Zaid Arif has an affinity for shoes, especially Italian shoes, which he collects. “I only own one pair of sneakers, and that's for sports,” he says. It is only fitting that he should turn his passion into a vocation. Zaid started in the shoe business selling cheap, fashionable women's shoes, but a desire to make his mark meant that he was soon exploring different pastures.
“I did my research and found that the market for Italian-designed shoes was underserved,” says Zaid. Inspired, he closed the shoe store and started his brand of quality but affordable footwear for men called Zeve Shoes. Zeve is Aramaic for wolf.
The handcrafted leather shoes are positioned for the 25-to-35 young professionals market with some but not too much cash to spare. Zaid designs the shoes, favouring classic styles such as tassel loafers, double monk straps, Oxford lace-ups and penny loafers, which he dresses up in bold colours and patterns.
Despite the wide variety of options, customers usually choose the more conservative styles. “Always black,” Zaid muses. However, he hasn't given up yet and when inspiration strikes, will introduce a fancy new idea, such as camouflage-patterned loafers, to complement his existing favourites. He'll test the waters for new designs on social media, where his customers give valuable feedback.
Zaid walks the talk of his shoes, nattily suited up by his clothing partner that shares the same shop space as Zeve Shoes in the Etiqa Twins building. He prides himself on his shoes, and when asked what one can tell of a man from his choice of footwear, he answers, “Everything.”
TV sitcom Sex and the City is the inspiration behind custom-made shoemaker XALF Design – “the cosmopolitan vibe, the energy, the empowered women, and of course, those Manolo Blahniks! It's feminism that does not require the stereotypical idea of bra-burning, but rather enjoying and celebrating womanhood. That is the essence of XALF,” says Xavier Mah.
Founded in 2013, XALF Design was set up by Alfred Hor and Mah to offer handcrafted shoes with an edge, suitable for the fashion-forward woman who knows her style. “I want to create unique footwear that complements the beauty of the woman wearing it instead of taking the attention away from her,” says Hor, who has a degree in fashion design from RMIT Melbourne, Australia.
XALF Design shoes can be purchased online where customers can customise the shoes by choosing the styles they want, as well as leather and materials. Special requests such as mismatched pairs for different-sized feet can also be made while placing your order.
For the best fit, customers based in the greater Kuala Lumpur area should visit XALF Design's showroom in Mont Kiara “We always encourage our customers to visit us in person because then we can educate them about the process of making a shoe and why some ideas might or might not work well,” says Mah.
Each pair of shoes is made to order to individual specifications in Kuala Lumpur. XALF employs traditional craftsmanship and meticulous attention to detail, which is why its footwear has been spotted on the likes of Japanese model Ai Tominaga and Hong Kong actress Charmaine Sheh.
Nelissa Hilman has an Italian connection. Founder Hilman sought to satisfy her curiosity on how shoes are made by enrolling in the Polimoda Fashion Institute in Florence where she learnt the art from the best. Upon her return to Malaysia, she worked for a local shoe manufacturer to understand the way the local market worked before launching Nelissa Hilman in 2012, offering quality women's leather shoes online.
Hilman's interest in shoemaking came from finding proper shoes for her own feet. “I have wide feet, and I love flats,” she says. It was only natural that her first design was the chic Duma flats, which became one of the brand's signature shoes. Other best-sellers since include the Alya sandal, Norah mules and Sakura sliders. Her shoe designs are classic favourites spruced up in contemporary silhouettes, colours and embellishments.
The shoes are handmade in Malaysia by local craftspeople, under her watchful Italian-trained eye for optimal quality. “As well as supporting the local industry, regarding research and development, it is easier to work with local partners,” she says. Hilman regularly collaborates with fashion designers, artists and design studios on collections and events.
Besides making shoes that women love to wear, Hilman is taking care of her ecological footprint by sourcing for materials locally as much as possible. Malaysia is not a leather-producing country, so she's had to buy stock leather directly from Italian tanneries. These could be overruns, tannery lots and sample stocks from seasons past, some of which are from top luxury brands.
This mindfulness combined with a dedication to quality has garnered Nelissa Hilman a loyal following that is likely to be strengthened with the opening of her brick-and-mortar shop in Bangsar Village. The rise of the Nelissa Hilman brand has been “organic,” says Hilman, a little wryly. “For a long time, I just wanted to make good shoes.”
Cheyenne Looi was frustrated. Three months to her wedding date and she was hunting for shoes that would make her look and feel like the queen of the day, as well as match her height up with her husband-to-be, Alessandro Gan. Failing to find a perfect match, she settled on a pair of store-bought shoes that pinched her feet.
Looi was determined that no bride should have to go through the same ordeal. Together with Gan, she launched Kate Mosella five years ago, working with a local shoemaker to produce custom-made bridal shoes.
At the showroom on the second floor of a shop-lot in the SS2 neighbourhood of Petaling Jaya in the state of Selangor, customers will enjoy personal consultation and their pick of styles, materials and accessories for their dream wedding shoes. Looi imports natural and printed lamb leather from China in a wide range of colours and patterns. “Brides should have their choice of colours,” she says emphatically.
Kate Mosella offers a comprehensive range of styles, but customers are welcome to bring their own designs. Customers should allow a delivery estimate of 30 to 45 days from the first consultation to the final shoe, including alterations. The wait will be worth it for the perfect fit to complete the fairy tale wedding.