With Hawai’i’s Laidback island Vibe, it could seem There are only Two tried-and-true shoe options for men: black rubber “slippahs” for everyday wear or leather “dress” slippers for nights out on the town.
Tom Park is an exception to this unofficial rule. The chic co-owner of the Chinatown cocktail den Bar Leather Apron always puts his best foot forward. “For me, shoes are the centerpiece of a man’s outfit,” explains Park. “Shoes not only show others that you care about the finer details, they can give you the extra spring in your step to have a successful day.”
As for the spring, you could say, “it’s gotta be the shoes.” Park’s shoe passion was inspired by his first pair of Air Jordans. The Nike sneaker made popular by NBA legend Michael Jordan was the subject of famous commercials where director Spike Lee teased Jordan about the source of his slam dunks. Lee’s theory? “It’s gotta be the shoes.”
“My first memory is getting a pair of Nike Air Jordan 1s back when I was 8 years old,” recalls the 38-year-old about the start of his love affair with shoes three decades ago. “They were my first high top basketball shoes, and I’m sure my dad got them for me because they were ‘Iolani colors (red, black, and white).”
The proud ‘Iolani graduate still has a thing for his school colors, proudly showing off what he calls “my ultimate pair of sneakers.” Spoken like a true shoe collector, make that “ultimate limited edition (rare!) mix-up of Air Jordan and Roger Federer shoes!” Park, is now an avid tennis player too.
His current shoe collection boasts about 40 sneakers and 70 dress shoes, his first love will always be his first Air Jordans from dad. “Those shoes started my love of sneakers and having something flashy on my feet versus a boring white sneaker.”
Boring hardly describes Park’s shoe closet, which is really a large bookcase in his Kaimuki living room that displays 40 select shoes. “I even have a spotlight on them,” confesses Park. “It’s kind of a centerpiece of my living room. It always is the first thing someone talks about when they come to my house for the first time.”
As for his wife, Park jokes, “People always ask her who has more shoes. I think knowingly that I do.”
A hundred-plus shoes spill over into his office, his shops—Leather Soul luxury men’s shoe store and Hawai’i Paperworks—and to his better half’s dismay, “all over the house in general! My wife always tells me to put my shoes away.”
“She understands it, but the CPA in her tells me that I don’t need all these shoes” adds Park. “If she loved shoes as much as me, we’d be broke!”
That may not be an exaggeration by the father of two young children at ‘Iolani and successful entrepreneur. He estimates his collection is worth more than $100,000 at retail, with a few crocodile shoes that sell for $6,500 each.
Of Park’s 70 dress shoes, only three are black. He prefers browns, burgundies, dark gray or dark navy to “give a boring black suit a little bit of flair without being tacky.”
When asked to pick his favorite, Park struggles, saying “Each shoe brings back a memory or story for me.” It’s a toss up between two very different pairs of suede loafers: well-worn brown suede John Lobb penny loafers that Park intentionally “started beating the crap of” in the rain and dirt because he admired a picture he saw of beat up loafers paired with a nice suit … or sueded crocodile loafers by Japanese bespoke shoemaker, Koji Suzuki.
“I get the most comments about that shoe,” reveals Park. “People ask me what type of leather it is (you don’t really see sueded croc too often) and I always reply, ‘It’s dinosaur.’ I’d say half of the people actually believe me!”
Barring a real life Jurassic Park, some styles remain on his wish list including, of all things, slippers. For the record, Park owns a couple pairs of HAYN rubber slippers. He’s currently working with HAYN on a collaboration slipper for Leather Soul.
“Ironic, right?” he muses.
Not when you consider Park opened Leather Soul back in 2004 to spread his love for shoes. That craftsmanship and attention to detail connects his shoe shop to businesses like Bar Leather Apron.
He’s just crossing his fingers (and toes) that he can pass his shoes down his son someday. “My son, Jaeden, also loves shoes,” offers Park. “Hopefully his feet will end up the same size as mine so he can inherit my collection.”
For the record, that’s 9 Wide. “Korean feet” laughs Park.
Who wouldn’t dream of walking a mile in his shoes?