Wakayama: Retro sandals stepping up again

The Yomiuri Shimbun
HEP brand slide sandals

YAMATO-TAKADA, Nara — Slide sandals, which are known as hep sandals in Japan and were popular about 40 years ago, are coming back into vogue. One shoe manufacturer in Nara Prefecture, which was once a major producer of the footwear, is attracting attention for its stylish designs.

Hep sandals were said to be named after Audrey Hepburn, who changed from heels to this style of footwear in the movie “Roman Holiday.”

The backless, easy-to-wear footwear became popular for daily use in Japan at that time, but demand dwindled due to changes in lifestyle.

There were more than 100 hep sandal manufacturers in Nara Prefecture in the early 1980s, but the figure has dropped to about 15 now, according to the Nara Footwear Cooperative Federation.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Munetoki Kawahigashi

Munetoki Kawahigashi, the 33-year-old president of Kawahigashi Hakimono Shoten, a shoemaker and retail business in Yamato-Takada in the prefecture, began selling such sandals under his brand, HEP, in spring 2020.

The footwear has both a retro look and the comfort of cushion insoles, making it popular with people across generations despite the fact being priced between around ¥7,000 and ¥18,000, compared to around ¥2,000 to ¥3,000 for conventional hep sandals.

“If I become a leader of this local industry and create jobs, our followers may increase and this local business may be revitalized,” Kawahigashi said.