15 Jul King’s Slippers: Crafting embroidered slippers for half a century in North Point
North Point has always been a magnet for immigrants. Many Shanghainese and Fujianese settled here in the years of Chinese civil war and they turned the neighbourhood into a leisure hotspot. This route traces the treasures they brought with them, the iconic State Theatre and a string of amusement parks, dance clubs and restaurants. Later many more South East Asians moved here, adding yet another flavour to North Point ‘s unique cultural landscape. We met with the embroidered slippers makers in King’s Slippers Company and learn more about their stories.
“A lot of famous stars used to buy our slippers”
When walking along King’s Road, past the State Theatre, you might spot the Majestic Apartments building. The building’s ground floor is an informal passage to Java Road, and houses several small shops in a row. Here, you will find King’s Slippers, identifiable by colorful shoe cabinets filled with all types of Chinese slippers. Occasionally, some older and elegant ladies pause in front of the slippers and inquire to Mrs Lee for a fitting. “A lot of famous stars used to buy our slippers.” King’s Slippers Company has been established since 1960, over half a century ago. Mrs. Lee, the owner of King’s Slippers, is 70 years old. She hopes to preserve the craft of Chinese embroidered slippers through her son.
King’s Slippers Company sells traditional embroidered slippers in all sizes
Mrs Lee picks a pair of embroidered slippers for her customer
Little Shanghai in North Point
One might have heard about “embroidered slippers”, but the younger generation may not understand the significance of traditional embroidered slippers. In the past, they were common for middle-income families. “Back in those days, only people living in middle-class homes wore embroidered slippers because their kitchens were cleaner. Those living in old apartments would commonly wash their clothes on kitchen floors so they would wear clogs instead.”
In the 1940s and 1950s, North Point was referred to as “Little Shanghai” since it accommodated many Shanghai immigrants. The owner of King’s Slippers Company witnessed these legendary years. “There were numerous Shanghai shops, including those selling cheongsam [the traditional Shanghainese dress]. At that time, Shanghai people were of a higher-class and focused greatly on their appearance. They would often come to buy embroidered slippers.” However, after that period, the living conditions changed. The customer base shifted to the general public instead of only high-class customers. This little Chinese slipper shop next to the State Theatre also witnessed the peak development of the entertainment industry in North Point. “Our customers included famous stars, for example, Lydia Shum, Kenny Chung and Li Li Hua.” As more and more Fujianese moved into North Point, the Shanghainese moved out. But many regulars still come back to King’s Slipper. “We still have some loyal customers combing back in their cheongsams, some have even moved overseas but they still visit us!”
“There were numerous Shanghai shops. Shanghainese would often come to buy embroidered slippers”
Mrs Lee recalled the days when celebrities came to buy slippers from them
From design to production, King’s Slippers is 100% made in Hong Kong
Made in Hong Kong
At first glance, there are at least ten different types of slippers in the cabinet. You’ll find Japanese patterns sewn with golden threads, bright red slippers for weddings or even denim slippers. The master keeps creating new designs in order to suit the changes in society. “We find old masters to create new designs. Traditionally, slippers are not made using nylon. However, since some customers find traditional slipper material too hot, we experimented with nylon as it is cooler.” After the old masters finish the slipper designs and approved by Mrs. Lee, they go together to purchase the materials in Sham Shui Po and start the production in their homes – 100% “Made in Hong Kong”. “In the past, we had four or five workers. Today there are only two masters left, one at age 50 and the other around 60 years old.”
There are some other shops selling embroidered slippers, but King’s Slippers is the only one that only sells slippers. So why doesn’t King’s Slippers also sell other products to attract more business? “My shop is too small to fit in other products. We also have numerous designs in all sizes. We believe that our clients can surely find their favourite products here. If you want to buy slippers, you would think of us.” Spending a lifetime to do one thing well is admirable. However, it has become increasingly difficult to find suitable masters because of generational changes. “No young people want to make Chinese slippers because they can’t make a living.” What does King’s Slippers do when it encounters such challenges? “Take one step at a time. It is good to continue our business. Maybe one day, we will choose to give up.” Mr. Lee, who has been quietly listening, adds, “We only hope that this important tradition can be passed down to future generations.”
“If you want to buy slippers, you would think of us”
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Words by Sally Chong
Sally Chong loves writing. Graduated from the School of Journalism, Chinese University of Hong Kong, she truly believes she’s a“pseudo-KOL”/ travel blogger/journalist/editor/content creator. Sally enjoyed strolling along the streets, listening to stories and searching for her true self. She published these stories online as travel blogs, as she still believes words is a powerful way of recording. Find her on Instagram walking_travel.
Photography by Bertha Wang
Bertha Wang is a photographer born and raised in Hong Kong. Her work is mainly focused on issues relating to identity and the urban landscape. She is interested in using photography to explore the impacts of different social interactions on urban cultures. She is also passionate in travel, believing that photography can serve as a wonderful means for communicating urban stories. www.berthawang.com