Exclusive Look at How Feiyue Kung Fu Shoes Are Made
Feiyue. You might have seen these sneakers on the feet of celebrities like Orlando Bloom and Poppy Delevingne. Or on Shaolin monks and kung fu masters at the Beijing Olympics. These light canvas sneakers are a street fashion icon. The brand has worked with big names like Céline and Marvel. But the thing is, there are two Feiyues. So how do you know which one you’re wearing? We’re in Rui’an in eastern China. It’s a small town, but it’s also a shoemaking powerhouse. In this town alone, there are more than 100 shoe factories. And every day, about 3,000 workers clock into the Feiyue factory here to make its iconic shoes. The company that owns it is called Dafu, and it sells an average five million pairs a year across China. That means over 36,000 pairs a day. Dafu started as a tire company, but it got into shoemaking because it had access to a lot of rubber. The rubber sole is then glued to a canvas top. The shaped shoes then go into a giant vulcanizing oven, which is heated at 275 degrees Fahrenheit or 135 Celsius. This bonds the materials together and makes the rubber stronger. Every year, the design team comes up with 13,000 to 15,000 designs for Feiyue sneakers. But only about 300 make it to production. The most iconic design remains the Feiyue 501, with its red and blue stripes. The style dates back to the 1950s. Back then, the company was actually making military shoes. In Chinese, Feiyue means leap forward, as in Great Leap Forward, when China was hoping to rapidly industrialize and overtake the West in just four years. The design was inspired by the military shoes that Dafu used to make. Feiyue became a hit. In their first year, the company sold 4.7 million pairs. People loved the shoes for their durability, light weight, and low price. Feiyue continued to be popular through the 1970s and ’80s. But things changed when China opened its market to the world in the 1980s. Foreign brands like Nike and Adidas quickly overtook Feiyue. Dafu went bankrupt in the early 2000s. And the rights to Feiyue were sold to the current owners, Liu Wangsheng and Liu Qinglong. But that’s when the other Feiyue comes into the story. In 2005, a French entrepreneur named Patrice Bastian discovered the shoes while learning martial arts in Shanghai. He saw potential to sell them outside China and bought the rights to Feiyue. The only problem was he didn’t buy them from the original factory. He had actually bought them from a contractor. And meanwhile, Bastian started making his own Feiyue shoes in France, and that’s when the brand started to take off. It quickly became a favorite of skateboarders and the parkour crowd. And soon, the collaborations with Marvel and Céline rolled in. Meanwhile in China, the original Feiyue makers were fuming. Because even though Feiyue was soaring worldwide, they couldn’t sell their shoes overseas because Bastian had the rights. Despite the bitter legal battle, Liu is moving past it. The irony is that the French Feiyue reintroduced a new generation of Chinese to Feiyue. And now Liu and his team are trying to differentiate themselves from the French Feiyue. And if you can’t tell from the price, there’s always the make of the shoes. there’s always the make of the shoes. Reviews on YouTube say the French Feiyue has a stiffer sole than the Chinese one. So how can customers outside of China get the original Feiyue? Actually, you can also get them at the Goldthread Shop. Check out our store online. I’m wearing a pair right now. They’re actually the original ones from the factory. If you liked that video, we’ve done a lot of other stories about iconic brands on this side of the world, including White Rabbit and Vitasoy. Check them out at the links below, and don’t forget to subscribe to @Goldthread2.