Shoeshiner's Journey part15 Mr, Yuta Ohira (CHETT)

This is a series of "Shoeshiner's Quest". There are many wonderful shoeshiners in the world! In this 15th issue, we introduce Mr. Yuta Ohira of CHETT. Mr. Ohira became interested in taking care of leather when he was a youth baseball player, and he even opened his own store. His passion for shoeshine is as passionate as a Koshien baseball player. Please take a look at the secrets of his wonderful personality and skills.

How did you get started in the shoeshine business?

I think the main reason I started my shoeshine business is because I used to play baseball as a youth. I started playing in the third grade of elementary school, and my baseball team had a strict rule that if the spikes and gloves were not clean, I was not allowed to play in the games. I continued to play baseball in junior high school, and since I had to keep my equipment clean there as well, it became second nature to me to take care of it.

At that time, I was also influenced by Ichiro's philosophy that the cleaner the equipment used, the better the results, so I put a lot of effort into maintaining my equipment just like Ichiro. As anyone who plays baseball knows, if you slide on your spikes, they will be clean in an instant (laughs). (laughs) But baseball is all about getting dirty, so I used to go to the entrance every night to clean and polish my spikes. Even among the team members, people would say, "Ohira, you're always so clean," and from that time on, I began to like to clean up.

I was also a straight-forward person, so the coach praised me when I cleaned up. By the time I was playing high school baseball, I had become very particular about my tools, using lotions and brushes from various manufacturers. But basically, I used KIWI products most of the time.

In terms of taking care of leather products, baseball had a big influence on me, but at the same time, I became fascinated with vintage clothing fashion under the influence of a friend from high school. That is how I first encountered leather shoes. After graduating from high school, I moved from my hometown of Saitama to Machida to study product design at a design school.

After graduating from the college, I worked at a design company designing prototypes for cell phones. There, I was in charge of painting prototype models of cell phones. I worked like a craftsman, mixing and painting the specified colors in my own way. It was a good company with a lot of rewarding work and good senior staff, but I got sick and quit after about a year and a half.

After I was hospitalized and became physically healthy, I thought about what to do next. I liked second-hand clothes, so I looked for clothing and found a job opening at a Jumble Store (now Second Street) and applied. It was a reuse store specializing in clothing, so I was mainly engaged in buying and selling.

I had a lot of opportunities to come in contact with a wide range of clothes at Jumble, and I learned a lot from the vintage LEVI'S and the latest Louis Vuitton. I worked at Jumble for about two years as a part-timer, moving from store to store, before becoming a full-time employee.

At the first store I worked at, they had a Red Wing shoe shine kit, and I would polish shoes in the store when I was busy with purchases and such. I still wear the Whites and other shoes I bought at that time.

In my fourth or fifth year as an employee, I was transferred to the new store opening department. My main job there was to be in charge of the pre-opening purchases, which we would start two weeks prior to the opening of a new store. It was around that time that I began to strongly feel that I wanted to work in the leather shoe reuse business.

I had a vague idea in my head that I wanted to create a store where I could be surrounded by leather shoes. I started to focus on that idea and my desire grew stronger day by day, so I resigned from my job without any expectations, saying to my immediate boss, "I'm resigning because I want to work in leather shoes. I decided to start my own business with only about 20 pairs of leather shoes that I had bought on my own (laughs).

I decided to start with the Internet, so I lived in a 30,000 yen house for rent in Ohanajaya, Katsushika-ku, and operated it as an office as well. That was in 2017. That is when CHETT was launched. By the way, the meaning of CHETT comes from the name of CHET ATKINS, an old American musician who made music by playing guitar and bass at the same time.

I thought it would be better if I could do two or three things with one job, such as repairing, buying, and selling shoes, rather than just shining them. In addition, I wanted to put "CH" in the name of the company, as in the brand names CHURCH'S and CHEANEY, and I thought the "CH" would make the name sound more gentle, so that was also a deciding factor.

Originally, the name was CHET, but I added a "T" to it to make it "Together" and "Together" to "Tommorow" tomorrow.

It was at this time that I began to take shoeshine seriously. I started watching videos of mirror polish on YouTube while polishing and repairing shoes that I purchased for my own business. When I first saw mirror polish, I was shocked. After I started practicing mirror polish, my friend from school, K-kun, was very strict in checking my work, and he used to be a shoe repairman.

Around the same time I started my own business, a reuse store bought my shoe-polishing skills and I started a business specializing in selling and polishing leather shoes. I also started my own web shop and started polishing shoes by mail, and at the reuse store, I would polish an average of seven to eight pairs of shoes a day for 1,000 yen per pair for an hour of full high-shine polishing. That experience completely made me what I am today.

I learned about many brands, and to be honest, I didn't know about John Robb, Berluti, Edward Green, and other dress shoe brands until that time (laughs).

The current store opened in October 2019, but it was operated as a store that was open only on weekends. It will be open full time in October 2023 as it is now. I started shoe-shine business because I liked vintage clothes and leather shoes, but before I knew it, I was recognized as a shoe-shine craftsman rather than having made up my mind to be a shoe-shine craftsman.

What is your speciality of shoeshine?

Basically, I want to polish shoes so that the leather lasts longer. For that reason, I often spend a lot of time on it. I polish by paying attention to every detail and using several kinds of creams. For example, for dry leather, I use a delicate cream with a lot of moisture, for cordovan, I use a cream with a lot of oil to let the fur lie down, and for cordovan that has become too matte, I use a moisturizing cream with moisture.

I am a neat and tidy person, so I take the time to fix any areas that are bothering me. For example, if there is a dent or even a slight slip, I want to fix it. Therefore, I value "noticing" and concentrate all my attention on polishing to the extent that my sixth sense comes into play. So I don't hesitate to tell the client everything that is bothering me and polish it. I want the customer to be able to see the work from a very close distance, so I set the counter at an extremely close distance of 0 meters (laughs). (Laughs.) I believe that having the customer look at the work from such a close distance helps me grow as a person.

As for mirror polishing, I am very conscious of the transparency of the mirror. I wanted to make shoes that people would look at twice, so that they would see them when they wear them and walk around (laughs). I have set a high ⚪︎x standard for myself, and I place a lot of importance on everything from creams to preps and such. My motto for shoe polishing is to "return the favor," and I feel a great sense of gratitude to those who come to see me, so I polish with the feeling that "I can't leave with a job that's not good enough for that purpose.

So I don't really think about the details of technique. It's like my fingers are just moving on their own.

What kind of customers do you have?

Many of our customers are maniacs (laughs). Some of them come to see if the suit is actually the same as the picture they saw on Instagram, or they show us the picture and ask us to polish the suit so that it looks like this one. We have many customers who like vintage clothes, so we don't have many businessmen who wear suits. So many of them drop by on the same day they buy shoes in Koenji. It takes about 15 minutes from Higashinakano to get to our shop.

Many of the shoes they bring are vintage shoes, so I once had a pair of shoes that were so dry that I applied a delicate cream to the lining and the cracks got worse, so that was a lesson learned. From there, I started to use a harder, thicker cream. I still have an impression of those first customers, and one customer who took about two hours because he could not get the job done properly remains like a scar.

Water soaked into the mirror polish and turned it into a mat, and I felt sorry for the couple who came to have their shoes polished for the first time. I regret that I could not make her happy. I am doing my best to learn from this experience.

Please show us some of your unique shoeshine tools!

I have improved only the mouth part of the hand wrap so that it only comes out from three points and water does not accumulate. I use about 20 different kinds of colorless creams. It's not like Anmika's "White comes in 200 colors" (laughs). (laughs) There are many kinds of natural leather creams, so I choose the tone that best suits the leather.

I use waxes from 10 different brands. I also choose waxes that match the thickness and color of the leather.

What is your vision for the future?

I would like to increase the number of used shoes and polish up my skills so that more people will come to love leather shoes, and I would like to expand both myself and the store. I have no plans yet, but I am thinking of relocating the store in the future. I would like to move to Koenji or Kichijoji, where there are many vintage clothing lovers.

I would also like to go on overseas shopping trips in the future. America or England would be nice. If I have the chance, I would like to polish shoes overseas. I am very grateful to be asked to participate in events, and I would like to continue to do so, because sometimes the people I meet at these events become shoe lovers.

I would like to continue to do so.

I would like to continue to do so.

I would like to continue to do so.

Ohira-san's store is located along the riverside in a residential area about a five-minute walk from Nakai Station on the Seibu Shinjuku Line. I visited the store wondering if it would be possible to do business in such a place, but I found a wonderful store filled with love and dedication. I was impressed by the fact that Mr. Ohira's 100% fruit juice store and techniques were created because he pursued what he loved and worked at the pace he liked.

As is the case with restaurants, a restaurant overflowing with love is definitely a great restaurant. Please visit Mr. Ohira's store if you would like to enjoy his loving shoeshine!