Local footwear brand Shoes by NF takes first steps towards big dreams

Quitting her job as a social media specialist was the best decision local shoe designer Nabilah Fadzillah ever made.

The 27-year-old went on to follow her ambition and passion to realise mere ideas on paper into a pair of shoes.

In 2021, the fashionpreneur turned that dream into a profit when she launched her namesake footwear label, “Shoes by NF” and debuted her first ‘LELA’ collection of timeless statement flat sandals.

One step at a time

Image courtesy of Shoes by NF

For Nabilah, her love affair with footwear began with a pair of classic Jimmy Choo.

As a budding shoe designer, Nabilah said she has long admired the iconic Malaysian designer’s craftsmanship for his demure elegant and sophisticated designs, which inspired her to take a big step into designing her own.

In 2020, Nabilah joined the Choo Sketch competition where participants compete to design a pair of shoes for the Choo Sketch Capsule Collection

“Although I didn’t make it to the top five, what made me feel content about joining the competition was the acknowledgment I received from Sandra Choi, the Creative Director of Jimmy Choo herself,” said Nabilah.

Before entering the shoe business, Nabilah was just a business graduate without a stitch of experience in designing footwear.

“For six years, I studied in the business field –National Diploma in Business & Finance at International Graduate Studies (IGS) College to Bachelor’s Degree Graduate of Marketing Management at Asia Pacific University of Technology & Innovation (APU), Bukit Jalil in Malaysia,” she added.

One of the many challenges fresh graduates face is finding a job and for Nabilah the constant pressure to search for a financially stable job made her question her career path. That was when the 27-year-old decided to venture onto the creative path of making her own footwear.

Image courtesy of Shoes by NF

In March 2018, the business graduate took her biggest step towards achieving her dreams and pursued a Footwear Masterclass course at I Can Make Shoes (ICMS) Ltd in Bethnal Green, London.

After finishing her course, she developed the technical and artistic design skills to bring her visions to life.

“Being certified in this specialism taught me to understand the elements within different shoes to full insights of what information is needed to be considered when communicating with shoe manufacturers,” she added.

A Footwear Masterclass course later, the 27-year-old not only is the first Bruneian to be certified as a shoemaker but also established the first homegrown shoe label.

Her first collection, LELA was launched in early November this year, after months of testing and perfecting the balance of comfort and elegance, resulting in a timeless collection of beautiful statement flats.

“It took me about 5 – 6 months to complete everything, including packaging designs, productions to planning the overall marketing of the first brand and product launch,” she said.

“The choice for me to design flat sandals came when one of my friends started complaining how daunting it is to find comfortable sandals and shoes yet looks stylish and affordable,” said the entrepreneur.

For Nabilah, the basis of the ‘LELA’ collection was also rooted in something even more personal and was inspired by her own journey.

“The theme behind ‘LELA’ flat-sandals was because of the resignation from my last job. It was meant as my freedom to begin a new journey thus I question what makes me happy and I thought about spring season,” she explained.

Her statement flat-sandals consists of two colours: Sunny Tan and Pearl White influenced by the colours of Spring. Which to her is the season of new beginnings.

When asked why the collection was named ‘LELA’, she said that the name just sounded “very soft and joyful” to the young designer.

When the young designer posted her feminine chic and minimalist designs on social media and began receiving positive feedback and orders online.

Being constantly creative can be a challenge and all designers have their specific methods and habits to keep their creative juices going. For the shoe designer, however, the biggest challenge that she faced was constantly changing her design.

“There are a number of options to choose from all the designs I created. This made me indecisive in my final choice every time. I had to overcome it by asking myself, “What would be my customers’ first thoughts of the overall look and feel before & after purchasing it?” and undoubtedly enough, it works,” she explained.

The 27-year-old aims to continue designing affordable shoes with an exclusive look.

Looking ahead, Nabilah said that she envisions her brand to progress towards diversifying into different shoe segments for different target markets, for example, bridal shoes.

Furthermore, aspiring to establish herself in the shoe industry, Nabilah looks forward to the challenges that come ahead, with a desire to grow her shoe label both locally and internationally.

For her, Shoes by NF is consistently looking and researching for new ideas to expand the business.

“I’m beyond excited to launch the ‘NF’ website coming soon in 2022. It will be faster and easier to use for all customers to make their next future purchases,” she said.

With Shoes by NF as her full-time job, the local designer hopes to open the first shoemaking school and footwear design courses, she concluded.

Image courtesy of Shoes by NF

This article was first published on 18 December 2021 in our Weekly E-Paper issue 172 |


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