This is a series of "Shoeshiner's Quest". There are many wonderful shoeshiners in the world! In our 13th installment, we introduce Mikito Kabasawa of Glage KYOTO, a shoe shine shop in Kyoto. What kind of store is this total styling store that is not limited to shoeshine only?" Please enjoy the story of "Mr. Kabasawa now".
What made you start shoeshine business?
I started working as a shoeshiner in 2009, and it was also in 2009 that I started working in the apparel industry. I was working at a boutique store called Dresseria, and at the time I didn't know much about shoes or clothes at all. The only shoe manufacturer I knew was Repetto, and that was about all I knew.
I was in such a situation when I joined Dresseria, which was a very strict store that began its training with etiquette. I learned how to handle clothes and care for fashion items during my training. I learned how to iron and fold clothes, and I also learned how to shine shoes in the store.
I remember learning simple methods such as applying delicate cream and brushing. I had never seen such shoes before, so I asked him, "What are those shoes? I asked him, "What are those shoes?" He told me they were Aldens that he sold in his store, and they were shining with mirror polish.
That was the first time I learned about shining shoes. When I saw it for the first time, I was impressed, it was almost like the feeling I had when I saw a mud dumpling shining brightly. I was impressed when I saw it for the first time, and it was similar to the feeling I had when I saw mud dumplings shining. I asked my senpai how to do it, but he said, "Try it." I had only M. MOUBREY wax, no polishing cloth, no flannel cloth, and only shirt material, and it didn't shine at all, so I gave up (laughs).
(Laughs.) The only advice I got from my seniors was, "Take the wax off, put it on, and rub it," which I didn't understand at all, so I couldn't get it to shine. I was so frustrated that I spent the rest of the day thinking about what I should do. Finally, I got tired of it and applied it with my finger, and it glowed! It glowed with my ring finger, and I thought, "Oh, it glowed! And that was a very big success. It was like the "F barrier" of guitar chords (laughs). (laughs) As for the high shine, just like the "F" chord, I was able to do it before I knew it.
In 2010, I was put in charge of VMD and was working on store displays. One time I had to go on a business trip to Tokyo for an exhibition, and my immediate boss in the VMD department told me to go to Brift H if I liked shoeshine. When I visited Brift H, Mr. Hasegawa was still the only one there. I think it was rude of me to ask him to polish my shoes, but I had a lot of work to do that day, so I asked him if he could hurry up and polish my shoes in about 30 minutes. (laugh) I remember how much fun I had at that time.
I thought, "What kind of work can I do at a counter like this bar? I realized that shoeshine could be a business. I had always planned to become independent someday, but I didn't want to start my own business as a dressmaker. However, I didn't think I could turn it into a job right away, so I decided to set aside a period of time to study. I also wanted to give 120% to the work I was given at the apparel company, so I worked hard to make sure I could do that as well.
One day, I won second place in a role-playing contest held within the company to demonstrate how to serve customers in the suit sales department. I was recognized for my good performance out of several hundred people in the contest, and after that I was allowed to judge and manage the contest. I continued doing that until about 2015, when I changed jobs. The work was fulfilling, but I thought that if I continued like this, I would never be able to become independent, so I moved to a different boutique. As a side note, I also won second place in a customer service contest sponsored by LUCUA (laughs). (Laughs.) The reason I changed jobs was that I wanted to study shoeshine during my preparation period to become independent, so I decided to work in an environment where I could work freely.
During the two or three years I worked there, I had to do a lot of polishing in terms of technique, but I knew I had to gain more knowledge in order to be paid for it, so I studied leather, skin at a cosmetics company, and the ingredients of creams in detail. I had a 2-hour round-trip commute and a 1.5-hour break, so I spent a total of 3.5 hours studying every day. Specifically, I studied online and in books every day. I studied from various angles, so I studied mayonnaise in order to study cream (laughs). (Laughs.) I have a strange, obsessive personality, so I just kept digging and digging, and I kept a notebook of it.
Then a turning point came.
I happened to be in contact with Mr. N, the manager of Fortune Garden Kyoto, who was a client from my Dress Terrier days. I immediately answered, "I can do it! I immediately answered, "I can do it! (Laughs) That was the start of my independence. I think it was around the summer of 2017 when I was asked to come and visit.
From there, I was allowed to stand at the entrance and polish the shoes of the staff. I steadily built up a track record and officially opened the business in February 2018. I was still working in a style without a store at that time, and I worked 7 days a week: on weekends I worked at Fortune Garden, on Mondays I did pickup and delivery and deposit at home, on Tuesdays and Fridays I polished shoes at Rin Shoes (a famous shoe repair store in Kyoto), on Wednesdays I traveled to companies, and on Thursdays I polished shoes at a tailor store.
After one year of operating without a store, I opened my current store, Glage KYOTO, in September 2019. I had decided on Kyoto as the location from the beginning, so I was able to rent the second floor of a building owned by a bar/bar owner I knew, but I was a little lost after one of my contracts was up, and I received many requests from people around me to open a store, so I started looking for a store. I was looking for a place to open a shop, but there were no properties available and the rent was expensive.
When I told him that I wanted to open a store, he said that the second floor was just available, and I was able to rent it under very good terms. I am here today thanks to a wonderful encounter, and it was more a matter of nature leading me to where I am today. The meaning of the name "Glayage" is a combination of the French words "glassage" and "voyage" (French for "journey"), but I chose this coined word for a very simple reason: I wanted to create a name that would only come up when searching on the Internet. I coined it because I wanted our name to be the only one that would come up when searching on the Internet.
Actually, I have never taken consecutive holidays since my apparel days, and I have never traveled. In that situation, I often heard stories about travel from customers. I was entertained by their stories and felt like I was on a trip. I would listen to those stories and say, "Please tell me again what kind of trip you took in these shoes. The name of the store is also a reflection of this feeling. In a larger sense, I believe that life is like a journey, so I also want to polish and brighten your life.
What is unique about Glage KYOTO?
We are not just a shoeshine store, but more like a boutique. At first, we thought we would only order shirts and pants, but after meeting various people, we realized that we had become like a select store (laughs).
(Laughs) Our basic products are made to order: shirts, pants, overshirts, knitwear, and coveralls. This is our clothing line, and recently we have also started selling small leather goods such as wallets. We have both ready-made and made-to-order items, and we are very particular about the products we make. Also, the main line of shoes, Oriental Shoes, is available.
We invite Mr. Hosomi of Oriental Shoes once every six months and hold an order meeting. We also sell socks, MOLTON BROWN (U.K.), a French glamour brand, and BARAILLE & GARMENTS, an underwear brand.
We have a variety of customers, some of them come to our events, some of them come to see our Instagram posts and ask us, "Do you have that dress? Some come to order after seeing my instagram postings. I select the fabrics, do the fitting and correction myself, and have the garments sewn at the factories and workshops I have partnered with.
Gauge samples are also created based on the silhouette I want, with the cooperation of the workshop. I originally came from an apparel background, so I think fashion is a strong characteristic of our company.
What is your speciality of shoeshine?
I use the term "glassage" from the confectionery industry as the name of my store, and I value the finish that makes people think "looks delicious". I like the feeling of making them shine. We don't just make shoes shine, we look at the customer's lifestyle and fashion style and create a finish that fits. I think that not everyone is suited to mirror polish, so my strength is that I can polish shoes from a fashion point of view.
Because of this, I place great importance on communication with customers. Counseling and consulting are at the core of what I do, and I do a lot of counseling because you can't do consulting without counseling. I ask even "Are you sure you want to hear that? (laughs). (Laughs.) When we receive a request for mirror polishing, we start with "Why? (laughs).
We also ask if it is for a job or an event, and if we can ask about the company they work for, we may not recommend mirror polishing. For example, if you work in a restaurant, we may ask you if you walk around the water closet and talk about after maintenance for that area, or if you work in the real estate industry, we may suggest a more gentle polish for a better impression, depending on the type of clients you are meeting.
In terms of technical particularities, we are often praised for the quality of the gloss. The way the luster appears is also often said to be distinctive. I think it is the amount of water used during mirror polishing, but I almost never use water when polishing with Nell. I put a little bit of water on it first and finish it off. I think that's also because I only use Saphir wax, which is a soft wax with a lot of solvent. That's probably the secret to their longevity.
Also, people tell me how comfortable they are. If I hear during the counseling that the shoes are hard and hard to wear, I will loosen and polish the leather. I also have a unique way of massaging the shoes, which is to rub them with the inner side of my hand.
What do you want to do in the future?
Recently, I talked with many people and gave them some advice, and I realized that I want the old Kabasawa boys to know that there are good things like this. It was more like a message to myself when I didn't know about shoeshine or clothes.
I have been doing various things, but the root of it is that I want to spread shoeshine to people who don't know about shoeshine. I had always vaguely said that I wanted to be a bridge between the two, but now I can clearly say that. I would like to play a role in conveying the entrance of shoeshine to people.
I would like to work to make shoeshine more widely known to people who don't know about it. To put it more simply, I want to make it available to "people who want to be popular" (laughs). I would like to convey all aspects of shoeshine, including clothes, shoeshine, fragrance, and communication.
This summer, I started YOUTUBE, where I talk not only about shoeshine, but also with various people. It's a lot of fun! Since I started my clothing business in 2022 as a total styling store, I have been seen as halfway between shoeshine and clothes, so I want to make sure that people know that I am serious about everything! I want to make sure that people know that I'm serious about everything.
I think there are still barriers between fashion and shoeshine (leather shoes), and there are people who take a critical stance toward each, but I want to eliminate those barriers. I want to break down that barrier. I want to break down the barriers. If you get dressed up, why don't you wear beautiful shoes? I want to convey that to people. It makes you more popular than anything else (laughs).
It has been 13 years since I met Mr. Kabasawa, but this was the first time for me to talk to him seriously. Kabasawa-san is one of the most fashionable shoeshiners in the world, and his famous Instagram post called "Kabasawa Walk," in which he takes pictures of himself from the side while walking, has become a famous Instagram post.
I felt again that the gap between his stylish appearance and his friendly personality is the secret to his many fans. Once you meet him, you will surely fall in love with him, so why don't you have your precious shoes polished when you visit Kyoto?