As the old saying goes, “Idler or not, look at the shoes first”. Once upon a time, wearing a pair of Nei Lian Sheng shoes was definitely a symbol of one’s identity. “When princes and ministers went to court to discuss state affairs, they needed to wear court boots, which were high-grade official boots. A pair of court boots could be worth tens of taels of silver, and were mostly customized by Nei Lian Sheng shoe store....” Beijing folklore expert Chang Renchun wrote in his book The Dressing of Old Beijing.
Go to Nei Lian Sheng for Good Shoes
Shoemaker Zhao Ting founded Nei Liang Sheng in 1853 in Dongjiaomin Lane, Beijing, specializing in making court boots for royal and aristocratic families. The word “Nei” refers to the royal court in Chinese and “Lian Sheng” means that customers who wear shoes of the store would get promoted consecutively and have a successful career.
The first reason for the good quality of Nei Lian Sheng’s multi-layered cloth shoes lies in selected materials. The multi-layered cloth shoes are made of unadulterated white cotton cloth. No worn cloth is allowed. The paste is made of high gluten flour, with a higher viscosity than edible flour. When shoes are made, the paste is activated by humidity and then repeatedly glued.
In addition to the materials used, the production processes of Nei Lian Sheng’s multi-layered cloth shoes are also demanding, even a little exacting. The number of layers and thickness of the sole are specified, and the stitching of the core is also elaborate. The stitches should be dense and even. Whether you look at them horizontally, vertically or obliquely, they have to be in a straight line. Generally, a pair of running stitch multi-layered cloth shoes requires 2,100 stitches, and a pair of cross stitch shoes requires 4,200 stitches.
After the soles are finished, they are first steamed in hot water at about 80 degrees Celsius. The heated soles are wrapped tightly in quilts and smothered, then flattened with a wooden mallet, shaped and dried in the sun. After all these processes, Nei Lian Sheng’s shoes look flat, well-shaped, and are comfortable and durable.
To complete a pair of Nei Lian Sheng multi-layered cloth shoes, a skilled craftsman needs to spend a week making them by hand with more than 40 kinds of shoe-making tools and more than 90 steps. Over the past hundred years, Nei Lian Sheng has undergone various changes, but its meticulous craftsmanship has been passed down to this day. Unlike the goods produced by the assembly line, generations of Nei Lian Sheng inheritors have guarded the quality of the brand with thick calluses on their hands.
Innovation through Cross-industry Co-branding
Time-honored brands are stereotyped as “aged people, old stores, and outdated products”. Specializing in traditional black shoes for the elderly was consumers’ previous perception of Nei Lian Sheng. In response to this perception, Nei Lian Sheng proposed “new in three aspects”: new craftsmen, new retail, and new design. Nei Lian Sheng is always pursuing breakthroughs on the basis of ensuring the craftsmanship and solid craft. It has gone from making only court boots to offering a complete range of men’s, women’s and children’s shoes, from making only traditional cloth shoes to offering more than 3,000 varieties, and from waiting for customers’ visits to taking the initiative with new marketing approaches such as online shopping and live streaming.
Since 2013, or the 160th anniversary of the brand, Nei Lian Sheng has focused on the fashionable development of the brand. Supported by the quality accumulated over the past century, Nei Lian Sheng targets younger customers and has carried out cross-industry cooperation with a number of super IPs. It has partnered with Forbidden City’s Taobao Store, the TV drama series Ruyi’s Royal Love in the Palace, the TV program “National Treasure”, the popular mobile games Honor of Kings and Angry Birds, as well as Disney to launch co-branded cloth shoes. In 2016, with the movie Big Fish & Begonia hitting theaters, Nei Lian Sheng launched the eponymous series of cloth shoes. All 300 pairs of women’s shoes in two styles were sold out within less than 18 hours after the launch.
In 2018, in order to attract young people to get closer to and understand the time-honored brand, Nei Lian Sheng opened a pop-up shop in the shape of a shoebox in Sanlitun, Beijing. Four master craftsmen from Nei Lian Sheng demonstrated the skills of making multi-layered cloth shoes in the shop while explaining the subtleties. In 2019, Nei Lian Sheng also launched a sub-brand “Da Nei Lian Sheng”, drawing on the endorsement, limited sales, and co-branded models of fashion brands for promotion. The sub-brand develops products such as shoes, T-shirts, sweatshirts, berets, and socks for fashionistas interested in Chinese culture.
From shoes for court officials to shoes for fashionistas, Nei Lian Sheng is reaching modern young people through “being younger”. But the tradition that has been consistent for more than a century at Nei Lian Sheng has never changed: adapting to market changes with changing varieties and winning customers’ trust with unchanging quality.
“Go to Nei Lian Sheng for Good Shoes”, the slogan has always been followed.