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Passion and Perfection

Vahan Kharazyan - Fourth-Generation California Shoemaker

By Christine Trask

Tap-tap, click-click, stomp-stomp, clip-clap—these are some of the sounds you can get from a dance shoe. Various shoe sizes and styles will come in closed-toe, smooth, Latin, low-heel, swing, tango, salsa, and so on. Female ballroom dancers usually wear a Latin-style shoe that can be either high- or low-heeled, depending on the dance. Men wear comfortable leather shoes for ballroom dancing. Whether you want to tap, ballet, jazz, or ballroom dance, you need to wear the appropriate style of shoe. You can even have custom shoes made in order to achieve a perfect fit so that you will have stability and control during all levels of dance moves.

Are there any shoemakers that can custom-make a shoe for me? I have two different size feet, and I have bunions. Yes, Vahan can!

Vahan, 38, married to Nelli, with three boys, is a fourth-generation shoemaker who custom-makes shoes with the same passion and perfection as his entire family—great- grandfather, grandfather, father, and his father's four brothers. Vahan once built an entire bicycle out of various pieces; building and creating were his skills. Since nine years of age, Vahan has been working in the trade of shoemaking.

Vahan's father, Simon, was born in Beirut, Lebanon, where he met his wife. They then moved to the United States, where Vahan's uncle was already living, and who had his own line of shoes. Since Simon was not interested in growing the business, about nine years ago, Vahan purchased George's, a thirty-year-old shoe store located in Burbank, California. George's Dance Shoes is the retail name. Vahan is now rebranding it as Vahan's Custom Made Shoes, with George's Dance Shoes, and Crown Shoes is the wholesale brand name.

Passion in the Making

A typical day for Vahan consists of getting the materials to make the shoes, meeting potential clients, going to dance competitions events, handling the marketing, and having customers try his shoes. He meets with celebrities or professional dance customers to measure their feet for sizing. His wife, Nelli, runs the Burbank store, which is the retail and manufacturing site. Vahan has a small staff who do the cutting, gluing, and stitching.

A custom shoe takes two to four weeks to be delivered, based on the wait time from the existing orders. Customers can walk in to the Burbank or Santa Monica store and order custom made shoes. If the customers can't come to the store or meet in person, they can send him measurements for Latin shoes by tracing the foot and measuring the width across the front toes. He then sends them a model shoe in advance to help with the measurements. If the custom shoe does not fit, he makes a new pair. (Once, Vahan's brother took the wrong measurement for the width of a customer's foot, and the shoe wound up having a gigantic toe box that made it look like a Ronald McDonald shoe. Vahan wasn't sure if his brother took the measurement wrong or if his handwriting was so bad that they read the measurement incorrectly. Of course they made another pair for the customer that fit perfectly.)

Vahan makes every shoe from scratch Using yellow cement rather than hot glue. While hot glue does not penetrate leather, yellow cement soaks in. He applies two coats for the leather on the upper and the sole. The first coat creates a sort of anchor for the glue, and the second permanently sticks the leather to the shoe. The drying time takes about a day.

The average shoe life is many years. He has customers who have had pairs that lasted five years with regular wear. He does re-strap and re-color shoes. Typically he recommends that dancers use stain-proof spray on shoe uppers and brush the suede bottom of the soles. Once a week, hang up your shoes under the sun to dry. If the sole is thinning, you can have it repaired at the Santa Monica store.

Proven Perfection

In October 2012, Vahan won the Burbank Award Program in California which identifies companies that they believe have achieved exceptional marketing success in their local community and business. Recognition is given to those companies that have shown the ability to use their best practices and generate competitive advantages and long-term value. Vahan's perfection in making great shoes has attracted such celebrities as Laila Ali, who wore a pair of his shoes when she was on Dancing with the Stars.

Upcoming Events

The 25th Emerald Ball Dancesport Championships, originating in San Francisco, will be held April 29 - May 4, 2014, this year in Los Angeles at the LAX Airport Hilton. It is one of the oldest competitions in America, and currently the third largest. Vahan will be having a promotional raffle for a pair of his shoes. The demo pair will be green. He is also in the process of getting sponsored dancers such as Armen Way, Artem Chigvintsev of Dancing with the Stars: Live in Las Vegas, Nazik Sldryan, Alex Gasparian, and Peta Murgatroyd.

Fifth-Generation Shoemakers

Vahan plans to teach his three boys his skill of passion and perfection in making shoes and one day will pass the business on to them.