A pair of Danish artisans have used their design and construction skills to improve the lives of people with disabilities. His mission has been extended to Japan.
We tend to be picky about the objects we use to move around every day, be it cars, bicycles, shoes. For those with permanent mobility issues, having the right crutch is everything. Mass-market height-adjustable aluminum crutches of the kind hospitals give to accident victims aren’t meant to be lifelong objects; 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 dating back to childhood, ditched standard aluminum crutches and bought a Lofstrand crutch (see below, also known as an elbow crutch) as soon as she turned 18. years.
The Lofstrand crutch is a better design for many, but even this is not a lifetime item. Over the years, Lea replaced his many times, but when he turned 38, the manufacturer he preferred went out of business. Desperate, she asked friends and acquaintances if they knew of any craftsmen who could repair her Lofstrand. A relative provided a phone number: Call this guy, Kristoffer Vilhelm Pedersen. He is a master carpenter who can fix anything.
The two met, and rather than just patching up the old crutch, Pedersen began sketching out an ideal crutch design based on Lea’s preferences.
During the prototyping process, Pedersen enlisted his best friend, metal fabricator Thomas Hertz, to help him out. Together they were able to custom make the perfect crutch for Lea.
That was in 2016. The artisans realized there was a gap in the market and the following year combined their names to form Vilhelm Hertz, a brand dedicated to producing custom crutches in oak, ash, leather and aluminium. These are not adjustable, nor are they mass produced; they are made to measure for each client and are built with the same attention and care as handmade furniture.
As word of Vilhelm Hertz spread, they began selling to customers in Belgium, England, and Japan. In 2018 a Japanese craftsman named Naoyuki Miyata traveled to Denmark to train in Vilhelm Hertz’s workshop for half a year. After learning about the process and liaising with the company’s founders, Miyata obtained permission to establish Vilhelm Hertz Japan as a semi-independent company to spread the company’s designs. Production would remain in Denmark.
When COVID hit in 2020, Hertz withdrew from the business to spend more time with his family. Pedersen decided it was time to “bring in new forces” and walked away from the business as well, turning it over to a couple of younger artisans to carry on the mission.
Unfortunately, as of January 2023, the Vilhelm Hertz website has disappeared from the web. But Miyata’s adventure lives on; today Vilhelm Hertz Japan is a going concern, and on visits to Denmark to see Pedersen, Miyata posts the occasional photo of the retired craftsman, who is now using the products he developed.