Hitoshi Mimura, 61, a master shoemaker who retired from sporting goods company Asics Corp. in March, has started his own brand called M Lab and opened a workshop in Takasago, Hyogo Prefecture, in July.
Mimura, whose clientele include top athletes such as Seattle Mariners star Ichiro Suzuki and gold medal marathoners Naoko Takahashi and Mizuki Noguchi, set up his own venture with the view of making “much better shoes.”
The workshop on the banks of the Kakogawa River was once used as a printing plant.
Mimura has eight employees who turn out three to five pairs of shoes a day.
“We had to start from scratch and it was heartbreaking to have to tell our clients to wait,” he said.
The workshop will start by specializing in shoes for marathon runners and joggers and later make footwear for baseball players and golfers.
Mimura had considered staying at Asics, where he worked on a temporary basis, but decided to become independent.
“My values were different from the company’s, so I decided to go my own way,” he said.
One of his major tasks is to find top-quality materials for his products.
“Previous business partners have been blocked (from doing business with me) by my former company, but there are many manufacturers that are willing to cooperate with us, so I’m confident we can make unbeatable items,” Mimura said.
He is offering the first pair of shoes for free with additional pairs to sell for about ¥20,000.
But some analysts say the workshop’s limited production capacity raises doubts about its long-term profitability.
“We will collaborate with others when the opportunity arises,” he said, noting that seven or eight companies have already approached the workshop about becoming sponsors. It plans to conclude deals with three or four of them soon.
Mimura’s skills are highly regarded in the industry, but some are taking a wait-and-see stance toward M Lab.
“No compromise can be made with shoes. I’ll reserve judgment until I see the products themselves,” said one observer.
The workshop had hoped to put its shoes through their paces with runners at the world marathon championships in Berlin on Sept. 20, but there wasn’t enough time for testing.
Mimura’s main problem now is finding top runners who will give his shoes a try.
An official at Asics said the company has been receiving a positive response from athletes, despite the fact that the maker of the shoes is different. “After all, it’s up to the athletes themselves whether they want to buy the carefully produced shoes of Mi-san (Mimura),” said Noguchi’s manager, Nobuyuki Fujita.
Mimura’s shoes feature lines combining his initials, H and M.