Châu Quỳnh Lê’s love for Lindy Hop inspired her custom shoe line. Now Swing Love creates confident footwear for dancers and travelers alike.

When Swing Love’s Châu Quỳnh Lê was 19 years old and a student in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, she unexpectedly yet wholeheartedly fell in love with Lindy Hop.

The dance, originating from the African American community in 1930s Harlem, had somehow travelled all the way to Vietnam. She heard her first swing dance rhythms on a Sunday afternoon at La Habana, a popular local venue.

Though Châu had never liked dancing before, the music’s energy captivated her. Swing dance has been a source of joy for her ever since.

But there was one problem with her new love: Châu didn’t have the right footwear for a high-impact dance such as Lindy Hop.

Her joints often ached after an evening of fun. One night after several swingouts, her feet hurt so badly that she had to stop and go home early. She decided then and there: Something had to change.

Châu had never worn truly comfortable shoes. Because her left foot is almost a size bigger than her right and wider than any shoe off the rack can accommodate, her shoes never properly fit. They often felt cramped. “Shop owners called my feet difficult,” she reminisced. “I called them unique.”

Swing Love dance party
Doing the Shim Sham at a Swing Love party. Photo by Hiếu Minh Lê, who is on Instagram.

Unable to find the right shoes for her demanding dance routine in a store, she researched shoe design, drew an ideal pair, and had them custom-made. That was the beginning of Swing Love, a shoe company dedicated to making bespoke, sustainable leather shoes.

“Shop owners called my feet difficult. I called them unique.”

Châu Quỳnh Lê

Swing Love: A Journey of Many Steps

Châu Quỳnh Lê of Swing Love at the shoe workshop
At the shoe workshop. Photo by Hiếu Minh Lê, who is on Instagram.

Of course a company like Swing Love didn’t get created overnight. Hội An, where Châu lives, is famous for its tailors and shoemakers, which gave her unique access to an age-old industry. But many shoemakers couldn’t deliver what she wanted. It took her a while to find the one professional able to fashion her a pair of truly comfortable shoes.

Building a business wasn’t even on her mind yet. She was simply looking for a model that would help her own two feet.

It was only during the 2018 New Year’s Eve party with friends that the idea came to her: She could help many others by designing and selling shoes that felt great on everyone’s unique feet.

Swing Love was officially born.

From the start, Châu has been meticulous about the quality of Swing Love shoes. She takes a stance against the wasteful fast-fashion industry by ensuring her shoes will last. She purchases the leather from high quality sources (often the surplus from luxury brands) and never uses cheap materials such as pre-made heels. For extra arch support, she always puts in a thicker than usual insole. And her customers love her for it.

Today, people from Singapore to France line up to order her vintage-looking shoes. A video tutorial online shows potential customers how to properly measure their feet, so Swing Love can make bespoke leather shoes long-distance. While the shoes were initially created for dancers enjoying a night of high-impact Lindy Hopping, customers have found them to be a fantastic travel shoe and great for traipsing around town.

Giving Back

Châu Quỳnh Lê of Swing Love at local flea market
At a local flea market. Photo by Hiếu Minh Lê, who is on Instagram.

The Swing Love website offers many classic models such as two-toned brogues, closed-toe sandals, and ankle boots. Although Châu invites clients to submit their own designs, most customers opt for an existing model with only minor modifications, such as a change of color.

“People understand that custom design is nice, but that custom fit is most important. Above all, you want your feet to be happy,” Châu explained.

And happy feet should be attainable for all. Châu runs the Lindy Circle Program. Inspired by the Harlem roots of swing dance and the desire to give back to the Swing dance community, she offers dancers with limited funds a discount. For every pair of Swing Love shoes sold, she sets aside a percentage of the profits to finance the program. She fiercely believes that “no one should have to dance with sore feet.”

“Above all, you want your feet to be happy.”

Châu Quỳnh Lê

Cultural Heritage

Châu Quỳnh Lê of Swing Love dancing in Chiêng
Châu dancing in Chiêng. Photo by Hiếu Minh Lê, who is on Instagram.

What does the future hold for Châu and Swing Love?

An opportunity to not just satisfy a global clientele, but to introduce the rest of the world to a little bit of Vietnam.

“We want to showcase Vietnamese elements, contribute to the preservation and appreciation of our cultural heritage,” she explained.

Swing Love recently started a collaboration with a group of Thai artisans from the Nghe An province who make handwoven brocades and plant-dyed cotton. When Swing Love used one of their fabrics to spice up a design, the new model became a sold-out success.

For Châu, who never expected to become a businesswoman, designing shoes and solving problems for travelers (and Lindy Hoppers) around the world is endlessly satisfying. “I never dreamed of becoming a designer,” she said, “but shoes have become my passion. Our feet support us. They provide balance and stability in our life. They deserve to be treated with care.”

Join the Swing Love Community

Swing Love shoes
Photo by Hiếu Minh Lê, who is on Instagram.

Want to learn more about the woman-owned shoe business that’s taking travel by storm? Find out more about her and her shoes on the Swing Love’s website.

You can also follow Châu on Instagram and Facebook – or spread the word about Swing Love by sharing this story with others.

All photos by Hiếu Minh Lê, who is also on Instagram.