Katie Ewer
May 9, 2014

Asian Champions of Design: Feiyue

A look at China's gritty, utilitarian shoe brand.


A classic pair of black Feiyue shoes


Touring Shaolin monks wearing Feiyue


The classic paper bag packaging


Performers at the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games


Lace-up canvas shoes with a vulcanised rubber sole. Plenty of footwear brands fit this description, but Chinese brand Feiyue is slightly different.

Feiyue has been traced back to 1920s Shanghai, when it represented affordable, practical footwear for ordinary Chinese people. But it became better known for its martial arts associations. Feiyue enthusiasts talk about the shoes’ lightweight material, thin rubber sole and wide ankle space, which allow the grip and flexibility required for kung fu and other martial arts. Parkour types swear by the barefoot feeling the shoes afford. Wushu masters and Shaolin monks all wear Feiyue shoes. So far, so cult.

The design detail of the shoes feels as authentic as the brand myth: There’s something gritty, unpolished and utilitarian about them. The coarse print of the white logo and double chevron on the side. The rough stitching. The single-colour printed brown paper bag they’re sold in—even a cardboard shoebox is an unnecessary indulgence for this brand.

There’s attention to detail, though, too: the decorative personality of the paper bag, with its charming, though baffling, Pinocchio illustration; the detail of the Top One logo in the shoe tongue, the rubber triangle on the sole. 

The name Feiyue means ‘flying forward’ in Mandarin, and apparently references the dual elevation of body and mind at the heart of Wushu arts. That’s a bold ambition for a $10 shoe, but Feiyue manages to pull off being both a highly specialised, niche product and having truly democratic appeal.

Trademarks: The shoe is on the other foot

This article concerns the Chinese brand Feiyue, not the French version that ‘arrived’ in France in 2006 courtesy of Frenchman Patrice Bastian and is so beloved of Western celebs such as Orlando Bloom. The Chinese martial art shoe is not the same product as the French fashion version (there are crucial product differences), although they ‘share’ the same name, logo, story and basic design aesthetic.

China’s poor trademark-protection laws make establishing the true identity of the Feiyue shoe and its brand owners a Kafkaesque maze of trademark ambiguities. The Chinese government has denied the owners of French Feiyue a license to sell their shoes in China on ‘intellectual property grounds’. Which makes it even more ironic that in China you can buy Chinese ripoffs of the French ‘versions’ of the original Chinese shoe. If you’re lucky, you might just find the real thing too.

Katie Ewer is strategy director at JKR Global in Singapore.
Check out the rest of the Asian Champions of Design series.


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