Two Danish craftsmen have used their design and building skills to improve the lives of people with disabilities. Their mission has expanded to Japan.
We tend to be choosy about the objects we travel with every day, be it cars, bikes or shoes. For people with permanent mobility problems, the right crutch is everything. Mass-market, adjustable-height aluminum crutches, such as those given by hospitals to accident victims, are not intended as lifelong items; Instead, they’re a one-size-fits-most affair, subjected to the brutal realities of mass production.
For example, Lea, a Danish speech therapist with childhood chronic hip problems, gave up the standard aluminum crutches and bought a Lofstrand crutch (see below, also known as an elbow crutch) as soon as she was 18 years old.
The Lofstrand crutch is a better design for many, but even that isn’t a lifetime item. Lea replaced hers many times over the years, but by the time she was 38, the manufacturer she preferred went out of business. Desperate, she asked friends and acquaintances if they knew tradesmen who could repair their 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 met, and instead of just patching up the old crutch, Pedersen began sketching an ideal crutch design based on Lea’s preferences.
During the prototyping process, Pedersen asked his best friend, metalworker Thomas Hertz, for help. Together they were able to create the perfect custom-made crutch for Lea.
That was in 2016. The craftsmen realized there was a gap in the market and the following year they joined their names to found Vilhelm Hertz, a brand dedicated to the manufacture of custom crutches in oak, ash, leather and aluminum prescribed. These are neither adjustable nor mass produced; They are customized for each client and made with the same attention and care that goes into handcrafted furniture.
As word of Vilhelm Hertz spread, they started 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 Shop for half a year. After learning the process and connecting with the company’s founders, Miyata received permission to establish Vilhelm Hertz Japan as a semi-independent company to disseminate the company’s designs. Production would remain in Denmark.
When COVID 2020 hit, Hertz retired from business to spend more time with his family. Pedersen decided it was time to “bring in fresh forces” and also retired from the business, giving it to a younger couple of tradesmen to continue the mission.
Unfortunately, the Vilhelm Hertz website has disappeared from the internet since January 2023. But Miyata’s gamble lives on; Today, Vilhelm Hertz Japan is a going concern, and on visits to Denmark to see Pedersen, Miyata occasionally posts a photo of the retired craftsman – who is even now using the products he developed.