- Footwear
- established June 2003

Thomas Fenning (27)
Tomoaki Kobayashi (31)


Interview. Callous

Before we start: how did you get to Beinghunted?
Tom: My friend Shaun put me on to beinghunted in 2001, he’s a great hunter and told me this was a really cool site. It has certainly opened my eyes to the way a website should be produced.
Tomo: Thomas put me on to it when I was in Japan.

What are your favourite hunting grounds in New York City, or any other place?
Tom: Zakka NYC, Anchor Army Surplus Nottingham, my parent’s garage(!)
Tomo: The markets in Amsterdam are good hunting grounds.

Background, etc.

Where are you from and how did you find your way to New York City?
Tom: Nottingham England originally, I was offered a job at Generic Costume in 2000 after graduating from sunny Hackney.
Tomo: Chiba Japan, I joined Thomas here in 2003 after we started Callous.

Can you compare the working/living situations of your home countries/hometowns with living in NYC – what are some of the differences?
Tom: The hectic pace of life and wealth of opportunities a young, inexperienced designer is offered are certainly the 2 biggest differences for me.
Tomo: Feeling more energy here too and New York can accept any stranger openly, unlike many other cities.

Could you please give us a short overview of your educational/professional path towards Callous?
Tom: Cordwainers College put me on the path of footwear design, after coming to NYC and I started freelancing for companies here (Supreme, Stussy, alife).
Tomo: Cordwainers too, I was then drawn towards the traditional craftsmanship and worked for Paul Harnden the shoemakers in Brighton.

You have worked for a number of well known brands before. How did you hook up with these companies?
Tom: Very generous and helpful people I was blessed to have met on the path. You do a good job for one and the reputation soon gets around. The circle here is quite small, so when you offer a niche service it soon gets noticed.

What kind of products did you design for those companies, which is your one favourite item of those and why?
Tom: It’s always been shoes & bags, offering manufacturing hook-ups as well as design services. My favorite was the Supreme ‘Downlows’. It’s my favorite because it was really the first to offer the European manufacture on a familiar silhouette. Also it was my first time working with Supreme, an enjoyable experience.

Through your education and work you’ve probably met a lot of interesting and important people. Are there any that you’re particularly fond of having met/dealt with? Why?
Tomo: The good tutors at Cordwainers who gave me a great education experience. After college Paul Harnden was an amazing guy to work for, truly unique because of the natural way he made shoes.
Tom: Cordwainers tutors too, James Jebbia because of his ability to control a great company and Paul Smith because of his ability to see inspiration in anything.

How did you meet? And what do you think were the reasons that you teamed up?
Tom: We met at Cordwainers and immediately had a great level of respect for each other’s cultural background.
We both found out very quickly that we could challenge each other and still remain friends, a good basis for a business partnership.


How did you take that step from designing for others to designing for yourselves? Was that your goal from the beginning or did it develop over the time?
Tom: It’s only happened very recently so I’m still getting used to it. Basically the state of the footwear market today and how stale and misguided we felt it had become, a thought we’ve had since college, was the main reason.
Tomo: We were tired of the true elements of craftsmanship being second place to gimmicks. Nothing felt ‘real’.

A lot of artists say that they don’t really look at art from other people so as not to interfere with their own creativity. Would you say that this is a good concept?
Tomo: When you are starting a project look all the time, inspiration comes from anywhere. Once you are happy with the flow of the whole thing and it gets further down the line, you should put up the ‘blinkers’ to stop yourself doubting what you have achieved.
Tom: Agreed.

How do you go about designing a shoe? Do you have a certain/fixed workflow after the initial idea is conceived?
Tomo: Footwear is a very archaic procedure so there are certain guidelines and procedures you have to go through, but once the initial sketching is done the whole thing will take us about 6 months. From choosing the last to materials, colors, stitching, pattern adjustment it’s a pretty standard set of rules. Unless you are a company who just rip’s something off, which just takes you a few weeks!

You are working as a team of two. How do you split up the work between you? Do you have different focuses?
Tom: It’s both of us constantly bouncing ideas off each other, there is a great trust level and it seems to be paying off. We both appreciate footwear for different reasons because of our individual backgrounds, but we both know when we are onto something good. As far as responsibilities, it’s really been 50-50 all the way.

When designing/producing an item it’s sometimes hard to tell when you’re done. How do you reach that point where you say: “that’s it, ready, done, let’s do something new."?
Tomo: Really that is never achieved, our own levels of ‘Quality Control’ are so high because of our education and the people we have worked with. But with Callous we have really been blessed with a smooth ride with great manufacturers, so instead of 3 or 4 rounds of sampling it’s been very quick. That enables us to look forward towards the next project comfortably.

Were you talking to people outside your studio about your products? Did you ask someone for their advice or opinion on your designs?
Tom: Retailers and good friends who are ‘in the business’ have constantly been there to assure us we had hot product. They all trust us and have all been pleasantly surprised by what they have seen.

Who would you like to show your product to? Whose opinion would you like to hear?
Tom: Shiela Pickett, a tiny 70 year old woman who could kick both of our asses…she was the closing tutor at Cordwainers and was impossible to please!
Tomo: I still have nightmares about her expectations.

Could you pick one of your models and give us a brief description of how you developed that design?
Tomo: The ‘Tachikaze’ is a great example of Callous. We started with a basic question “What would we wear?” From that we started sketching and adding the ingredients as we talked more about the drawing. The combination of many leather finishes, complicated patterns that really function well and just the right elements from sportswear all come together in harmony. You are always finding something new whether you know about shoes or not. There is a lot of Tomoaki and Thomas in this shoe.

You are setting very high standards for your shoes, what are you looking for in an excellent piece of footwear?
Tom: Comfort without compromising a classic look and attention to every minute detail would certainly be the first two on the list. Timeless pieces that are as wearable in 10 years as they are today, we think more shoe companies should be thinking like that when producing new models.

Your shoes are being produced in China. Tell us about the characteristics of the company that you work with there.
Tomo: They are unbelievable, the service level we get when considering the huge scale of their operation is really something else. We thought we would be lost in there but have had the best experience ever with them.

You’ve visited the factory yourself. What were your experiences during that trip?
Tom: Just awe-inspiring, they have every facility you can imagine there and are still pushing themselves to produce better and better. Truly an example of how to do it right. Personally it was quite amazing to see this city like factory juxtaposed against this beautiful, rural Chinese backdrop.


Even though your first line hasn’t even come out yet, you’re already working for the Spring line. Is there anything that you can tell us about the influences for that?
Tomo: The Battle of Bed-Stuy 1490 AD. A non-historically correct version of events. And a 15th Century underground tannery will also come into the picture…..stay tuned.

As far as Callous as a company goes – have you set yourself a plan on how to expand with it, on where to take the brand?
Tom: Really that is going to depend on how we continue to challenge ourselves, as long as we keep learning about what has gone before, the lost elements and traditions of craftsmanship, then we always have inspiration to keep creating the product and expanding the brand.


What are your pastime activities after work?
Tom: Really the work is never done, but exploring the US, appreciating a good pub and listening to Benji B, Excalibah and Sean Rowley on the BBC on-line radio.
Tomo: Cooking. I try to gain the skill of traditional Japanese meal.

What are your 5 most beloved items?
Tom: 10 year old Paul Smith jeans (#66 of 500, Japanese denim from orig. Levi's looms), early 80s Carrera Heuer watch, ca. 1968 Zippo and shoulder bag from my dad from the US, portable Sony record player from thrift store.
Tomo: stay tuned...

Any comments/recommendations/hints/shouts?
Shouts to Chris Chang, everyone at ‘Factory 7’, DQM, Gen X, Aya & Laura and everyone pushing the limits, whatever their field.

Who should we interview next?
Tom: Paul Smith.
Tomo: REQ 1


Beinghunted says thanks for the interview and all the best! Stay tuned for more on Callous, soon!

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