Hender Scheme


Ryo Kashiwazaki founded Hender Scheme in Tokyo in 2010 aiming to create products that balanced modern design with traditional craftsmanship. As the footwear line has grown, many other leather goods, home wares and daily use items have been added to the offering, all with a focus on superior quality leather and authentic craftsmanship. We met founder Ryo Kashiwazaki at the Hender Scheme atelier in Tokyo’s Asakusa district to find out more about his background, the beginnings of the brand and the inspiration behind his creations.
When it comes to men’s footwear, the options are actually pretty limited. If we take midsummer sandals out of the equation, the common choices we are left with are sneakers, leather shoes and boots. By disregarding these singular categories and creating shoes that defy simple classification, Hender Scheme has, since launching in 2010, garnered rapid international recognition and acclaim. The brand is perhaps best known for its “Homage Line” which reinterprets some of the world’s most iconic and beloved sneakers, using all natural leather and age-old shoe-making methods. Taking contemporary designs originally manufactured using synthetic materials and industrial means of production, then recreating them with vegetable tanned leather and traditional hand-stitch techniques such as Opanka or Mckay construction, not only obscures the lines of classic footwear genres, but also provides a playful comment on the contrast between mass-scale and artisanal production. How did founder Ryo Kashiwazaki, who started the brand while still in his twenties, come to so expertly balance modern design and traditional craftsmanship?

“I spent my teenage years in Machida [west Tokyo], after moving there in junior high school. I’d been playing soccer since elementary school and the studded boots and uniform got me interested in clothes. My grandmother was a suit tailor and my mother had worked at Isetan [department store], so I remember from a young age being told that as a far as clothes were concerned, I should just buy the things that I liked. It wasn’t that often, but when I had to buy winter clothes, for example, the usual deal was that I’d get 5,000 or 10,000 yen and told to pick something myself. Machida was a town with lots of thrift stores, so after we moved there I started buying second hand clothes. With age, my interest grew.

While he loved second hand clothes, Kashiwazaki wasn’t interested in being an obsessive collector with all the trivia attached.

“I didn’t really care about the age of the old clothes, and I suppose I’m still the same. I basically avoided anything labeled “vintage”, because it was too expensive. I wasn’t really interested in who made it or where it was from, and I suppose I still can’t get excited about that sort of thing. That’s something I can say about the stuff we make here too. If the background or story is necessary I’ll explain it, but first I just want people to look at the piece.”

This oval shaped nume leather box comes in three sizes. Hand-crafted using technques usually reserved for sewing a shoe’s upper to its sole.
This toy windmill and handheld fan are traditional Japanese summer items crafted beautifuly from raw leather.

These 6” tall boots are made from a mix of goat and cow nume leathers and feature a soft padded collar.
This sporty classic is reimagined in soft cow nume leather with a comfortable pig leather lining.

As a university student looking for part time work, Kashiwazaki came across a recruitment ad that led to a job at a shoe workshop. It was through this job that he would learn the fundamentals of shoemaking. While Hender Scheme now sells a broad range of accessories and lifestyle goods, the fact that shoes are at the center of the lineup stems from Kashiwazaki’s time at the workshop. In spite of a solid grounding in the craft of shoemaking, Kashiwazaki claims it was anything but plain sailing during the early days of the company.

“The toughest thing was dealing with the craftsmen. I think there is a difficult side to any artisan. They’re so focused on the process of construction, there are very few people who are sensitive to things like the overall look or the balance of the whole piece. Also, for a shoe craftsman it’s seen as a virtue to give something a beautiful finish. But for us that’s not necessarily the most important thing. I quickly learned I wouldn’t be able get my point across right away, so at the beginning I just had to deal with getting yelled at a lot,” Kashiwazaki recalls.

Hender Scheme’s location in the old district of Asakusa is an unlikely one for a Tokyo fashion brand. Situated in the north-eastern part of the city, it couldn’t be further from Tokyo’s established centers of fashion such as Aoyama and Harajuku. The incentive behind basing themselves so far from Tokyo’s trendy side of town is the area’s rich history in shoe making and leather craft. Asakusa has long been one of the country’s major leather industry hubs, and close proximity to the area’s tanneries and craftsmen offers obvious benefits. However, the very heritage that made Asakusa an appealing base, also brought with it certain challenges. Steeped in their ways, many of the craftsmen in the area were unreceptive to his Kashiwazaki’s new approach.

“Their attitude towards men’s shoes was basically, ‘what can we do to get the leather to shine?’ They’d say things like ‘I can only make one pair from this material!’ or ‘It took me a whole month to make this!’
There is of course a school of thought that says it’s wrong to break down their traditions, but I wanted to do something different, so at first the friction was really tough. But things gradually changed as people came to realize they couldn’t keep going with such a rigid approach. It also helped that we began to place orders that equated to valuable work for them. Little by little, things changed. Now everything runs very smoothly and I think we all respect one another.”

Kashiwazaki’s commitment, together with the trust cultivated through several years working together, has influenced the thinking of the old-school craftsmen. The kind of relationship they have now, where they are able to exchange opinions freely, is what Kashiwazaki had intended from the start.

“If I don’t have those people I can’t create anything, and on the other hand, if I’m not here they don’t have a job to do, so if we achieve this flat, 50/50 relationship, we can say what we want to each other. Generally if I try to do something new I’m told ‘we can’t do it’, but if you’ve done shoemaking yourself, you can make suggestions about a particular method or sewing technique and ask ‘what if we do it like this?’ That’s the only was I can convince them. If I didn’t know anything about shoemaking, if I was a designer who just drew pictures, I probably wouldn’t be able to get anyone to listen to me.”

These five-eye bluchers and side gore boots feature stacked leather and color blocked EVA platform soles.

Through sticking to their vision and maintaining exceptionally high standards, Hender Scheme has won the support of not only the artisans they work with, but also an ever-expanding core of customers choosing their products. Among these fans are fellow designers, with Hender Scheme now approaching its 4th season in collaboration with sacai. The collaboration gained Hender Scheme further recognition in the fashion world, and Kashiwazaki soon had dozens more offers of collaboration arriving at his door.

“I’m grateful for all the offers, but the in-line collections we present at our twice yearly exhibitions are very much the priority for me.”

Kashiwazaki has been building a steady base, without losing sight of the company’s ambitions. Last year he opened a store named “Sukima” in Tokyo’s Ebisu district, and recently began a repair service for their products.

“At Hender Scheme we already create, produce and sell things, so I want to be able to repair them too. When it comes to repairing shoes, having the original lasts makes a big difference, so we should do it ourselves. Making them isn’t the end of it, we have to take responsibility long after too.”

These colorful items are born from Hender Scheme designer Ryo Kashiwazaki's desire not to waste leather.
This diffuser is a bottle wrapped in soft nume leather. The original fragrance is inspired by the scent of leather.

Made from pig leather this tote bag is soft and lightweight.
Compact, colorful and unisex wallets and card cases.

The title of the current Spring/Summer collection is “Y,” a theme which reveals a lot about Kashiwazaki’s overall approach.

“I haven’t actually explained this to anyone yet, not that anyone’s asked (laughs). I basically look at everything skeptically. My way of doing things is to start from a place of doubt, then go from there. So “Y” means “WHY?” For example, “[for this shoe] we obviously use a Goodyear welt”, or “[for this item] we always sew with this machine.” Procedures like that, they become ingrained, but we’re not necessarily committed to a particular way of doing things, so we made the collection by reviewing everything we do. It may be something we do every season, perhaps a sort of peer review, but I think it’s necessary to reconsider things if they become too standard, to question the nature of processes and to be skeptical. If you swallow everything blindly, you’ll develop prejudices and I think that’s dangerous. ‘Chew it over and think about it’ is something you can also say about design and technical aspects too. For example, if someone says ‘if you cut an extra strip in here it’s going to break.’ An opinion like that is half of the right answer. From experience, of course that’s how it should be, but it you experiment, with the material or the way you sew it, or maybe try reinforcing the core, you can get a different result. And that’s also part of the answer. That’s what I mean by “Y.”

The SAMIDARE NYLON is a leather Oxford shoe which comes with a waterproof cover that hooks into a groove carved out of the mid sole. This season the cover is made from boldly colored lightweight nylon.

Every Hender Scheme collection is made this way, by stressing their core values and approaching each product on their own merits. That’s why there are more than a few items that never made it to product.

“Among our leather lifestyle goods, we’ve tried making lampshades, umbrellas and all sorts of things. Out of the items that didn’t make the cut for the Homage Line was a pair of overshoes. There just wasn’t anything interesting about them looks-wise, so we gave up,” Kashiwazaki says with a smile. From his expression, you get the feeling he simply enjoys the process of playing with ideas in developing products. Seven years on from the brand’s establishment, the number of staff in the Asakusa workshop has increased, and Kashiwazaki has honed an environment where it’s easier to focus on creating and developing new things.

“I’m really thankful for the way everything has taken shape. There are people in the company I can delegate roles to, and I’m on an equal footing with the craftsman who make the products. At first I was completely reliant on them, and there were lots of jobs to do that didn’t really benefit them, but it’s not like that now. That’s the thing I’m most happy about. We’ve gained a little recognition as a brand, but I just carry on without really worrying about how other people rate us. Most of the noise doesn’t really reach us up here in Asakusa anyway” Kashiwazaki says with a laugh.

A child's brogue shoe that Kashiwazaki asked a friend to make before launching Hender Scheme. A glimpse of the brand's roots.

Hender Scheme

"Gender" means social and cultural differences about sex, while "sex" refers to 
physical and biological differences Hender Scheme proposes a concept which 
surpasses the "gender" schema based on society, but returns to the idea of
 "sex" based on one's appearance.

Profile - Ryo Kashiwazaki

Born in Tokyo in 1985.

In 2005, while in college, started making shoes as a part-time job.

From 2008 began work on repair shoes.

Launched Hender Scheme in 2010.

Exhibits full seasonal collection of products twice a year.