When Zaid Arif bin Zubir was a teen, he used to accompany his dad to shoe stores in Gombak. This was where his father would customise his own Oxford shoes.
“The shoes would usually last for about 3 to 5 years and it always fascinated me that if the shoes were constructed more carefully, they would last for much longer,” Zaid shared.
Although Zaid didn’t like Oxfords at the time, his father’s shoes sparked an interest in him that would manifest into his own brand, Zeve.
Stepping into shoe biz
In university, Zaid’s interest in shoes only grew. He started to wear leather loafers, thinking that sneakers were too casual. He would try out loafers with all kinds of designs and materials including suede, calf leather, and nubuck leather. He also tried PU leather shoes, but they didn’t last as long.
After graduating with 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 at Danau Kota, Setapak.
“I immediately said yes and asked for an RM10,000 loan from my beloved lecturer Dr Mohar to help me buy some inventory,” Zaid said.
He then spent years working the night bazaar selling shoes for men, women, and kids alike. After five long years, he felt that there was a gap in the market for beautifully-made, high-quality, and affordable men’s shoes in Malaysia.
And so, with RM20,000 as his startup capital, Zeve was born.
“Of course, I was not certain at the moment that it would work, but I had the belief in myself that I would find success in this,” Zaid confessed. “I always said to myself, if the design, the price, the quality, and the service is exceptional, there is nothing to stop Zeve from rising to the top.”
During his time at the night bazaar, Zaid discovered that local shoe wholesalers typically only offered black or dark brown moccasins made with PU leather. While he believes it’s fine to sell those shoes, they can’t really be a statement shoe.
Zaid knew he wanted to create something extravagant but can still be worn daily, much like the premium Italian shoes he loved (but admitted that he couldn’t always afford). He took inspiration from European and Asian markets, leaning into designs from the early 1900s all the way up to modern-day trends.
He also wanted to create a wide range of designs that could target men of all backgrounds.
“By segmenting our market and persona clearly, we can produce designs for many different types of men,” Zaid explains. “The most classic designs for the simple and minimalist, modern designs for the modern-looking, avant-garde designs for the extravagant, and finally, bold designs for fashion-forward men.”
Some Zeve shoes are made in Malaysia, while others are outsourced to shoe factories around the world.
Catering to the audience
Scrolling through Zeve’s website, there is an enormous collection to shop from. Under loafers, there are tassel, penny, buckles, monk strap, fringe, Belgian, slippers, and mules. Don’t forget there are boots and dress shoes too. However, there are no shoes for women.
Well, a simple search showed that there was, 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 more variations as well.
“As for now, our focus is solely on men’s shoes, and while the plan to create shoes for women is always there, I think Zeve should keep that as a suggestion for the future,” the founder said.
In terms of material, all of the shoes at Zeve are made with leather. The Patina Collection features high-quality leather lining and hand-painted leather upper. It’s made with top-grain vegetable-tanned leather.
Non-Patina collections use different types of leather including calf, sheep, cow, suede, nubuck, and polished leather. Price-wise, Zeve’s loafers cost between RM199-RM399, with boots and dress shoes falling somewhere within that price range too.
On top of shoes, Zeve is also venturing into clothing. A few years ago, walk-in customers started commenting that they didn’t look good in Zeve’s loafers, claiming that they wanted to look as good as the sales associates.
“I answered that their apparel also goes hand in hand with the shoes,” Zaid pointed out. “So, we tried selling apparel and it was a success.”
Zeve’s apparel collection includes jackets, shirts, and trousers.
Putting their best foot forward
Zeve is now making a seven-figure yearly revenue. Even the pandemic didn’t stop its monthly growth of 15%.
“Fortunately, with the loyal support from our customers, we invested heavily to boost our online presence,” Zaid shared. “Thankfully, we managed to weather the storm.”
Even with the pandemic and Zeve’s online presence, the physical store sales still outperformed online store sales by 60%. It goes to show that consumers still want an in-person experience, especially when it comes to products such as shoes.
Moving forward, Zaid hopes to bring in more menswear and small leather goods and products that will be well-received by his audience.
“There will come a time when a man passes through a stage of understanding [on what’s required of him] to be a man of value that dresses, talks, and smells well,” the founder said. “When that time comes, we are here to lend a hand.”
Featured Image Credit: Zaid Arif bin Zubir, founder of Zeve