“The situation for local labels in the country is quite challenging. The market is so small that it is like a filter; there is only room for people that really love this occupation. Thankfully, we still manage to find ways to survive until now. We didn’t know how hard it was going to be to run a company, but once we started, invested time and effort, we just had to keep going – there is no escaping for us.”
The Abcense team – Yoyo Pan and Jhuosan Wang – serendipitously met in 2008 while working for a design studio called DEM. Having only recently let go of her previous fashion label back then, Yoyo found the budding friendship with Jhuosan and his mega love for footwear product design to be the natural spur to the story of their collaborative venture. Although they have been hand in hand for several years now, they confess that their initial objectives were not very similar. Curious as to how the market will react, he wanted to test the waters and make a line of products so different they’ll shake things up. And well, as for her, she just really wanted to make shoes that she reckons would match her outfits.
Tell us a little about a usual day in the Abcense HQ – frantic or easy going?
Yoyo: It’s very easy going and leisurely. I come here in the morning usually and he comes at night. For the most part, we are only in the office for 2 hours a day. So I reply to emails and do shoe sketches for 30 minutes to 2 hours. I play with our cat as well because he needs the exercise. Oh yeah, and I have to contact the factory! It’s the part I don’t really wanna do but yeah I have to.
Jhuosan: Aside from designing, I am the one in charge of the research and to come up with plans for promotions marketing. We are out of the office a lot because we also do freelance design work for other companies.
Yoyo: Also, he is the one that cleans the studio! [Laughs]
What are the immediate benefits and unique drawbacks you face running a label with a partner?
Yoyo: One of the benefits I could definitely say is that having each other makes it easier for us to compensate for the other person’s weak points. For example I’m more ‘romantic’ and I don’t care about money. I just want to make the production as good as I can make it to be while he is the one who is more rational. As for a kind of a slight drawback, sometimes there is the difference in how we work. We have different methods and different ways to process things. Basically I like to do things quick and he does things a lot slower because he thinks of it in different angles and I’m there going ‘Come on, come on! Can we make a decision now?’ But I know he is just considering things more thoroughly.
What makes your shoes relevant to the attitudes of modern women?
Yoyo: I didn’t really think or brainstorm about the woman I want to cater or sell to… So I just really started designing shoes with my own wants and taste in mind. And maybe my friends’ too. So I’m glad but actually surprised that these other women relate to this simple reason. I see that even if they are a very different kind of woman compared to me, some sexier or maybe cuter than me, when they wear our shoes it completely takes on a different look. So I think it is the versatility that people like.
Have you made a pair of shoes that you wouldn’t actually wear? If so, why?
Yoyo: In the early sampling stage there were definitely quite a few that I wouldn’t wear. But that’s the thing, when I feel like I wouldn’t ever wear such a design, we drop it. But the shoes in our catalog, I would wear every single one of them!
What do you think shapes expressions of fashion into something above and beyond the plain idea of just putting things on?
Jhuosan: It’s a form of self-expression. For me, when I see great shoes, they begin a sort of communication. It helps you voice what kind of a person you are. This is why we makes shoes that are unique, to provide another distinctive way to express. By utilising our products, our clients can present themselves to the world in fresh new ways.
As the creators behind Abcense footwear, is there a particular response you’ve ever gotten that is truly and overwhelmingly gratifying?
Yoyo: I met Jimmy Choo in London Fashion Week and he liked what I do (so much) that he invited me to a dinner and introduced me to distributors. Basically he was helping me to break into the London market which was amazing because I was actually having a hard time doing so. I remember asking him if there is anything I should change to make the shoes better and he said that there was nothing to change! He thought that the style is ‘my’ style and that I better keep it.
Jhuosan: Our company receives aid from the government and they ask industry professionals to give us suggestions for improvement. It feels like the government believes in us, (and believes) that we can do something really great that can elevate Taiwan to a higher level. This is kind of a compliment and we feel like all our efforts are being recognised by them. Also, at the factory here, the shoemakers’ hands are usually dirty when they work and so we asked them to wear gloves when they are dealing with the products. After a while, I noticed that they started treating our shoes like art pieces handling it with such care. It was really sweet that they treat our products with such respect.
What is your prevailing emotion when you see the things you made on someone?
Yoyo: Of course we feel happy to see that people are choosing to wear our shoes but it is not about that. We are more content with the idea that we are capable to provide something for people to utilise and to emphasise different aspects of their personality and personal style. We want them to take our creations and make it their ‘own.’ Actually, that’s why we made it a decision to strategically emboss our logo in a spot in which, after a number of wears, will fade away. It will become our customers’ and not ‘from’ Abcense any longer. The factory people warned us and we said that that was the point – we want it that way.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JULIA KAO