Two Danish artisans used their design/building skills to improve the lives of people with disabilities. His mission spread to Japan.
We tend to be picky about the objects we use to get around every day, be they cars, bicycles, shoes. For those with permanent mobility issues, having the right crutch is everything. Mass-market height-adjustable aluminum crutches, the kind given by hospitals to accident victims, are not intended to be lifelong possessions; instead, they are a one-size-fits-all affair, subject to the brutal realities of mass production.
So Lea, a Danish speech therapist with a chronic hip problem since childhood, ditched her standard aluminum crutches and bought a Lofstrand crutch (see below, also known as an elbow crutch) as soon as she turned 18.
The Lofstrand crutch is a better design for many, but even that is not a lifelong object. Over the years, Lea replaced hers many times, but when she was 38, the manufacturer she favored went out of business. In desperation, she asked friends and acquaintances if they knew of any craftsmen who could repair her Lofstrand. A family member provided a phone number: Call this guy Kristoffer Vilhelm Pedersen. He is a master carpenter who can fix anything.
The two got to know each other, and instead of just fixing the old crutch, Pedersen began sketching out an ideal crutch design based on Lea’s preferences.
During the prototyping process, Pedersen turned to his best friend, steelworker Thomas Hertz, for help. Together they were able to create the perfect bespoke crutch for Lea.
That was in 2016. The craftsmen realized that there was a gap in the market and, the following year, they combined their names to form Vilhelm Hertz, a brand dedicated to the production of personalized crutches in oak, ash, leather and aluminum. These are not adjustable or mass-produced; they are custom-made for each client and built with the same attention and care as handcrafted furniture.
As word spread of Vilhelm Hertz they began selling to customers in Belgium, England and Japan. In 2018, a Japanese craftsman named Naoyuki Miyata traveled to Denmark to train at the Vilhelm Hertz store for half a year. After learning the process and networking with the company’s founders, Miyata was given permission to create Vilhelm Hertz Japan as a semi-independent venture to showcase the company’s designs. Production would remain in Denmark.
When COVID hit in 2020, Hertz retired from the business to spend more time with his family. Pedersen decided it was time to “bring new strength” and walked away from the business as well, handing it over to a pair of younger craftsmen to continue the mission.
Unfortunately, in January 2023, the Vilhelm Hertz website disappeared from the web. But Miyata’s venture lives on; today, Vilhelm Hertz Japan is a constant concern, and on visits to Denmark to see Pedersen, Miyata posts occasional photos of the retired craftsman – who is now using the products he developed.