In conversation with the founders of Yoke & Theam
Shoe game strong
Scoring a pair of sandals that wouldn't wreak havoc (read: blisters and a lesser feet arch) to your feet is one thing, but how often do you find sandals that don't scrimp on style as well? Local emerging designers and sisters Yoke Sin and Yokie Theam are proving that sandals don't necessarily need to be basic and boring at their shoe label Yoke & Theam. With a family background in shoe-making, the sisters are making waves with their online-based shoe business, recently debuting their Autumn/Winter 2016 collection with chic, full-leather options at reasonable prices. Read all about the challenges they face in the industry and how they constantly stay inspired in an exclusive interview below:
1. Tell us about your backgrounds before you founded Yoke & Theam.
Yoke Sin: Growing up in a creative family environment drove my passion for art, so I decided to further my studies in London's Middlesex University. I was previously a graphic designer in London for more than 10 years.
Yokie: I have a degree in Business and Commerce from Monash University in Melbourne. During my university years, I never gave up on my passion for fashion and I knew that as long as I persevere, I can do whatever I love later on after graduating. Not long after that, I took up a master's program in fashion and textiles at RMIT Melbourne—that was the best decision I've made in my life so far and it has been most unforgettable journey for me. My background in both business and fashion has helped me a lot at Yoke & Theam. And of course, growing up in a shoe-making family has driven me further to pursue my dream.
2. How did Yoke & Theam started?
YS: It all began when we were having a casual conversation between us [four] sisters—I remembered lying on our beds and talking about doing something together. We've always wanted to start up our own shoe brand, and it only makes sense with our family's [shoe-making] background.
Yokie: I still remember calling each sister for a meeting to discuss the launch of our own shoe brand. It was a very casual discussion (before bedtime) that we actually started brainstorming on a brand name. Yoke & Theam was born a year later!
3. What makes Yoke & Theam stand out from other shoe brands?
YS: I'd say the creativity and originality of our products along with our branding. All shoes are produced in-house, and our main focus is always the quality and how the brand is perceived to our clientele.
Yokie: Our brand has a strong heritage and we wanted to continue the shoe-making legacy of both our father grandfather. We design and craft our shoes from scratch—from the early stages of sketching, pattern-making, raw materials sourcing and product testing to in-house production and monitoring. We even pack and deliver goods ourselves. Production is done locally in our factory in Ipoh to ensure our customers experience a personal touch when purchasing and wearing our products.
3. A signature of the brand?
YS: Shoes that are both fashionable as they are comfortable.
Yokie: Our shoes have a certain androgynous look as we often play around with both masculine and feminine elements.
4. Your favourite design thus far?
YS: I don't have a favourite—I like all our designs. We focus on comfort without eschewing style, and it's great to wear something that's fashionable and functional at the same time.
Yokie: All the shoes we've made are my favourites as each design has an individual touch and name that reflects the personality of the person wearing it.
5. Who is your biggest muse/inspiration?
YS: It would be my parents. They taught me to never stop learning and to constantly improve something to make it better.
Yokie: Yes, I'd say that our parents definitely shaped us to become who we are today. The sacrifices they've made have pushed me harder in pursuing my dreams and ambition.
6. What is something you've always wanted to explore with shoemaking?
Yokie: I don't think we have a certain limit on what we'd like to design. It can be a stiletto, ballerina flat, or a new sandal. The passion we have for creating shoes never limits us in exploring new designs.
7. What are the challenges of founding your own shoe brand here in Malaysia?
Yokie: One of the challenges we experienced with designing was to make sure that our shoes are suitable for all feet types. As Malaysia is a multiracial country, we have to take into consideration that our shoes need not only appeal to the local market, but also cater to a global market. Our objective is to promote the brand on a global scale and have a wider range of clientele.
8. Tell us the process behind creating a shoe, from a rough sketch to producing it.
Yokie: It all starts with a concept and/or idea - it could be a simple drawing or sketch on paper. Sometimes, in order to save time, we go straight to pattern-making after we've got a rough idea of the shoe. Then we create and test the pattern using a customised shoe, and stitch the pattern out with recycled fabrics. The next step is to ensure that the material on the upper customised insoles is durable before it is stitched on the outsole. The process is so meticulous that we have to take precautions in developing every aspect of the shoes, as each mistake will result in wastage.
9. How do you constantly stay inspired and find inspiration?
YS: I seek inspiration from music across all genres. I love travelling and exploring each country's culture, history and art. It inspires me to create. I think I learn from my mistakes too, as it challenges me to find a solution and resolve the problem without giving up easily.
Yokie: Yes, I think travelling definitely gives us a lot of design inspiration along with new perspective and interesting stories. It could be the history of the city, the artists based there, and even the architecture that's unique to that city.
10. Favourite place to travel to or that you would love to explore?
YS: Recently I travelled to Segovia, Madrid and Dresden, Germany. Old cities with a multitude of history are always my cup of tea.
Yokie: My favourite city so far is Vienna—I am absolutely in love with their history and art.
11. What is the most important piece of advice you've learned in this industry, and also from your family?
YS: I've learnt to listen to other people who have more experience and advice to share.
Yokie: I think it's important to learn from mistakes and never give up.
12. What is the ultimate vision/goal for Yoke & Theam?
Yokie: There's no ultimate goal in life as this is a lifetime adventure and we enjoy every chapter in the story of Yoke & Theam.
Pre-order Yoke & Theam's Autumn/Winter 2016 collection at Fabspy in Mid Valley Megamall to get 15% off, from now until 30 September 2016 only.
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