Neiliansheng, a Beijing-based shoe company, stands out for its century-old crafts and cultural inheritance. In 2008, crafts of Neiliansheng melaleuca shoes were inscribed into China's national intangible cultural heritage list.
Established in 1853, Neiliansheng was originally committed to making boots for royalty during the Qing dynasty. Its name implies the meaning of successive promotion in the royal court. Its founder, Zhao Ting, established China's earliest customer profile in the shoe industry, which he called "Lü Zhong Bei Zai", gaining the company popularity among the royalty.
"Lyu Zhong Bei Zai" recorded detailed information of the company's clients, including official positions, wearing styles, preferences, sizes and styles. Through using this customer profile, the next time a customer needed shoes, somebody else could pick them up and deliver them to their mansions.
Gift Coupons were another specialty of Neiliansheng. The customs of the time were that shoes should not be given as gifts since the Chinese word for Shoe (xie) is a homonym for evil, so people gave coupons instead.
As time went by, melaleuca shoes gradually took the place of boots and became Neiliansheng's main products. Neiliansheng has served many great Chinese leaders including Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping.
What's the secret behind Neiliansheng's hundred-year success? "Neiliansheng melaleuca shoes are made of natural cotton, wool, linen and silk. They are comfortable to wear with and have a unique and un-copyable style in comparison to other brands," said He Kaiying, the fourth generation inheritor of Neiliansheng melaleuca shoes.
The fact that all of the shoes are handmade makes them especially attractive and unique. Hundred of steps are needed to make a pair of melaleuca shoes. Making the soles, as only one of the major steps, takes at least two to three days per pair.
He Kaiying has taught four apprentices. "I have two wishes, one is to make the best shoes, another is to pass the crafts on from generation to generation," he said.
In 2009, He Kaiying was identified as a representative inheritor of China's national intangible cultural heritage by the Ministry of Culture.