x Self Edge collaboration in the future.
FYL: Anything else you’d like to tell us?
TP: See you at the W.