With more than 100 different colours of leather to choose from and a wide variety of styles and sizes, Phnom Penh’s many shoemakers cater to the most discerning of tastes
Joanne Fernandes at Beautiful Shoes.
FINDING good shoes to fit size, taste and budget in Cambodia can prove to be quite a mission.
Markets and shops have plenty of flip-flops, hiking shoes or not-so-fantastic plastic party stilettos in a size 35. The simplest solution to the problem is to have shoes made exactly how you want them, and it doesn't have to be expensive.
In Phnom Penh, there are several shops that will custom-make shoes to fit your feet.
Beautiful Shoes, perhaps the most well-known shoe-making shop in Phnom Penh, is located on Street 143 as are several others, but Dara Shoes on Street 166 is also a popular choice.
Bring your worn-out favorites to have copied or pick a picture of your dream pair.
Beautiful Shoes also has books with photos of previously made shoes for inspiration as well as a large ready-made selection, though some of the shoes on display are not exactly the latest fashion. Don't be put off by this, as you can steal a heel from one shoe, the shape of another and the colour of a third pair and mix it to create your very own design.
Dara Shoes has a small ready-made selection, so here you need to have a better idea of what you want. Copies of shoes and shoes made from pictures, however, are excellent.
Choice of leather at Beautiful Shoes.
The shops will measure your feet and draw the shape of them in a book to ensure a perfect fit.
An old tradition
The family-run Beautiful Shoes is one of the oldest shoe-making shops in Phnom Penh and, judging by the crowds of foreigners in the shop at weekends, it is also one of the most popular ones. The shop employs 23 people and on average makes 50 pairs of shoes a day.
"Before the Pol Pot regime, my grandfather owned a shop here, but during the regime it closed. After the regime, we opened again and we have been here since 1981," said Keo Ryno, 21, who works in the shop now run by his aunt, Bun Sae.
Back then, the customers were primarily older Khmers wanting to have special shoes made, but the store's success with expats began about ten years ago.
Since then, business has boomed and four more shops have sprung up next to the store within the last couple of years. So if you find it too crowded at Beautiful Shoes, you can always go next door.
"The neighbours are our relatives who saw our shop and our success and wanted to make shoes, too. All of my family is now making shoes," Keo Ryno said.
"We became popular with the foreigners in 1997. The first lady was from Australia. She came here to have shoes made, and we did a good job for her. And she advertised for us," he said, adding that 70 percent of the shop's customers are now foreigners.
One of these customers is Joanne Fernandes, a British teacher living in Phnom Penh. So far, she has had five pairs of shoes made at Beautiful Shoes.
"They have all been great. Some of them have been [copied] from the book and some of them I have brought in myself [to be copied]," she said.
IF YOU KNOW WHAT YOU LIKE, THIS PLACE IS GREAT AND EVEN IF YOU DON’T ... THEY’VE GOT SUCH A GREAT CHOICE.
Today, she is picking up a sixth pair - blue leather boots. She studies the boots in the mirror and smiles. "I love them. They are perfect.
"You just can't get these sorts of shoes at these prices in the UK. These boots are US$60, and to get something that fits so great and looks exactly how you want ... is just worth putting the investment in," she said.
"In Cambodia, with Western feet it's so difficult to get shoes that actually fit, or in the styles that we like.... You may as well have them made and have them exactly the way you want as opposed to hunt around the markets and Sorya and end up compromising either in terms of style, color, size or price, which I have ended up doing with a couple of pairs before I knew of this shop."
"Even in the UK, it is hard to find something that you are totally happy with in terms of height or style or how you can walk in them. If you know what you like, this place is great, and even if you don't know what you like, they've got such a great choice," she said.
"It's so great that you can actually have shoes made so specific to what you want. You really can have the ideal pair of shoes ... which is every girl's dreams, isn't it?"
Beautiful shoes customers can choose from around 100 different colours of leather.
The shops make anything from baby shoes ($10) to knee-high leather boots ($70). Price depends on the desired size, but a pair of Western-sized men's shoes normally costs $30 for a pair with a rubber sole and $35 for a pair with a leather sole.
Prices at other shops are similar, and most shops also make custom-made belts ranging from $10 to $20 depending on size and choice of buckle.
A pair of shoes takes about two weeks to make depending on the difficulty of the design.
"If you bring your own picture, we have a look together, and we talk to the workers in the back, and they tell us if they can do it or not," said Keo Ryno, adding, that the shop can do 90 percent of the styles requested by customers.
Dara Shoes is located at No 10 St 166. Several shops are located on Street 143 near No 138, including: Tuol Sleng Making Shoes, Sy Phal Beautiful and Beautiful Shoes. The shop furthest to the right also sells secondhand leather bags. T&T Pure leather is on the corner of streets 143 and 360.