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These Sisters Walked Away From Their Family Business Only To Come Back Because It's Where Their "Soles" Are

Yoke & Theam is a Malaysian brand of designer footwear started by sisters Yoke Sin and Yokie in 2015, with their designs following a gender-neutral aesthetic.Their creations can be found online and have also managed to make it to the shelves of stores such as Isetan (previously) and currently Robinsons.

The age of social media has seen many an artisanal industry benefit from the potential for instant exposure. Thanks to Instagram, artists, crafters, singers, performers, and designers have all been able to show of their skills to the world in an instant and share their passion and ideals with other like-minded individuals and collectives.

One such case is Yoke & Theam, a footwear brand started by sisters Yoke Sin and Yokie in 2015.

Despite coming from a line of shoemakers (their father and their grandfather are from the footwear industry), both sisters initially had no inkling or desire of going into the footwear business.

Yokie comes from a background in business (and eventually got a Master’s in fashion and textiles) while Yoke Sin has a background in graphic design. But both eventually developed the same love for shoemaking as their predecessors.

“Neither one of us sisters dreamed about becoming shoe designers, but the unexpected venture was a natural transition for the both of us,” the sisters said, recounting the moment when Yokie suddenly brought up the idea of going into business with Yoke Sin in 2014.

It took only a year of planning before the two eventually started Yoke & Theam and operated out of the shoe factory their father owned.

“Yoke is our middle name and Theam is our family name,” Yokie explained. “It represents our family heritage.”

Setting A Stage For Statement Pieces

Currently, all of Yoke & Theam’s creations are crafted by hand in Ipoh, with Yoke Sin in charge of overseeing production and quality control while Yokie takes care of brand management in Kuala Lumpur. According to the sisters, this arrangement (working with a sibling) has been extremely positive.

“The best thing about this is you can have open conversations and even disagreements from time to time,” Yokie said. “But at the end of the day, I know it won’t affect the relationship because we’re still family.”

Talking about their concepts and designs, the sisters explained that they take inspirations from names such as Yohji Yamamoto and United Nude, with their design aesthetic sitting somewhere between elegance and ruggedness.

Although their creations were for women, they aim for their fashion statements to be as gender-neutral as possible to get their customers to look beyond common trends and gender-specific imagery.

“Yoke & Theam celebrates both feminine and masculine qualities and this is a consistent theme throughout the aesthetic of our shoe collection,” the sisters said.

Their creations (priced between RM60 all the way to RM300) are available to buy online through their website or platforms like Zalora. In the past some of their collections have even made it to big name department stores such as Isetan, KLCC and at Robinsons at Four Seasons Place—a validation of sorts from the market towards their designs.

To date, Yoke & Theam have managed to do pretty well for themselves from an entrepreneurial standpoint. According to the sisters, one of their proudest achievements is their success in managing to weather a tough early period of self-funding without external financial backing, while still sticking to their design ethos.

Here, the sisters expressed their satisfaction at being able to carry on a family tradition, and more importantly follow their personal passions.

“This means a lot to me—not only to be able to follow in the footsteps of our father and grandfather, but to also be able to do what I like,” Yokie said. “But now I guess even without my family background, I still would have pursued this career in the fashion industry because it ended up becoming my passion.”

Adding on, Yokie also shared some words of encouragement for other aspiring individuals thinking of making the jump to pursue their dreams.

“Be prepared for the sacrifices you’ll make to fulfill your dream,” she said. “But if you want it so badly, you’ll still enjoy the whole journey even if it might be tough at times.”

Forward Fashion

Fast forward to the current day, Yoke & Theam have gone on to make waves in the local fashion circuit by launching collaborations with other fashion designers such as Alia Bastamam for seasonal lines and launching their own movement/campaign called #ytwalkoflife aimed at empowering local Malaysian females.

“We aim to inspire women to become better versions of themselves, and we feature different personalities to share stories of their own walk of life on our blog.”

Despite their achievements in the local scene, both sisters still hold hope that Malaysia’s fashion industry can become as equally rewarding for other players like themselves. The first thing they hope will change is consumer mindsets towards local fashion designers.

“Malaysia’s fashion scene has the potential to grow more with enough support from the nation and government,” they said.

“The truth is the production cost is higher locally because most of our designer brands don’t produce in bulk and the labour cost is higher in Malaysia compared with neighbouring countries such as Vietnam and Indonesia.”

As for the future, their dream is to build their business into something that will appeal to an even wider market than what they have now, and their first port of call is to introduce their first unisex collection in conjunction with their third anniversary in December.

“The unisex collection has always been our dream where we believe people should not be restricted to specific gender images,” the sisters said. “With this collection, one design will suit all genders.”

Check out Yoke & Theam on their official website or Facebook page.

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Feature Image Credit: Yoke & Theam

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