OKICHU's shima-zouri sandals printed with various designs by UV printer

Using UV Printers to Make One-of-a-kind Shima-zouri Sandals

09/30/2020 Digital Printing, COTO-ZUKURI

Have you heard about shima-zouri sandals made in Okinawa in southern Japan? They are a type of beach sandal that is considered essential footwear by locals. We talked with a customer located in Okinawa that makes shima-zouri using Roland DG’s UV printer to produce a variety of sandal designs.

Made in Okinawa Shima-zouri Specialty Store OKICHU

OKICHU's shima-zouri sandals made in Okinawa

OKICHU makes shima-zouri sandals at its own in-house factory in Okinawa and sells them at its shop in American Village, a popular tourist area in Chatan, Okinawa, as well as at its online store.
(* As of September 2020, the online store does not ship overseas)

We had a chance to learn more through a remote discussion with Tadashi Yamashiro (photo below), CEO of Ryukyu Factory which operates the shima-zouri business.

Tadashi Yamashiro, CEO of Ryukyu FactoryOKICHU's sandal shop in American Village in Chatan, OkinawaOKICHU's shima-zouri sandals printed with various designs by UV printer

Roland DG: What inspired you to begin making shima-zouri at your factory?

Yamashiro: I started my business in 2006 as a souvenir shop selling awamori (Okinawan Spirits) and other local products. In Okinawa, products that the locals love are often prefixed with “shima,” the word for island, with examples including “shima-zake” (for awamori) and “shima-togarashi” (for island chili pepper), but I often wondered why the shima-zouri sandals that so many people wear everyday are made overseas. When I was a kid they were made in Japan, but there are almost none made here anymore. So I spent a few years finding out if shima-zouri could be made in Okinawa and turned that idea into a business.

Our in-house factory is located right near the shop in Chatan, and has a great view out over the ocean. Shima-zouri are very simple in design as they only have a sole and a strap. They are difficult to make with machines, however, since all the stamping and assembly work is done by hand. Having the factory so close means we are able to adjust our schedule quickly if a customer wants a specific size in a hurry.

Shima-zouri sandals made by hand

Each and every shima-zouri sandal is carefully made by hand.

What are the features of OKICHU shima-zouri?

OKICHU's comfortable shima-zouri sandals

Our shima-zouri have a tapered base, where the sole is thicker at the back than the front, because we wanted them to be as comfortable as possible (the majority of mass-produced sandals have a flat sole). A feature of the natural rubber strap is that it is soft to the touch. Our shima-zouri are available with 20 sole colors, with 12 colors of straps and 13 sizes to choose from.

Shima-zouri are sold at the shop and the online store. The shop is popular with visitors from all over Japan and overseas, with many customers from Taiwan and Hong Kong in particular.

Shima-zouri with customized designs or collaborations with characters are popular

One-of-a-kind shima-zouri sandals with names of customers

You have such a wide range shima-zouri available, like customized designs featuring customer names, or collaboration designs with popular characters.

Our main designs are customized shima-zouri that can be made in about 30 minutes after ordering, or OEM items such as famous mascot characters or collaboration designs with themes featuring pro baseball teams. We have many repeat customers for the OEM designs, and we also receive orders from some of the major tourist spots in Okinawa.

We have been selling customized bottles of Awamori featuring names or messages on them for a long time. Similarly, customers can make their own shima-zouri designs customized with their name, message or anniversary, and can even select from designs featuring popular characters as an Okinawan souvenir or gift.
One unique example is when we made a batch of shima-zouri for a resort-style wedding held here in Okinawa. Shima-zouri with names of guests were used instead of place cards on guest tables and, after the ceremony, guests wore them down to the beach. The bride and groom were overjoyed as the sandals made for a truly memorable wedding gift.

How are your shima-zouri made?

Customized shima-zouri are made by engraving with a laser. We originally set up laser engravers, but as we increased the number of collaboration designs, I wanted to make some in full color. It was in 2017 that my distributor recommended Roland DG’s LEF-300 UV printer, so we purchased one that we mainly use for printing out collaboration designs.

The LEF-300 UV printer

The LEF-300 UV printer.

What benefits does the UV printer bring?

Shima-zouri are available in different sizes depending on the customer, so the high-mix, low-volume production approach that the UV printer allows means there is no need to keep a lot of stock on hand. In terms of quality, the flexible ink is capable of stretching around the soft sole without cracking and printing full color over white looks fabulous. The UV printer also does a great job with key features of collaboration designs, including printing the small fonts used for client copyrights, or color matching specific brand logos.

Collaboration designs featuring traditional “Kabuki kumadori” makeup

Shima-zouri sandals featuring the kabuki kumadori makeup

Are you planning anything new?

We recently partnered with the kabuki and theater company Shochiku and are currently designing shima-zouri featuring the kumadori makeup theme used in kabuki. We can print the kumadori makeup in full color, and I was stunned at how the tones produced by the UV printer looked so much better than I was expecting.

When we first started working on this plan, we were going to make these collaboration designs available early in the leadup to the Olympics, but with the impact of the novel coronavirus, we are now slowly starting to sell these collaboration shima-zouri.

Customers love wearing and gifting shima-zouri

Finally, tell us what you have planned for the future.

I hope to use UV printers to print the customized shima-zouri that we currently make using the laser engravers in full color. This will give customers broader scope to make designs, as I think there will be high demand for full color sandals, like including color logos of yoga or dance teams.

We use the offcuts that are left over after the manufacturing process to make mini-mascots like tiny sandals or animal shapes which the tourism sector is interested in selling as novelty items. These items will become a great new range of Okinawa-themed novelties that are both fun and environmentally friendly.

It is unfortunate that there are fewer people from Japan and overseas able to travel to Okinawa at the moment due to the spread of coronavirus. In the meantime I want to tell everyone about how great shima-zouri are, and to get people to actually wear them or send them as an exciting souvenir or gift from our shop or online store. The coronavirus has affected businesses across so many sectors, but I hope to keep producing customized shima-zouri that can be made in low-volume batches without keeping stock on hand.

Thanks so much, and keep the great designs coming!

We could feel Yamashiro’s passion in making customized shima-zouri sandals that customers get excited about and can’t wait to see more exciting designs.

Click here for more details about the Made in Japan Shima-zouri Specialty Store OKICHU