When Zaid Arif bin Zubir was a teenager, he accompanied his father to the shoe shops in Gombak. This is where his father customized his own Oxford shoes.
“Shoes usually lasted around 3-5 years and it always fascinated me that if the shoes were built with more care, they would last much longer,” Zaid explained.
Although Zaid didn’t like Oxfords at the time, his father’s shoes sparked an interest in him that would manifest in his own brand, Zeve.
Getting into the shoe industry
In college, Zaid’s interest in shoes only grew. He started wearing leather loafers, thinking sneakers were too casual. He tried on moccasins with all kinds of designs and materials, including suede, calfskin, and nubuck leather. He also tried PU leather shoes, but they didn’t last that long.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in business management, Zaid joined the workforce. Four months into his job, however, a friend offered him a stall at a night bazaar in Danau Kota, Setapak.
“I immediately said yes and asked for a loan of RM10,000 from my beloved lecturer, Dr Mohar, to help me buy some stock,” Zaid said.
He then spent years working at the night bazaar selling men’s, women’s and children’s shoes. After five long years, he felt there was a gap in the market for well-made, high-quality and affordable men’s shoes in Malaysia.
And so, with RM20,000 as start-up capital, Zeve was born.
“Of course, I wasn’t certain at the moment that it would work, but I had the conviction that I would succeed,” Zaid confessed. “I always thought to myself, if the design, price, quality and service are exceptional, nothing stops Zeve from rising to the top.”
In search of originality
While at the Night Bazaar, Zaid discovered that local shoe wholesalers usually only offer black or dark brown PU leather loafers. Although he thinks it’s good to sell these shoes, they can’t really be designer shoes.
Zaid knew he wanted to create something extravagant but still wearable on a daily basis, much like the high-end Italian shoes he loved (but admitted he couldn’t always afford). He drew inspiration from the European and Asian markets, leaning on designs from the early 1900s through to modern trends.
He also wanted to create a wide range of models that could target men from all walks of life.
“By clearly segmenting our market and personality, we can produce designs for many different types of men,” says Zaid. “The most classic designs for the simple and minimalist designs, the modern designs for the modern designs, the avant-garde designs for the extravagant and finally the daring designs for the avant-garde men.”
Some Zeve shoes are made in Malaysia, while others are sourced from shoe factories around the world.
Catering to the public
Browsing through the Zeve website, there is a huge collection to buy. Under the moccasins there are tassels, pennies, buckles, monk straps, fringes, belgians, slippers and mules. Don’t forget that there are also boots and dress shoes. However, there are no women’s shoes.
Well, a simple search showed there were, but they’re all listed as out of stock. Zaid explained that this is because women’s shoes are more complicated and meticulous, and there are also more variations.
“Right now we’re just focusing on men’s shoes, and while the plan to create women’s shoes is still there, I think Zeve should keep that as a suggestion for the future,” said the founder.
In terms of materials, all of Zeve’s shoes are made of leather. The Patina collection features high quality leather lining and hand painted leather upper. It is made of premium quality vegetable tanned leather.
Non-patinated collections use different types of leather, including calfskin, sheepskin, cowhide, suede, nubuck, and buffed leather. In terms of price, Zeve’s loafers cost between RM199 and RM399, with boots and dress shoes also falling in this price range.
In addition to shoes, Zeve also ventures into clothing. A few years ago, walk-in customers started saying they didn’t look good in Zeve’s loafers, saying they wanted to look as good as the sales people.
“I replied that their clothes also go with the shoes,” Zaid pointed out. “So we tried to sell clothes and it was a success.”
Zeve’s clothing collection includes jackets, shirts and pants.
Put their best foot forward
Zeve now achieves seven-figure annual sales. Even the pandemic did not stop its monthly growth of 15%.
“Fortunately, with the loyal support of our customers, we have invested heavily to strengthen our online presence,” Zaid said. “Fortunately, we managed to weather the storm.”
Even with the pandemic and Zeve’s online presence, physical store sales have still exceeded online store sales by 60%. This shows that consumers still want an in-person experience, especially when it comes to products like shoes.
In the future, Zaid hopes to bring more men’s clothing and small leather goods and products that will be well received by his audience.
“There will come a time when man will pass through a stage of understanding [on what’s required of him] to be a good man who dresses, talks and smells good,” the founder said. “When the time comes, we’re here to lend a hand.”
- Learn more about Zeve here.
- Read more articles we’ve written about Malaysian startups here.
Featured Image Credit: Zaid Arif bin Zubir, Founder of Zeve