A friendship born out of Melbourne lockdowns, our founder and creative director Julia interviews close friend Marre Muijis, fellow founder and designer of footwear label, ESSĒN. Julia sits down with Marre at her home for a casual conversation between friends; diving into how ESSĒN came about, Marre’s commitment to responsible production and her sophisticated yet understated sense of style.
Julia: “My friendship with you, Marre, really blossomed amid Melbourne’s long lockdowns. It was actually from being a customer of ESSĒN myself, that we first connected. I have always had a love of quality leather footwear; an accessory that I believe really completes an outfit and why I have always seen value in investing in the right pair.
I’d discovered ESSĒN through Instagram and was a fan for quite some time, before making my first purchase in 2020 – the foundation flats in white. Although I thought I was buying from a European brand, I was pleasantly surprised to discover it was a local Melbourne label.
I introduced myself to you via email, and when we met in person, we realised we were both pregnant and due 3 weeks apart. Since then, we have shared many laughs, playdates, wines, phone calls, and small business vents. Now we have also found a way to work together, with ESSĒN footwear now available to shop in our Melbourne Showroom and a design collaboration in the works. It’s been a real joy to experience this new friendship evolve, especially during a challenging couple of years amid all the COVID craziness.
I wanted to start this conversation with a bit about you, Marre… you are from the Netherlands, but live in Melbourne with your husband Lewis and beautiful boy Max.
How long ago did you start your label ESSĒN and how did it come about?
Marre: I’ve always loved fashion, but after years of working in the industry (in both my hometown in Amsterdam, and then Melbourne, where I first visited in 2008 on a Uni exchange and fell in love with the city, and my husband, I grew increasingly frustrated and creatively exhausted by the endless pursuit of newness. I craved a slower pace and more conscious process. Despite working in the footwear industry at the time, I could not find good quality, timeless shoes that were comfortable, ethically made and affordable. The industry was oversaturated with disposable and poorly made shoes, and I needed to rethink how I was going to contribute to something that I loved, but in a way that aligned with my personal values.
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 ESSĒN in 2016, which has enabled me to forge my own path and do things a little differently.
All of your footwear is made in Europe by local artisans, tell us a bit about the factories you work with?
Marre: When it comes to crafting shoes the slow way, I refuse to compromise. All styles are handmade in Italy, Portugal and Spain by master artisans who have been making shoes for generations.
Each workshop has its own unique skills and style, which will guide where I will make a particular design. The craftsmen at are experts in their particular stage of the production process. They impart a depth of knowledge and skill born of many years of honing their art and they carefully craft all of ESSEN’s shoes, down to the very last stitch. They’ve become good friends over time.
The majority of my Italian shoes are made in Florence and Le Marche, which is considered the world’s oldest and best shoe manufacturing district.
Social justice is also very important to me, so I’m invested in making sure their craft is compensated properly. I’m not interested in cheaper alternatives.
When it comes to crafting shoes the slow way, I refuse to compromise. All styles are handmade in Italy, Portugal and Spain by master artisans who have been making shoes for generations.
Tell us about why you choose to do on-demand manufacturing?
Marre: It’s a minimal waste approach. Depending on the design, there are up to 50 components that go into one pair of shoes, that mostly need to be sourced from different suppliers. As you can probably imagine, operating a “made-to-order” business model isn’t appealing to all manufacturers. Many brands shy away from it too, but producing this way minimises up to 90% of waste associated with traditional production processes and eliminates overproduction.
Even the logistics have been carefully considered to support this model – our warehouse is in Europe, close to where the workshops are. This allows us to keep minimum stock levels but respond quickly to demand, so we only make what we need all whilst keeping our carbon footprint as low as possible, by minimizing the distance a pair of shoes has to travel.
This approach is very important to me, as I always try to reduce waste and be as responsible as I can be as a business, so that my shoes a greater impact on people’s wardrobes and a smaller impact on the environment.
How would you describe your personal style?
Marre: Effortless essentials, with a touch of femininity. I like a simple, sophisticated and understated look and invest in timeless pieces that I’ll be wearing for the next twenty years. I want clothes that I can grow old with, that tell a story and I can pass on to my grandchildren one day.
What is your approach when adding pieces to your wardrobe?
Marre: It’s an attentive approach. I make few, considered purchases with the intent of bringing home valued items that last.
I keep a list of what my wardrobe lacks. If I can, I’ll then wait a week, month or sometimes even longer before purchasing just to make sure. I consider who made the piece, what material the product is made of, but also the versatility and longevity of each item.
With less, more value is put into the few, and my wardrobe is slowly filling with garments I adore and will wear for years to come.
FWF and ESSĒN share a really well-aligned aesthetic, which we love. How would you style a FWF and ESSĒN outfit?
Marre: My design process is centered around the idea that busy lifestyles call for practical yet stylish shoes and especially now, comfort is luxury.
This is why I love the FWF pieces too – they’re effortless and timeless, well made from beautiful materials, and endlessly versatile.
It’s difficult to choose one outfit, but if I had to choose, it would be the Anais Set paired with the Chunky Slide.ESSĒN is now available to purchase in store at the Friends with Frank Melbourne Showroom, and online via essenthelabel.com.
Marre has kindly extended all FWF customers a $50 gift voucher to put towards their next ESSĒN purchase. Simply enter ESSENxFWF at checkout when shopping online at essenthelabel.com, or mention in store at the Friends with Frank Melbourne Showroom to redeem.