Mashizan Masjum spent 18 years crisscrossing the world producing and directing documentaries for international networks like National Geographic, Discovery and History, but deep down he knew there was another way to tell a story. “I’ve been fascinated with women’s footwear designs for a very long time. For me, they are like pieces of art, sculpted to perfection and adorned with ornamentation that reveal such exquisite beauty,” he said.
In 2013, when an opportunity to take a sabbatical from television arose, Masjum turned to Florence and the city’s footwear maestros. He spent a summer training with a teacher known for being meticulous in his techniques and had guidance in design from a former head of design at the House of Ferragamo. What began as a passion evolved into a business venture, and two years later, Masjum launched Mashizan, a line of women’s dress footwear made in Italy and adorned with lavish Swarovski crystals and iridescent leather.
“I was instilled with Italian sensibilities when it came to footwear making and design,” he said. “In my opinion, the stitching of the uppers are unparalleled in the Florentine region. The ladies who stitch our shoes are God-sent. Their keen eyes and attention to detail set our quality apart. The lasting process done by the Italians are also elaborate and laborious. But the result is durability,” he explained, noting that the region’s footwear rarely falls apart.
Masjum believes consumers share his passion for Italian-made footwear. “These days, there is a lot of competition from other production and sourcing markets elsewhere that can produce at a fraction of the cost, but all one needs to do is pick up a pair of Made in Italy shoes, and instantly, one can tell the difference in quality,” he said.
He added, “We don’t necessarily have to pigeon hole ourselves as an American brand, or an Italian one—or even an Asian one. We are now so exposed to global trends in fashion, in art, in design that we can be anywhere in the world designing shoes and accessories, and work with select Italian manufacturers whom we trust to deliver the best quality at the most competitive prices.”
Mashizan launched in April with a debut collection consisting of curvy wedge heels and stiletto pumps embellished with glittery kid suede, textured pony hair, patent leather and Munsteiner gemstones, which dangle from inside cutout heels like chandeliers.
Masjum likens shoe design to the art world: “A designer needs to know that ultimately, their artworks need to sell, and he or she needs to be aware of what the consumer wants and needs.” In this regard, he says research—from speaking to customers, retailers and showroom representatives to listening to feedback from editors and stylists—is critical. Fashion, Masjum says, is a living, breathing thing that feeds on trends and is always evolving. “Engagement with various parties and the ability to listen and adapt are important in order to generate brand awareness that will then hopefully lead to sales,” he explained.
Smart retailers understand the worth of cultivating and nurturing new designers, Masjum says, because it means their consumers will be exposed to unique design perspectives that will then translate to trends. “That’s the exciting thing about fashion and style. There are no hard and fast rules about what you need to wear or what labels you must own… You can mix and match between established brand names and an emerging, lesser-known one. That will give you an edge over others who dress head-to-toe in designer togs,” he explained.
But are retailers willing to get on board? Masjum points out that many retailers prefer to “play it safe” with major labels and brands that consumers are willing to pay top dollar for, however, the designer says they are missing an opportunity to speak to an entirely new audience. “Those who are brazen and bold will be more willing to try new designers and naturally, they will stay ahead of the pack,” he said, adding, “There is a market out there where the sophisticated buyers want to go beyond what’s familiar.”
Vamp caught up with Masjum to learn more about his design process and how his experience in storytelling for television translates to footwear.