Shop Syro is the New York-based femme footwear brand creating wearable heels for men and gender-nonconforming people.
For Shaobo Han and Henry Bae, cofounders of the femme footwear brand SYRO, men in heels is much more than a “tricky trend.” Creating wearable heels for men and gender-nonconforming people, they’re cultivating a community of creative queer individuals, interested in expressing themselves with heels for every-day occasions. The process, they say, has also been instrumental in informing the duo’s own personal gender stories.
The brand was born out of a desire to wear heels they liked, in their size. Henry is the visionary behind the shoe designs, while Shaobo takes the lead on the business elements. “The market mainly catered towards drag and bondage communities, or high-end custom/luxury price points,” explains Shaobo. Before creating SYRO, heels were something they mostly reserved for Halloween or Pride. After testing the waters with a small initial production in 2016, they received an “avalanche of support” that proved to them that they weren’t the only ones looking for wearable designs. This support has, most recently, included Sam Smith, who posted a pair of SYRO heels on his Instagram.
“The thirst for casual heels in larger sizes is very real,” explains Shaobo. “We are part of a bigger generational movement living outside the binary.” That’s why the brand’s website refers to SYRO as a “queer cult in Bushwick making high-heels disrupting systems, and voted for Cynthia Nixon.” Putting the term “gender-nonconforming” at the center of the brand, rather than gender-neutral, they wanted to convey that SYRO is a genuine brand for queer people, made by queer people with identities as minorities (afraid that gender-nonconforming style would be exploited by the larger mainstream). Their emphasis on size-inclusivity, with shoes ranging from U.S. men’s shoe size 8-14, tends to a previously underserved market in heel sales.
A SYRO customer, according to Shaobo and Henry, is someone who is “excited about life.” “They crave freedom, they are fashion daredevils, they are transgressive, they are rambunctious, they are troublemakers, and we fucking love them for it,” Shaobo expands.
The creative duo met by “stalking each other” on Facebook in 2009, then meet in real life in 2014. This, according to Shaobo, proves that “social media does bring people together” and, after meeting in person, their friendship flourished as they empower each other to experiment further with fashion and their gender expression. “We’d cut up clothes, badly smudge makeup on our faces, and be complete faggots together, out in the world, everywhere,” explains Shaobo. “We were 26 going on 16, breaking all the rules that were put on us— it was so exciting.”
Both with creative backgrounds, Henry “salivating over feminine fashion” and secretly raiding his mothers' closet and Shaobo studying art in high school and college, the pair bonded over their mutual experiences trying on their mothers' clothes. “I think all queer people are creative. We all grew up in a system that was stacked against us, and we all had to find creative ways to cope with that,” says Shaobo. Henry grew up in suburban Southern California, under “the conservative supervision of Korean immigrant parents,” and Shaobo moved from China to New York at 11-year-old.
Now 28-years-old and based in Bushwick, they use their lives experiences as queer gender non-conforming people to inform the design process. “The inspiration for our designs comes from within,” says Shaobo. “The inner dialogue goes something like: ‘I want a femme boot, but maybe a chunky heel will feel more sturdy than a stiletto? And the toe-box should be wide, so that I’m comfortable. But will this feel ostentatious enough, or would I enjoy putting this all on a gigantic platform?’” Working from a studio, also in Bushwick, they work collaboratively on everything from design, marketing, prototyping, answering customer emails, to packing up the orders.
They describe their life in New York as like “living inside a bubble,'' as it allows them to have nonchalant attitudes towards fashion. “We wear whatever we want. We don’t give a fuck,” says Shaobo. “But, reality sucks sometimes. ‘Can I live?’ feels like a simple ask, yet we’re asking it all the time.” SYRO goes beyond men in heels as a “trend” and instead focuses on the joys of being queer; in the hope the brand strengthens and empowers the community, in the face of hatred and violence.
When speaking to Shaobo and Henry, it’s clear their strong friendship and genuine interest in empowering other people’s gender and self-expression has made SYRO a successful “project” (as they like to call it). Henry jokes that Shaobo runs a heel brand but “can’t even walk in them” and Shaobo insists that this is a “character assassination and a complete lie.” Then, after joking around, they explain that their mutual trust and respect in each other allows them to lean into each other’s creative instincts and “just go for it.”
As for the future of the men in heels “trend,” the pair have no interest in this only being a passing fashion moment and will continue to advocate for gender inclusivity through SYRO. “Queer folx aren’t going anywhere. They always have, and always will be, everywhere,” says Shaobo. “But, I can’t predict what their footwear will look like ten years from now. If they’re wearing SYRO on mars in 2029, walking their non-binary alien babies to school in our new platform space-boots, then awesome.”