She inspires me on so many level and in her recent TEDxAthens talk, Mary explores the dichotomy between thinking and doing and what this means in the creative industry. Here are some excepts which hit the chord with me. I hope her talk inspires you as much as she inspired me.

Theme: ‘The Ones Who Do’

“What is the opposite of doing, it is people who think. And I think the world is divided to people who think, and people who do.”

“..there was a time when something shifted. I want to see if I was good enough to be creative and that’s something I want to pursue.”

“You’ll never know you’re good enough, Mary, if you don’t go out and try. And you’ll never know the distance you need to travel to find your glass ceiling, even break that ceiling if you never give a 100%.

“I then on set benchmarks from that point on and gather affirmation that I needed or stamp of approval that would allow me to take my work to the next level – and the next level.”

“I was like a lot of people, I did a lot of thinking but not a lot of trying, and a lot of thinking but not enough doing and I decided to make a change..”

“I applied to Rhode (Island School of Design) because of the notion that it is difficult to get it to do design. So it was a little bit about myself and to prove to myself that I am of that caliber.”

“I was ready to be a doer, I was not in the frozen state, abstract perfectionist and I wanted to try myself (by apply to Central St. Martins). I felt I had a lot to prove.”

“I hit the brick wall – I didn’t have the technical ability to materialize all the ideas I had in my mind and I had to self-teach myself – it was all about screen-printing and digital printing was such a taboo.”

“In my mind, I was challenging myself to define me as a designer..(on decided her final project would be a fashion collection for her BA as she was familiar with interior design)”

“For the first time, I allow myself to dream that I could get it (to Central St Martins) and I decided to go there because it would be a challenge that I need to prove myself that I pursued fashion, I could do it in such a competitive industry.

“She such a harsh critique so I felt she can really channel my creativity and she can really filter through and I can know for the first time if I’m good enough.

“I devour every fashion magazine I can find in front of me because it was important for me to catch up to two centuries of fashion I knew nothing about because here I was being with people who knew they wanted to be a designer since the age of 10 who has fashion degree under their belt. That information allowed me to train my eye, to have a bit more strength in my conviction and it allowed me to morph my aesthetic as well because I feel an aesthetic is an elusive term and it does get more from the environment you’re in.

“I had all this training being brought up in Greece and my analytical thinking and I could look up my work and imagine what that could do. But I never had that educational system before, that gives you no real guide, but also no real barrier, so you can be as creative as that.

“I felt another shift, I had become prolific – and it had nothing to do with having anymore that train of thought that I needed a perfectly executed plan because that will never be applicable in design. I was churning out all these work and wanted to show my tutors to see if they felt there’s a spark that could be remarkable. And I saw myself for the first time questioning, “Why not me? I am here”, doing all this and putting myself against the closest place into being in the industry. “Why not me? Why can’t I start my own business? Why can’t I become a fashion designer?”.

“I became obsess, which became my third benchmark which was getting into the MA show.”

“Mary, this is the worst time to open your own business – the recession, it is really dangerous to do that. But I knew I didn’t have the flexibility to think about it anymore and that was the time I had to go into it really naively and I did. And then reality kinda hit, I was really getting into this – and I became everything, my own accountant, sales manager, production manager. I was working 20 hours and I still do. When system failure is down – my hard-drive was a 100% Greek. My thinking, the way I was morphed was 100% Greek.”

“You need to do, and after you do, you allow the thought process to help you evolve as a designer and I think it’s really beautiful about that, that I opened myself to the unexpected. And there’s something beautiful of putting your work out there in the world because it creates a dialogue. You can be morphed by the perception others have of you. And what’s even more beautiful, people want to join you in that journey, people want to help you do.”

“I find it is okay to be insecure, it’s okay to be fearful because you’re using that as a drive to create something new and you need to have that fear in order to push yourself and the boundary of fashion and remain relevant.”

“Of course she doesn’t believe in herself. She’s a creative and being a creative – and being a creative means to be able to be inquisitive, and doubt yourself and doubt everything around you, because what you’re creating is going to shape function, aesthetic, and you need to be doubtful of that because it’s not safe.”

“The greater the artist, the greater the doubt. Perfect confidence is given to the who is less talented as a consolation prize.”

“Just do.”

Artisan, Behind the Scenes, How Shoes are Made, In a Day

Behind the Scenes: Spring Summer 2013


I’d like to share some behind the scenes photos from the shoe factory where I work on the samples and production. I spend many hours here and it’s my favourite place to be. For the coming collection, I worked on a new double-padding insole for extra comfort, improved the cutting and shape of some earlier shoe models, updated the color for the coming season and hand picked some of the finest quality leathers available. Of course I did not manage this alone – there were the manager’s assistant, the pattern-cutter, the sewing guy, the uncle who closed the shoes (lasting), the cleaner and the boxer. 




















Artisan, Artist We Love, Collaboration

Pioneering Malaysian artist Sivam Selvaratnam, Nelissa Hilman collaborate on shoes

“The power of color stimulates aesthetic responses by establishing spaces and tension, gives rise to illusion of movement and evokes moods and emotions.”

We had the opportunity to attend the opening of ‘Rapt in Maya’ art exhibition by Malaysian veteran artist Sivam Selvaratnam on August 24th 2012 which was launched by the former University Malaya vice-chancellor Royal Professor Ungku Aziz Ungku Abdul Hamid. The one-month art exhibition showcased an eclectic breadth of artworks by Sivam Selvaratnam since 1960 to mark her 50th wedding anniversary as well as to reflect her remarkable achievements as an artist spanning half a decade.

I was very fortunate to collaborate closely with such amazing artist like Mrs Selvaratnam on creating wearable piece inspired by her drawings.

In Mrs. Selvaratnam home studio, filled with hundreds of vivid abstracts both large and small, depict immense and impersonal forms in a riot of colors.

Chromatic Abstraction, Acrylic on Canvas, 2010

Sivam Selvaratnam peep toe wedge inspired by her canvas painting

Through innovative use of color, the numerous studies and drawings which Sivam sketched between 1965–1969 contributed significantly to her chromatic paintings in later years. Her vibrant use of colors, form and lines were in part influenced by Kandinsky, Matisse and Pollock.

Textile, 1969

Heels inspired by her textile design

Sivam is a very loving person and has inspired me to pick up my paint brush again and start creating.

About Sivam Selvaratnam

Sivam is a pioneer of the Wednesday Art Group founded in 1952. She studied textile design with fine art based at the Manchester College of Art and Design and obtained her Masters in Art and Design Education at the University of London. Throughout her career, Sivam has been associated with art education. In 1979, she was appointed the Head of the Art Elective Programme at the National Junior College, Singapore. Her early works were based on nature studies – sources of inspiration for her initial textile designs. Sivam’s later body of artworks was inspired by raga and centered around sound and movement in color and composition. She has continued to paint abstract forms in mixed media and energized yantra – divine geometric elements juxtaposed with music.

For more information, follow Sivam Selvaratnam on her website.

Artisan, Inspiration, Quote

The story is always there, you just have to look for it

I knew very little about Salvatore Ferragamo (the shoemaker) apart from it being a brand as it is today.

Ferragamo’s story itself reads like a fairytale. He was born in 1898 into a poor family in Naples, Italy, number 11 of 14 children. When he was just nine, he made his first pair of white shoes for his sister’s communion, and knew that we wanted to make shoes for a living.

At the age of 13, he was in charge of a shop with six workers. But, four of his brothers were already in America, and Salvatore headed for Boston where one of his brothers worked in a shoe factory.

But the factory’s production line did not suit his belief that every individual pair of shoes should be studied and researched, and he convinced his brothers to move to California. First, Santa Barbara, then Hollywood where they established a shop for repairs and made-to-measure shoes which soon became famous.

And so he began to design footwear for the cinema.

His life in Hollywood during the years fell into three sections: his hand-made shoes, his flirtation with machine-made shoes and his experiences with the people for whom he worked for.

By 1939, Ferragamo had moved back from California to Florence where despite the troubled times, he managed to own the Piazza Spini-Feroni building, the spectacularly frescoed medieval house which is still the home to Ferragamo today.

This is the first time I was captivated by the story behind the product. In a visit to a perfume shop in Siena, the owner shared similar history in which he described the origin of the bespoke perfume and the company. Pointing to the print on the box, he said, “The story is always there, you just have to look for it.” And he was right. From perfumes to Florence and now to shoes, there is always a person and his or her ideas behind the products that we buy.

Thinking about 13 year old Ferragamo pounding out shoes in Hollywood, I started to wonder about the lives of the other founder of companies whose names we treat as brands rather than as titles corresponding to people. Coco Chanel and Cristobal Balenciaga were children once too. What were they like?

Did they sketch in the margins of their textbooks?

The least important part of his biography is the life-story of an Italian shoemaker. Therefore his biography is mostly about feet.

“We can all write the stories of our lives, and it I go into the details of my career it is only that I may be best able to tell you about the mission to which I was called, the work I could not prevent doing myself.”

“If your feet are good it will teach you how to preserve them. If your feet are bad it will tell you why they are bad and help to save you from further agonies. Your feet look like the shoes you wear, and if the shoes are wrongly designed your feet will be twisted, crushed and pinched. Yet it is no necessary – not even for the sake of vanity – so to torture yourself.

That has been his life’s work – striving to learn to make shoes that always fit and the refusal to put his name to any that do not fit.

“I shall go on forever. I have only just begun to work. I am still perfecting myself for the work I have to do in the future, the work to which I have been called. I have a plenty of time. I know I am going to do it. If it is not done with this body it will be done in another. We are all flowing with the eternal tide, and of the eternal tide only is there no end.”

Artisan, Behind the Scenes, How Shoes are Made

Artisan Technique: Closing

This is a follow up of my previous series on Artisan Technique: Pattern-cutting.

The stitching of the upper is important — the seam must always run accuratly and evenly. Any irregularity would destroy the harmony of a superb piece of footwear.

Once this is done, the next phase is for the shoe to take shape — this process is called lasting.

Here are some photos I took documenting the lasting process.

I had to endure many cuts and bruises on my fingers while completing this, but I loved every minute of it! :-)

Artisan, Behind the Scenes, How Shoes are Made

How Leather Soles are Made

The story of leather is as old as humanity itself. As early as Stone age, humans discovered various uses of leather and tried to find ways of making it flexible, hard-wearing and durable.

The craft of tanning has always been closely associated with shoemaking. The earliest evidence we have about the trade comes from the Egyptian wall paintings. In Egypt, as in ancient Greece and Rome, the most common preservation technique were vegetable tanning. Expansive leather was tanned with alum (a mineral salt).

Whether vegetable or mineral tanning, the essential feature of the main tanning procedures have not changed to the present day. Just like the art of shoemaking, the craft of the modern tanner has a history and tradition going back thousands of years.

In this post, I would like to share with you how leather soles are made. It was my first experience in a tannery (factory processing leather) and the raw cow skins presented a curious sight as I was not used to it.

Note: Reader discretion is advised when viewing photos.
Artisan, How Shoes are Made

Artisan Technique: Pattern-cutting

Making a pair of shoes consists of more than 200 individual operations. But before one can do anything, the leather must be cut.

Before shoemaking became industrialized, a shoemaker would cut out every single piece of the shoe himself.

‘Clicking’ is the traditional name for the process of hand cutting all of the pattern pieces and it originated from the sound of the knives cutting around brass-bound patterns.

When cutting leather, the direction of stretch of a piece of leather is important — otherwise it may stretch sideways after being worn for a while and destroy the shoe’s rigidity and space.

The uppers of shoes are usually lined to make the shoes much more comfortable to wear – also enables skin of the wearer’s feet to breathe naturally. The upper parts may be made of soft, though durable leather, but when the shoes are made they are treated in many ways as the soft leather is given a final, lasting form.

The result is a stack of cut pieces ready to go on to the next operation: closing.

Closing is the process of sewing together the upper part of the shoe. It was all done by hand up until the late 1800s, when the Singer Company designed a sewing machine that could sew through leather.

And thus, the birth of modern shoemaking.