Hello everyone, and welcome to another Singaporean review! This Saturday, I’m taking a look at a pair of dress shoes from local shoemaker, W.H.Y & CO.
Dubbing themselves “Singapore’s leading Artisan Shoemaker”, W.H.Y & CO have been offering handcrafted shoes to the Singaporean masses since 2015! Are they any good though – let’s find out!
W.H.Y & CO – Interview
I sat down with Wei Han (co-founder of W.H.Y & CO) in a bid to learn more about the brand.
1) What was the motivation behind starting W.H.Y & CO?
W&C: Starting the brand was motivated by a very personal experience, I was searching for affordable and stylish shoes for my wedding shoot when I realised there simply weren’t many options available.
After speaking with a few friends, I found that there was a gap between quality shoes and the price that people were willing to pay for such shoes, and that was when I embarked on my journey to learn more about shoemaking. In the process, I met my Mentor and Master Shoemaker (whom I still work with today), and decided to start W.H.Y & CO thereafter.
2) What does W.H.Y & CO hope to achieve as a brand?
W&C: The strong belief in doing right by our clients and partners by providing quality, comfortable shoes and services, and ensuring close to 100% satisfaction.
3) In your opinion, what should one look out for when shopping for a pair of dress shoes?
W&C: Firstly, Fit and Proportions. A brand’s shoe construction is dependent very much on the eye of the shoemaker. Every feet is different, so always try new brands to find the best fit for your feet as shoes are mostly worn throughout the day and need to be comfortable. Secondly, do not use price as the main determining point for your purchase – getting shoes with better quality materials will last longer and hence give you better Cost Per Wear over time.
At W.H.Y & CO, we use full-grain European Calf leather for our uppers so the shoe is durable and ages well. In addition, our inners use aniline leather for breathable comfort to allow long wears.
4) Tell us more about the craftsmanship that goes into W.H.Y & CO shoes.
W&C: Our shoes right down to our shoe lasts are in-house designed and developed by us. All shoes are handcrafted, handpainted and handstitched.
Fun fact: this particular shoe is actually named after me! Apparently, W.H.Y & CO has a tradition of naming their new designs after the first wearer of that design!
To be honest, I’m not quite sure why this particular design was not bought before I came along. Out of the numerous stellar designs in their collection, the Qi spoke to me the most. There’s something really captivating about the off-black look of the Qi, and it instantly intrigued me. Being a quarter brogue, it’s still relatively formal, but with an added character as compared to a standard pair of oxfords. I really liked the versatility of the Qi – I wore it with everything from suits to jeans! The unique off-black colour, combined with the quarter brogue detailing, is such a wonderful combination, and I enjoyed wearing it out in a variety of scenarios.
W.H.Y & CO uses full-grain European calf leather for the uppers, which are sourced directly from eco-friendly tanneries in the Netherlands. For the uninitiated, leather generally come in three quality tiers – genuine leather, top grain leather, and full grain leather, in ascending order of quality. Full grain leather indicates that the leather was taken from the outer-most portion of the hide, thus being more durable and natural looking. Full grain leather will also patina beautifully, with the shoe looking better over time.
As Wei Han mentioned in the above interview, each pair of W.H.Y & CO shoes are handpainted and handcrafted – as such, no two shoes (even of the same design) will look exactly the same. Each pair of W.H.Y & CO shoes is an artisanal effort, a work of art. Being someone who also appreciates watchmaking and tailoring, the artisanal nature of W.H.Y & CO shoes definitely appealed to me. What you’re getting is a painstaking labour of love, not some mass produced item!
The inners of the Qi utilise aniline leather for enhanced breathability and greater comfort. Ever get the feeling that your shoe is getting hot after a full day of walking? Most likely, the shoe you were wearing used synthetic materials such as polyester for the inner lining, which lacks breathability. Wei Han shared with me that comfort is an area in which W.H.Y & CO prioritises highly – dress shoes shouldn’t have to be uncomfortable, in his opinion!
W.H.Y & CO’s attention to detail really impressed me. For example, they decided to extend the welt of the Qi slightly. Having the welt extended slightly has both aesthetic and functional uses – having a wider base creates visually a firmer presence and also acts as a barrier to reduce scuffs. In addition, all shoes from W.H.Y & CO come hand-stitched, which is pretty impressive.
Currently, all shoes in W.H.Y & CO’s current collection are blake-stitched. For the uninitiated, dress shoes typically comes in 3 forms of construction: cemented, blake-stitched, and goodyear welted. Cemented construction is the lowest quality tier, as it means that the sole of the shoe is simply glued on. Over time, the glue will weaken and eventually result in the sole of the shoe breaking off. Personally, I would not pay more than $150 for a cemented shoe. In blake-stitched shoes, the upper is wrapped around the insole and attached between it and the outsole. A single stitch attaches everything together. This enhances the durability of the shoe (as compared to cemented construction), and also allows for resoling once the outsole needs replacing. In essence, it’s a construction method that ensures that the shoe is made to last! On the other hand, goodyear welted is generally considered the most durable (and also most expensive) form of construction, with many components of the manufacturing done by hand. It employs two-level stitching, which not only makes the shoe more durable but also allows for easier resoling, as well as waterproofing qualities. Personally, blake-stitched shoes are my preference. Blake-stitched shoes offer many of the durability benefits of Goodyear welted shoes, but at a much lower price point. In addition, blake-stitched shoes also tend to be more comfortable than Goodyear welted shoes, especially when fresh out of the box.
Lastly, a rubber sole is employed on the Qi. The team over at W.H.Y & CO consciously chose to use a rubber sole over a leather sole due to rubber being more suited for Singapore’s climate and flooring. Firstly, Singapore’s flooring is usually smooth, which makes traction an issue with leather soles as leather is smooth as well. Secondly, due to Singapore’s high humidity and rainfall, leather soles tend to absorb water easily as compared to rubber soles. However, if you have a particular fondness for leather soles, W.H.Y & CO is able to resole the shoe with a leather sole for an additional amount.
Overall, I’m pretty impressed by the Qi from W.H.Y and CO. Knowing that an artisan poured in hours of painstaking labour in these makes me appreciate these pairs of shoes tremendously.
Shootout: W.H.Y & CO vs Earnest & Collective
Earnest & Collective is probably the highest profile local shoe label currently – I seem to be getting queries about my opinion of them every other week. As such, I felt it fitting to compare the W.H.Y & CO Qi with the lower priced Earnest & Collective Carnegie to illustrate the differences between the two brands (and their products).
In terms of build quality, the W.H.Y & CO Qi is definitely superior to the Earnest & Collective Carnegie. Firstly, the Qi (and W.H.Y & CO shoes in general) are blake-stiched, while Earnest & Collective shoes are cemented. As explained previously, blake-stitched shoes are more durable than cemented ones. In addition, although both shoes utilise full-grain leather, the European leather W.H.Y & CO shoes uses possess finer pores which results in a more refined finish after the shoes are handpainted. In contrast, the Chinese leather than Earnest & Collective uses lacks detail, and generally the leather looks uniform and the same throughout. Comparing the below (W.H.Y & CO) and above (Earnest & Collective) shoes, it is apparent that the details of the leather shine through in the former, but not the latter.
Furthermore, I find the details better on the Qi. The Qi is hand-painted and hand-stitched, making each Qi technically unique. I find the designs of W.H.Y & CO to be more innovative as well -the Qi, the Alan, and the Kenneth are my personal favourites- these are designs you don’t normally find from other affordable shoe brands. Lastly, I find the last design of the Qi to be better than the Carnegie as well. Being wider in the middle, with a sharp tapering towards the toe, the last of the Qi is not only more comfortable, but looks sleeker in my opinion.
While the W.H.Y & CO Qi is substantially more expensive than the Earnest & Collective Carnegie (~50% more), I think the difference is worth it. The Qi boasts a more durable construction, superior quality leather, higher degree of craftsmanship, a better last design (though this is subjective), and perhaps above all, is more innovative in its design. As such, the W.H.Y & CO Qi is the winner of this shootout for me!
Conclusion – so the W.H.Y & CO Qi “shiok” or not?
It’s hard to say no, when the shoe is named after you! All jokes aside, the Qi is terrific value for the money. For S$239, one gets a handcrafted blake-stitched shoe, fashioned out of quality full-grain leather. The patina on the Qi looks stunning in person, with its unique design a definite conversation starter. The off-black quarter brogue design is incredibly versatile too, appropriate in a multitude of situations with a plethora of different outfits. Honestly, I have next to nothing to nitpick about on the Qi – it’s simply great bang-for-buck, and made with love.
One can purchase their shoes online on their revamped web-store here, or visit their storefront over at International Plaza to try the sizes before purchase. I personally love this variant of the Qi, but if the off-black design is too outside your comfort zone, there’s the Qi in brown and black as well. W.H.Y & CO has plenty of other designs available – there’s definitely something for everyone over at W.H.Y & CO!
View W.H.Y & CO’s full range of products here.
International Plaza, 10 Anson Road, #02-92, Singapore 079903
Monday – Friday: 12pm – 5pm
Other times including weekends & PH: By Appointment
P.S Do check out the new “Discounts!” page for exclusive discounts for Wahsoshiok readers! More brands will be added very soon – stay tuned!