Creator Connection: Rifare Co Handmakes Custom Tabi Sneakers

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Maison Margiela has undoubtedly shaken the world with their unmistakable Tabi shoes, but there’s another Tabi designer taking the iconic silhouette to a whole new level. Rifare Co is sure to have come across your timeline more than once. With cosigns by industry leaders like Jeff Staple and Salehe Bembury, Rifare Co’s craftsmanship is certified premium. Handmade by 30-year-old designer Frank Ho, Rifare Co’s lineup includes a range of silhouettes with luxury modifications. Although Frank is based in Taiwan, he attributes the street style of Japan as his greatest inspiration.

Get to know more about Rifare Co as we talk to Frank Ho about his work flow, studying sneaker design, and how a samurai inspired him to make a Tabi sneaker.

Nice Kicks: Hi Frank! Thanks for taking the time to chat. How did you get introduced to art and design?

Frank Ho: “Since I was a child, I’ve been collecting sneakers, and I’ve been exposed to the Ura-Harajuku culture in Japan. Because of my family’s job, I used to accompany them on business trips to Japan, thus Japanese fashion culture has had a significant influence on my design.”

What made you interested in sneakers?

“Sneakers are significant to me. As I noted previously, I have frequently traveled to Japan with my family since I was a child. Then I discovered that sneakers aren’t simply for sports; there are far too many various deep meanings associated with them.”

When did you first start designing sneakers? What made you interested in designing and customizing sneakers?

“I’ve been making and designing shoes since I was 18 years old. When I was in college, I majored in shoe and bag design. I chose this category since I’ve been collecting sneakers since I was a child. I’ve always wanted to make my own pair of sneakers someday. From university through completion of my master’s degree in Italy, I’ve been walking toward shoe design. When I returned to Taiwan from Italy in 2019, I encountered the COVID-19 outbreak and was unable to return to work in Italy, so I founded my own brand. My fascination for Japanese culture inspired the creation of the brand. When I first started redesigning sneakers, I assumed that no one in the world specialized in reconstructing Tabi sneakers. When most people think of Tabi shoes, they think of Margiela, but this style still has a lot of room to grow! SoI just wanted to challenge it and show everyone that not only Margiela, but I, too, can do Tabi shoes!”

Were you nervous to share your first sneaker design?

“It’s not that stressful. It’s more accurate to say that I’m both excited and nervous. I have the feeling that the energy I’ve been working so hard for is going to burst.”

What was the first sneaker you ever made?

“Taking Rifare_co as an example, my first pair of Tabi sneakers were Adidas Stan Smith. At the time, I thought I’d start with brands that didn’t make Tabi shoes, so I went with Adidas first.”

How does it feel to have your work so well-received?

“It was purely a coincidence. At the moment, all I wanted to do was express myself properly, yet everyone seemed to enjoy the concept of New Balance Tabi. I was thrilled that everyone has noticed my design, which made me so pleased for several days that I could not sleep.”

Are you self-taught or did someone teach you how to design?

“I majored in shoe design since university and then eventually received a master’s degree from POLIMODA in Italy. The experience of studying in Italy immersed me in fashion trends, which influenced my future design.”

How would you describe your style?

“My personal style is also more influenced by Japanese street fashion. Most of the time, I would put on a plain white T-shirt, jeans, and sneakers.”

What inspired you to try to make a Tabi sneaker? 

“I’ve always admired the Japanese samurai style. I’m also captivated by the chivalry and wild styles. So, when personalizing sneakers, I chose samurai as a tribute, and the result was the Tabi Sneaker.”

How long does it take to make a Tabi sneaker? What’s the most difficult part?

“In general, assuming all of the materials are ready, Tabi sneakers can be completed in two weeks. However, producing only one pair of shoes at a time is uncommon. To avoid the difficult process, we attempt to manufacture more than 5 to 6 pairs at the same time. In reality, each step of the sneaker reconstruction is difficult. From the trimming of the shoe last to the modification of the shoe version, it takes a long time. It is much more difficult to reconstruct the shoes than to make a new pair of sneakers since the original shoes must be preserved in their original style, uniqueness, and beauty. It’s difficult, therefore trying on more than 10 pairs of shoes before manufacturing and reconstructing Tabi sneakers is common.”

How does your craftsmanship add to the sneaker community?

“We primarily promote the concept of remanufacturing; thus, we are glad that customers can provide used shoes that is not being used for reconstruction or for my own brand. All of our shoes are repairable, and we support the concept of sustainable development. In terms of material, we utilize genuine vintage cloth to give historical relics new life.”

How has your work developed over time?

“I’m constantly experimenting with various shoe lasts and outsoles on Tabi shoes.”

Is your creative process structured or do you find yourself more of a free-form artist?

“I consider myself to be a free-form type, but as the brand takes shape, I am trying to arrange everything in an orderly manner.”

What brand makes the best silhouettes? Do you have any loyalty to a certain brand? 

“New Balance is one of my favorite brands. I have a large collection of New Balance sneakers, the majority of which are made in the United States and the United Kingdom.”

What’s your favorite pair of shoes that you made?

“So far, my most satisfying work has been the BoroTABI of New Balance XC-72. This pair of shoes is ideal for the Tabi design, and the blue-dyed vintage cloth has a high level of completeness.”

What’s your favorite pair of shoes that you own?

“My favorite shoes are from Visvim Christo, and I have quite a few pairs in various colors.”

What’s the greatest challenge for you as an artist?

“Finding a balance between marketing and artistic creation is quite challenging for me.”

What advice would you give to aspiring creatives that are nervous to share their work?

“Continue to try, remain optimistic, and never give up! “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes,” Andy Warhol said. You never know when your 15 minutes are going to come.”

What are you hoping to achieve with your work? Where do you see your work in 5 years?

“I hope that in the next five years, I will be able to successfully collaborate with New Balance, mass-produce my iconic New Balance TABI, and continue to create my favorite shoes. In addition, I will be able to create more work for my own brand.”

Follow @rifare_co on Instagram.

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