Owner of Mustard Sneakers
I always wanted to have my own brand, so I gave it a go...
What are you up to?
How did you start with Mustard?
It all started by me graduating from school and not wanting to have a 9-5 sit-down office job. Coming from a design school, I always wanted to have my own brand, so I gave it a go.
My initial thought was to create a clothing brand, but that would take a lot of work and I couldn't convince anyone to be my co-founder (laughs). My brother was also working on his leather shoe brand at that time as well. He had made some connections with shoe factories and I thought I would take that opportunity to start my own shoe brand too. Even though my brother already went through some struggles of producing shoes, I had to go through the same process on my own too since our shoes are totally different styles. Now, he helps me out with the financial stuff for Mustard.
Was it hard to find a local shoe factory?
It was very hard for my brother to find a factory that makes the type of shoes that we do. Most factories do not manufacture for other brands or require very high minimum order quantity. It’s a process called vulcanization which means the shoes are oven-baked which merges the rubber parts together to ensure durability.
WHY & HOW
I actually planned on making women's flat shoes in the beginning, since it's an easy market in Thailand. That didn't go well (laughs). I'm personally more of a sneaker girl, and I realized after a few prototypes in that I didn't enjoy making what I didn’t love. There was just no passion there, so I decided to scrap it after 3 months and decided to make something I like instead, which was obviously sneakers!
What was your process of making the shoes?
Shoe designs are restricted by the ‘mold’. It is basically a model of a foot and it defines the width and overall shape of the shoes. For shoe makers who are just starting out like me, we don’t custom-made our own mold because it’s very expensive. I picked from what they had at the factory, which makes the shape not super unique. That’s why I needed to come up with a unique design so we don't look like what’s already in the market.
How do molds work?
There are multiple molds and you won't be able to differentiate them by just looking. I picked 2 molds and then got the patterns that I designed to put on both of them to see how the shapes looked. This was how it was done. To come up with a pair of shoes, the factory would start by almost covering the fabrics on top of the mold. Basically wrapping materials around the mold to see what the shoe would look like. Everything is based on the mold. If you think of Converse and Vans, you can tell that the Vans is a lot wider, and Converse is rounder. That’s because of the mold.
Did it get easier after the flats?
The process for the flats was so much simpler because there were only a few components like the sole, and the toe and heel covers. For sneakers, we needed the rubber sole, 2 layers rubber bands around it, the fabric, the rim on the fabric, and just so many more.
How was the first sample?
The factory built up the first sample in my size so I could test out the wearability of them by myself. It was the most exciting part! The first impression of the first prototype was pretty good. I put one of them on and was like 'WOW, so comfortable!'. Then I put both of them on and realized that my feet looked so wide. They were super ugly (laughs). That was when we changed to a narrower mold. This factory was super nice and never charged me for the prototypes so I could perfect them as many times as I needed.
How many did you order at first?
I made 200 pairs: 100 of white and 100 navy. It was kind of difficult to estimate how many I should make because shoes have many sizes. They can range up from 35-45. I asked around in my friend group and the factory to find out the common shoe sizes and kind of estimated from there. I used my own savings on this project. You know, the money that my family gave me for Chinese new year and graduation. I had to be careful with how much I spent.
Did you have any problem with the production?
There were a few times when I was still inexperienced with project planning and the shoes started selling better, there was a long waiting line at the factory and we had to wait up to 4-6 months for the shoe production to finish. Which means we were out of stock for almost half a year and couldn’t do anything about it. It really taught me a lesson that time equals money haha.
Any marketing strategy?
Branding was one of the most important thing for me so the first thing I did was hiring professionals to do a product photoshoot of the shoes. I think the photos and visual need to look good. That’s just how you get attention.
I’m lucky because my customers take the best photos that I can use to repost on our social media. Influencers and customers really help with brand exposure and consequently sales. I think because we put effort in our branding, the customers also want to take good photos so we can repost them. It’s like a win-win situation.
How is dealing with customers?
That can be very tiring since I get a lot of messages from the customers, especially about the shoe size. We used to have a size chart but that didn't work because they didn't know how to measure their feet properly. I sometimes get customers sending me photos of their feet and asked me what size they should get. Now I let them base their size on the other shoes they wear, like Converse or Adidas. I let them exchange the shoes if the sizing is wrong.
How do you handle logistics?
I used to pack the shoes and go to the post office by myself in the beginning, then I changed to a logistic company called Alpha Fast. They came to pick up the shoes from my place and delivered them to the customers. Now I use this logistics company called Niko. They store and delivery all the products so I don't have to worry about not having rooms to store the shoes in my apartment. It was a real problem when I used to keep the shoes at home and didn't have enough space to open my fridge (laughs).
Did you design your own boxing and packaging?
Yes. I used to write a card and put it in every shoe box when I still packed my own stuff. For the box, I designed it so it wouldn’t need to have a mailbox over it so people can get excited right when they get the package.
What's the future for Mustard?
We make 300-800 for each color now. I also put my product in 3 unisex multi-brand stores and am in the process of making the website. I’m hoping to make Mustard into a staple piece for sneaker wearers. People think of Converse and Vans when they think of sneakers, I want them to think of Mustard too. I want to come up with more models so people have more options too.
What's your day-to-day schedule?
I try to work 50% on Mustard and 50% on helping my family, but it really depends on the workload of each day. Most of my work is on my computer so I can work anywhere. I love going to a cafe to work. Occasionally, I would go to the beach to work too. Change of scenery is nice, but it can be tiring because you have to force yourself to work instead of going out to the beach (laughs).
Do you exercise?
I try to. I really don't believe in overworking because health is really important to me. I try to only work half a day on Saturday and keep my Sunday free to do other activities. I go to boxing classes which is pretty intense since they also do weight training at the end of every class. I also do yoga. I normally work out 3 times a week but I would also stop going for months if I'm busy, which is bad.
Do you wear make ups?
On a regular basis, I would only do my brows, a bit of blush, and natural-looking eyeshadow (I’ve been using Dior 3 Couleurs Smoky Nude 571 since 2013). If I’m going out for dinner or a party, mascara and red lipstick is a must!
As I enjoy being in the sun, I try to put on sunscreen but I hate the feeling of it. I’m lucky because I don’t really have any skin problems, which might actually be a bad thing because I don’t really take care of my skin at all.
I, however, really love using coffee scrub. I actually love it enough that I’m thinking of making my own coffee scrub brand with some friends! I use this to get rid of any blemishes or roughness on my skin. It’s so refreshing!
Where do you shop?
I like buying clothes, but I’m trying to save up and not spend so much on shopping. I now shop from Instagram quite a bit because I use the Mustard account to follow other brands to see how they do their marketing, and sometimes nice things pop up. I don’t really shop at the malls anymore, maybe only Uniqlo for wardrobe staples.
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