She is certainly not one for dragging her feet. Where most anyone else would baulk at leaving a steady nine-to-five job to explore an unfamiliar trade, Nelissa Hilman just took the plunge.
The Kuala Lumpur-born designer was working in the corporate world when she decided to make a career change. Her reason? She simply wanted to “do something different”.
“I enrolled for a shoemaking course in Florence. I thought I’d give it a go, and if didn’t like it I could always return to my old job. That was in 2011. I have not looked back since,” she states.
According to her, she actually worked in a shoe factory for a bit upon returning to Malaysia. She did that to gain an understanding of how shoes are produced in the country.
“I didn’t know what to expect when I first started my business. My friends and family are not from the fashion line,” she relates. “It was all by trial and error at the beginning. A lot of error, but somehow I managed.”
Today, Hilman owns her own boutique in Bangsar Village. Her designs are also available online (nelissahilman.com), and she has showed at local fashion weeks in collaboration with ready-to-wear designers.
The 34-year-old says that the footwear industry found in Florence is very focused. There is an area located in the Italian city where all the necessary leathers and hardware can be found.
“In Malaysia, you need to get materials from other countries. So you could say that we are not so reliant on what you can find locally. We have also lost a lot of the artisans – the shoemakers.”
She adds: “I wanted to focus on design and development when I started my business. To revive the artisanal aspect of the trade here. But for the first five years I have been busy with developing the brand.”
A Love For Shoes
Hilman, who studied engineering in University Malaya, has been passionate about footwear since young. She recalls frequently going to the Ampang Park shopping centre with her mother and looking at shoes.
“There was always this curiousity that I had about how people actually make shoes. I attended classes on making clothes in the past and found out that it wasn’t something I like.”
Hilman also says she started off by designing shoes that she herself would wear. It was only later that she began experimenting, adding bolder designs to cater to women of all lifestyles, needs and tastes.
The brand was known for its muted flats back then. The current Resort 2018 collection however, features metallic and velvet heels, in an assortment of colours and shapes.
“Footwear tastes constantly change. Trends change too, as they do for clothes. It goes hand in hand. When you change your outfit, you’d want your new shoes to complement your look,” she explains.
How her business operates has also evolved. From just a website, Hilman has expanded to include a brick-and-mortar store. She now has a full team to help her out, as well.
“It was just me operating from home at the beginning. So marketing my shoes was in the form of word of mouth. ‘Eh, come try my shoes lah,’ I’d tell my friends and ex-colleagues,” she notes with a laugh.
When asked about the best way to choose shoes to match an outfit, Hilman says she dresses from feet up. She would wear a striking blue pair of shoes for example, then keep the rest of her outfit simple.
“There’s no hard and fast rule though. You can either have it minimal all the way. Or go all out instead. Maybe match statement shoes with statement clothes if you really want to be a trendsetter.
“The thing about shoes is most people don’t realise that they stand about six to eight hours in them. There is this saying, ‘You may carry the clothes, but it’s the shoes that carries you,’ ” Hilman concludes.