Welcome back to our Founder Stories series, where we sit with inspiring and influential women to dive into their entrepreneurial journey and discuss all things business (and wellness). Today, we speak with Marre Muijs, the founder of sustainable footwear brand ESSĒN THE LABEL.
After studying International Fashion Management, Dutch Designer, Marre Muijs, embarked on a career as Brand Manager at a footwear wholesaler in Australia, learning the ins and outs of product development and what it takes to make a beautiful shoe. What inspired the birth of ESSĒN THE LABEL, was seeing the waste created throughout production and Marre’s passion for the environment, feeling that the fashion industry needs to take responsibility for its overproduced waste. From that moment, ESSĒN THE LABEL, was born in 2016.
Marre’s mixed Dutch and Australian roots allowed her to consciously tap into what women want in a shoe and helped to curate an authentic, streamlined collection that women can feel great and do great in, day after day. Marre believes you can learn a lot about a person’s character and identity from their choice in shoes, their image and how the wearer wants to be broadcast to the world.
FLAURA: What inspired you to start ESSĒN?
Marre: I’ve always loved the fashion industry, but a few years ago I grew creatively exhausted and increasingly frustrated by the relentless cycles and endless pursuit of newness. I craved a slower pace and more conscious process. The industry was oversaturated with disposable and poorly constructed products and I needed to rethink how I was going to contribute to something that I loved, but in a way that would align with my personal values.
Despite working in the footwear industry at that time, I could not find quality, timeless and comfortable shoes that were ethically made, without the designer price tag. After having this conversation with friends one too many times, I decided I was going to try and create the perfect collection of quality wardrobe staples myself. So I launched ESSEN in 2016, which has enabled me to carve out my own path.
F: What makes ESSĒN different to other brands?
ESSĒN is a permanent collection of no-compromise pieces – timeless classics that are reimagined in new ways and made to last. With a permanent collection and moving away from traditional seasons and not being focused on the fashion calendar, I can take all the time I need and there’s no limit to the resources I can invest in my designs. So I take it slow, developing, testing and then releasing one key piece at a time.
One of the things that make ESSĒN different from other footwear brands is that we produce in very small batches, or entirely on-demand. I only work with high-quality materials from low-minimum suppliers. All styles are handmade in Italy, Portugal and Spain in solar-powered factories by expert artisans who have been making shoes for generations.
Producing on-demand enables us to accurately calculate the demand as we go, so that we only produce what we’ve already sold. This way we can make smarter use of resources, and minimize waste and overproduction.
F: Many of us have had to adapt to new ways of working, especially digitally/remotely. How do you keep your team motivated amidst all the changes?
The pandemic has really highlighted how much waste traditional fashion manufacturing generates. Since working from home has become the norm and we’re not socialising the way we used to anymore, consumers are also a lot more conscious about what brings them joy and what they want to reintroduce in their lives when this is all over. As we spend more time at home and have fewer opportunities to dress up, we’ve become even more focused on those fundamental wardrobe staples.
I’ve run ESSĒN very lean from the start and producing on-demand and not to seasons, which has allowed me to pause my operation from one day to the next and quickly adapt to declining consumer demand during the lockdowns last year. I haven’t had to worry about putting the unsold product on sale, or figuring out how to get rid of it.
So, in a strange way, the pandemic has shined light on the made-to-order model, something that ESSĒN has been built upon and what we’ve been doing for years. Now, due to COVID-19 this conversation has become mainstream, which is incredible because consumers will continue to understand that this is the future for a more sustainable fashion landscape. So, whilst the last year has been very challenging, we’re more motivated than ever!
F: What’s the most rewarding part of your day now?
No two days are the same, which I really enjoy. I run ESSĒN by myself so I love connecting with my collaborators like the workshops in Europe or other creatives. Those meetings always leave me energised and inspired.
F: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten?
I don’t know if there’s a silver bullet for good business advice. For me, it was a combination of many pieces of advice that contribute to the big picture. The ones that come to mind are;
– Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want.
– We can’t control everything that comes at us, but we can control our reaction to it, which is very important in the turbulent world of startups!
– Always act with integrity. People want to do business with good people.
F: What advice would you give to other women looking to start their own business?
Solve something meaningful. Starting a company is hard – it’s never static and a constant grind, so you really have to enjoy what you’re doing and work on something that means a lot to you.
Don’t be too hard on yourself or too impatient. It’s a work in progress every single day. Surround yourself with people that inspire you; the more you give, the more you get back. When you’re flexible, patient and open to opportunities, amazing things will happen.
F: Are you working on any new/exciting projects you can tell us about?
This Earth Day (22 April) I’m launching a very special collaboration with Australian jewellery brand Linden Cook, to raise awareness for the environmental benefits of on-demand manufacturing. We truly believe this is the future.
This collaboration ticks so many boxes for us; it promotes a shift to more conscious design, manufacturing and consumption, the pieces are classic and versatile and aren’t reliant on trends or seasons, so you can do more with less.
It also celebrates the incredible work of our artisans and since each item is made-to-order, we can tailor it to a customer’s fitting needs and offer a more personalized experience. We hope producing this way encourages people to be more patient rather than striving for instant gratification and that they’ll be more attached to their pieces after having to wait for a while. It teaches us to think about each purchase before we buy. To choose the long-term.