Creative Class: Zaid Arif, Founder & Designer of Zeve Shoes
We talked to the founder about the interesting beginning of the brand, the story behind the naming and the lesson learned.
On 30th December last year, I received an email from Zaid, the founder of a newly launched footwear brand named Zeve Shoes. The moment I realised it’s a new Malaysian shoe brand for men, my eyes sparkled. There really aren’t many local men’s fashion brands in the market, let alone local footwear brands that focus on making classic men’s shoes.
The very generous Zaid offered to send me some shoes. But, call me old school – I believe the best way for a person to show support for a brand (or a cause) is to actually buy the product with your own money. And so I did.
Putting the shoes and the review aside, what really interested me about the brand (as is the case with all the brands and creatives we’ve interviewed so far) was the why and how, and the story of the person behind it.
I got in touch with Zaid and talked about the interesting beginning of the brand, the story behind the naming and the lesson learned.
Hi Zaid! Tell us a little about yourself.
Hello ladies and gents! I’m Zaid Arif Zubir – you can call me Zaid – and I was born and bred in Kuala Lumpur. I’m currently living in the heart of Kuala Lumpur. I’m 27 years old. I’ve never labelled myself as a shoe designer but that’s what most of my friends call me.
Did you study design at school?
No. I graduated in 2011 with a Bachelor of Business Management (Entrepreneurship) from Universiti Tun Abdul Razak (Unirazak). Previously, I was taking Mechanical Engineering In Universiti Teknologi Petronas (UTP), but then I prefer business studies over complex thermodynamics calculation. My passion is more into delivering people’s needs and wants.
You must be a big fan of shoes, and I’m really curious how your shoe closet looks like. Do you love all kinds of men’s shoes or just Italian leather shoes? How many pairs do you currently have in your collection?
Yes I do. How many pairs? To be honest, I’ve lost count! Maybe over 200 pairs. Unfortunately some of them were stolen because I left them outside the door one day. That’s the saddest day of my entire life. I’m not that much into sneakers and I only own a few pairs. You can say I’m more into the classic style.
Whenever I bought a new pair of shoes, I’d wear them very frequently until I get bored of them.
When did your love for shoes started? I know that you started out with an online store selling women’s shoes instead of men’s shoes when you’re 20. How did it happened?
This is one funny story. I met the love of my life when I was 20 during my university days. She was my girlfriend and now, my wife, Dhea. One day, out of nowhere, she wanted a pair of oxford shoes. (Maybe because it was trending at that time.) So we went to most of the shopping malls in Malaysia to search for it and but we couldn’t find one in the end.
As a way to win her heart, I ordered the shoes from oversea. I did some Googling and searching (google keyword research, market visit and research) and found out that the demand for womens oxford shoes was quite high. So, we started a brand called Oxfordhea selling womens oxford shoes. Oxford + Dhea = Oxfordhea. I learned how to design shoes and how to create e-commerce websites during this period of time. Google and Youtube were my teacher. That’s the beginning of my love for shoes.
When did you get your first pair of Italian shoes?
I got my first pair of Italian shoes when I was 24 years old. I was so amazed with the quality and the comfort. My hunt for Italian shoes continues until today.
You opened a small physical shoes boutique in 2011 following the success of your online store. Why the jump from online store to physical store?
Because at that time I’ve just graduated, and I have all the time in the world to kick start the business. Additionally, I also wanted to see the face or the reaction of my customers when they are choosing, browsing and buying the shoes. I’d like to see what makes them buy.
So from your love for Italian shoes, the brand ZEVE was born in 2015. What’s the meaning behind the name “ZEVE”? Was there a story?
In August 2015, I told my sister, Sabrina, who is a painter, that I wanted to start a new brand selling mens shoes. I asked her to design a logo and to come out with a brand name. The initial brand name was “A.M.” which stands for Alpha Male, and the logo was based on the idea of a wolf.
But then I thought Alpha Male was quite generic, and I wanted something unique. So we looked for synonyms for wolf and later found out the word “ZEVE“, which mean “wolf” in Aramaic languange. Coincidently, my name “Zaid” also starts with a Z. So, Zeve = Wolf = Alpha Male. That’s how it was born.
I really feel you when you said you love Italian shoes’ quality but not their price tags. The no-middleman business model is having a spotlight globally at the moment. Look at brands like Everlane and TravelTeq.
The no-middleman business model can only be achieved with the power of the Internet. We share the same business model as them. This model will benefit both the customer, in term of lower pricing, and us since we do not have to stock high level of inventory. So, less investment is needed, and faster market response for fast-moving design and colours.
Tell us about your experience when you first started ZEVE. Did you face any difficulty since it’s your first foray into designing and manufacturing men’s shoes?
When I first opened my shoe boutique in 2011, I was dealing with more than 50 local and international shoe suppliers and factories. I’d go oversea twice a month to visit shoe factories all over the world just to learn the trade and to understand the latest design and trend.
At that time, I was selling loafers made from artificial leather. Although the price is cheap and the sales was good, customers told me that the shoes did not last long due to the low quality of the material. So when I started ZEVE, I realised that I needed to do something different. I felt the calling to contribute something to the footwear/fashion industry and that’s the challenge.
After doing the research, I decided to start with the tassel loafers since I have a hunch that most of the men still love the classic tassel loafer, but the ones available in the local market today are not that beautiful (in terms of the shape and colour).
I have to choose from many shoe last. There are thousands of shoe lasts, and I have to choose one that has the perfect shape, fit and curve. After doing many samples, I finally found one, and we are using that shoe last for all our designs.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in the process of starting and running ZEVE?
From the very beginning, we have always listened to what the customers want. We asked our customers the colours they like and the materials they prefer even though sometimes I don’t like the materials or colours personally. But, if the customers love it, we will do our best to produce it.
Are you working on ZEVE full time at the moment? Is ZEVE self-funded?
Yes, I’m working full time on ZEVE. When I first started, it’s only me. Now, I have a menswear designer Mr Taufik. We are trying to expand ZEVE into a menswear brand later on. Yes, ZEVE is self-funded.
I realised you’re also running Mini by Dhea. Tell us about it.
Mini By Dhea is a shoe brand for kids age between 1 to 9 years old. It is small startup by us. We are very focused in our designs for Mini by Dhea, and you can say most of our designs are loafers for boys.
During the first year, we cannot afford to rent an office or showroom, so we used our house as our warehouse. Imagine our living room and all the other rooms (except for our bedroom) were full of kid shoes. We now have 3 locations for customers to buy our shoes: stockist Garde Robe Haus in Damansara, Soukha Official in Kelantan and at our warehouse in Batu Caves.
So what do you do when you’re not working?
I watch movies and go food hunting!
What men’s fashion labels do you love? And where do you make your suits? I’m curious.
I don’t really have any particular fashion label that I love. Usually, if the design, price and quality is good, I’d definitely grab one. All my suits are from my partner Mr Taufik.
Who are you listening to at the moment? What type of music do you love?
Adele. I love slow classical music.
Can you tell us some tips on taking care of leather shoes and loafers?
You cannot wear the same shoes every single day. It will worn out very fast. It doesn’t matter how good the quality of the shoes is. If you wear them every single day like a pair of sport shoes, It will worn out quickly.
For leather shoes, you can polish them once a month to keep it shiny. Shoe polish is cheap and easy to get nowadays for less than RM10. For suede leather shoes, begin by applying a silicone-based suede protector spray (make sure spray’s color matches with your shoes’) to the suede-covered areas of the upper and then leave them overnight to absorb the protectant.
And, don’t put your shoes in direct sunlight.
What’s next for ZEVE?
We will be adding new style and design every month, such as penny loafers, boat shoes loafer, oxfords, brogues, derby, double monk strap (I personally cannot wait for this), loafer slippers, and the famous desert boots. We will also launch our ZEVE pants and shirts collection soon.