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Get to know cult shoe designer Mashizan Masjum and his Singapore-only pop-up event in Paris

Jasmine Alimin
Jasmine Alimin9/29/2021 6:0 AM GMT+08  • 10 min read
Get to know cult shoe designer Mashizan Masjum and his Singapore-only pop-up event in Paris
From TV producer to shoe designer, Mashizan Masjum is most certainly a man who wears many hats — and shoes!
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When you wear a pair of shoes by Mashizan Masjum, 49, you are not just embracing the superior quality and craftsmanship of his eponymous footwear label, you are stepping back in time to one of the designer’s fondest moments of his 20-year career as a TV producer.

Singaporean-designed and Italian-made, Mashizan shoes are special in that each capsule collection is inspired by a documentary that Mashizan once produced and the countries he has travelled. One of our favourite collections is Echoes of Kyoto Memories, inspired by a documentary he filmed in Japan that tackled issues of ageing society and the discord between tradition and modernity. To capture the essence of his time spent there, he used repurposed vintage Japanese obis and kimonos and transposed paired together with luxurious Florentine suede.

“Because of my background in television documentaries, I have travelled and been to many places around the world. I wanted to bring something different from my point of view as a designer. I’ve been lucky to have seen many parts of the world, and experienced beauty in its myriad forms. So I wanted every one of our collections to reflect this,” he explains.

Alessandro Fuchsia Peacock women’s loafers

Another of his signature motifs is an embroidered peacock as seen in another collection called Brazen Peacock of the Southern Gardens of Sentosa, a nod to the big and beautiful birds that fearlessly roam the island of Sentosa. “To me, that’s the essence of the woman I’m designing for — the Mashizan woman. She’s bold, she’s fearless!”

Offering a variety of shoe styles for women — from the popular 7cm stilettos in iridescent patent leather to practical pumps and wedges — to a growing collection of sneakers for men, Mashizan says that he is already planning for two up-coming collections to be launched next year. One of them called Flee is inspired by the current pandemic that features a strip detail to signify the road to escapism. “We’re all trying to have it all and trying to just live life as we did before all of this craziness,” he says.

While Mashizan claims that his six-year-old brand has a garnered a only small cult following of high-level female executives, directors and CEOs, he is also too humble to admit that his footwear has also graced the feet of a starry list of celebrities such as singers Solange Knowles, La Toya Jackson and Sara Bareilles, as well as actresses Constance Wu (Crazy Rich Asians), Taryn Manning (Orange is the New Black) and Tessa Thompson (Thor: Ragnarok).

On top of that, Mashizan has also made it to the runways of New York Fashion Week 2019 in collaboration with fashion designer Yuna Yang, and Singapore Fashion Week in 2016/17.

From TV to designer footwear

Armed with a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Nanyang Technological University, Mashizan joined state broadcaster Mediacorp as a journalist in the late 1990s, producing documentaries for Channel NewsAsia (now known as CNA). He left after four years to try his hand at freelance producing, directing and writing, and somehow found himself in New York knocking on doors of well-known media houses looking for work.

“In the early 2000s, international networks like National Geographic and Discovery were starting to commission work to international production houses and a lot of the opportunities were given to foreign producers, not so much the locals. The best way to prove to people that you have what it takes is to go to New York and that’s what I did. I was in my 30s bold, brazen and unaware of the challenges!” he jokes.

After countless cold-calls, meetings and emails listing compelling reasons why he should be hired, Mashizan finally landed himself the biggest gig of his life in 2005 — to produce documentaries for the History Channel. Soon, similar gigs for National Geographic and Discovery Channel followed. For six years, he travelled across the US doing everything from architecture to archaeology, and even went to Ethiopia to produce a documentary on the HIV crisis.

In 2011, he returned to Singapore with an enviable portfolio of work to become executive producer at Beach House Pictures and later as head of content at Infocus Asia, overseeing 40 producers across four different offices in Asia.

Mashizan works very closely with his artisanal “family” in Florence

Feeling burnt out after years in TV, he took a sabbatical in the summer of 2013 and went to Florence, Italy to study shoe design at the Accademia Riacci under the tutelage of a former head designer of luxury goods company Salvatore Ferragamo. “I had a bit of a midlife crisis at 41 and wanted to try something different,” he laughs.

“The higher up you go, the less creative work you do. I was missing that craftsmanship and creating shoes in Florence filled that void for me.” That short course not only reignited his passion to ideate but opened him to a new world of craftsmanship and footwear artisans, the likes of whom produce for couture houses such as Christian Dior and Escada. Mashizan was fortunate to partner with one of these manufacturers which continually brings his unique ideas to life.

“With Italians, especially the Florentine shoemaking community, once they invite you into their circle, you become their family for life,” he chuckles.

Building the Mashizan brand

While back at work, Mashizan was unofficially retailing his footwear on the side, which started to garner buzz for its timeless and trend-transcendent styles enveloped in luxurious materials and comfy silhouettes. “It just sort of evolved and grew, and before I knew it, I had to make a decision on whether I wanted to make shoes full time or stick with my TV career. I thought if I don’t do it now, if I don’t focus on designing and developing the brand, when am I going to do it? So I chose Mashizan!”

Admittedly, building his shoe label on his own with no prior entrepreneurial experience was daunting. There have also been days when Mashizan doubted his ability and questioned his career switch. But when things get tough, he reminds himself of his early days hustling in New York. “In life there will be ups and downs, but what New York taught me is that when you are at your lowest you will pick up again. My time there was not only transformative but it also toughened me.”

Does he miss TV production? “I miss the work itself, the creative parts of it, and I miss the people and the camaraderie. But I don’t miss the red tape and bureaucracy that goes into making a show,” he admits.

Part of his ideating process is to visit tanneries to select leathers

Although it's taken the business four years to break even, Mashizan is adamant about keeping his business small with just him and two others manning operations, focussing on slow fashion and small batch productions. “We may not grow as fast as other brands because we don’t do massive advertising but we’re cultivating relationships with our customers who have helped it to grow organically. It’s good to see that even during tough pandemic times, my clients are still buying our shoes,” he says.

“I am always on the lookout for business partners who believe in the brand, believe in me and believe in what I’m capable of. I think I’ve proven in the last six years that we’ve been able to build a brand from scratch, from zero clients to quite a loyal customer base, across four different markets and across three continents.”

Mashizan — the shoe label — officially launched in 2015, with its base of operations in Paris, where Mashizan currently resides. While a majority of his regular customers hail from Singapore, other key markets include Paris, Hong Kong, New York and London.

To get your hands on a pair of Mashizans, you can order them online at mashizan.com and they will be delivered to you between two to eight weeks depending on where your pair is in the production cycle. If you are new to the brand Mashizan prefers if you attend one of his physical trunk shows for a proper fitting. He plans to fly into Singapore at the end of the year to showcase his next collection.

Simona Simona II New Teseo oil-slick pumps

Maria Bag Romantico

Mashizan in Paris

It has been a busy year for Mashizan. While in the process of prototyping new shoe designs, he is also doing his Executive MBA in Global Fashion Management with Institut Français de la Mode (in French, no less!), and organising a Singapore-themed retail pop-up in Paris happening Oct 5 to 10.

Entitled Singapore to Paris: A Journey of the Five Senses, the showcase supported by DesignSingapore Council — in association with Singapore Tourism Board, Enterprise Singapore and Economic Development Board — is free to the public and will take place at concept store Heureux Les Curieux in the hip Parisian district of Marais.

Created for a primarily Parisian audience (with many guests flying in from all over Europe), the week-long event will take visitors on a journey through the five senses through an amalgamation of retail experiences featuring over 10 Singapore fashion, beauty and lifestyle brands.

“You’ll get to feel the textures of exotic fabrics, hear the sounds of Singapore curated by a sound artist, taste the richness of Singapore flavours, smell the aromas of lotions and perfumes, and see the myriad of colours that embody Singaporean creativity,” says Mashizan.

Guests can enjoy a beautiful floral installation by The Humid House, and listen to the sonorous works of sound designer Jerry Yeo who has produced a Singapore-centric soundscape to be streamed via a uni-directional speaker. “When I first heard it — the beeping of the MRT, beats of the kompang and tabla, lion dance and Chinatown chatter — it brought tears to my eyes because it just reminded me so much of home,” he adds.

Mashizan also shares that he will also play pre-recorded poetry readings by writer and playwright Alfian Sa’at.

To engage visitors, the event will also feature a list of workshops and masterclasses, plus a fun roundtable discussion about sambal, conducted by a group of Paris-based Singaporeans (including former model Pat Kraal who is currently the president of Singapore Club France).

Among the list of fashion brands specially selected by Mashizan include Ginlee of Gin Lee Studio, Nida Tahir Shaheryar of Nida Shay, Oniatta Effendi of Baju by Oniatta, as well as accessories designers Jamie Lim of [In]Trigue and Stephanie Choo of Eden + Elie. Beauty offerings include DrGL Skincare by Dr Georgia Lee, Straits Skincare by Dr Jade Kua and perfume by Sifr Aromatics. Due to travel restrictions, only two designers are flying in for the showcase, while the rest have sent over their merchandise for display.

Aside from being Singapore-made, a common thread linking the brands is the emphasis on craftsmanship and artisanal quality. “This really appeals to French sensibilities as they are renowned globally for their savoir faire or artisanal know-how,” he concludes.

PHOTOS: RiggNgo Photography

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