WATCHING how her mother – a beautician and entrepreneur – went through a lot when it came to building her own business empire, Maggie Tan remembers seeing how her mother dealt with clients, taught the staff, and more often than not, got her hands dirty during the course of her work.
“I think I picked up all these entrepreneurial and multi-tasking traits from her subtly, that’s probably the reason why people say ‘like mother, like daughter’,” she says. Tan also started her own business as a shoe painter, and is a pioneer in shoe-based workshops in Malaysia.
Where did your passion start?
“I did a Bachelor of Business (Hons) International Business & Marketing degree back at a local private university. To be frank, I wanted to take up a design degree, but my mum refused to let me do it. She said a business degree will be more practical, and well, I’ve got to agree with her on that point.
“Now that I’m operating an art business, it makes the business education worth the dollars spent. On the other hand, for my art education, I do my best to pick up skills along the way, [whether] self-taught, or by attending some workshops, online tutorials, learning skills from selected artists and so on.”
How did you jump from something more corporate to the field of art?
“It wasn’t easy transitioning, I’ll be honest. When you are so used to getting a fixed salary and then you need to figure out how to get your income every month by painting shoes and conducting art workshops, you literally won’t know where to start from. I learned a lot by [figuratively] throwing myself into the ‘sea’ to swim and survive.
“Lots of mistakes were made, but they were all crucial learning curves for me. Also, when I was an employee, I listened to instructions most of the time, and if anything bad happened, I could at least find fault with the management. But when it comes to me owning the business, every responsibility will be on me. If anything fails, I am to be blamed. So most of the time, I have to calculate the risks before really deciding on a course of action.”
How did MTMT Designs and MTMT Studios come to be?
“MTMT Designs was derived from the initials of my full name, and it developed in the year 2010 under the encouragement of friends and family. What initially started off as a gift-giving gesture for a friend’s birthday, became a demand for customised designer shoes.
“To date, the brand aims to provide shoe customisation services at a reasonable rate with quality and character that caters to individuals who seek for uniqueness and individuality. There is a growing demand for people who seek customisation services and want to be different from everyone else.
“Meanwhile, MTMT Studios focuses more on art education. I want to let the general public know that art has no boundaries. I often hear people say: ‘Art is not my cup of tea’ when all they have attempted in their life was some art project at school where they were forced into it.”
Most of the designs on your shoes are based on pop culture?
“Yes, pop culture and commercial art is the main [request] I get from my international customer base these days. It’s what brings money to the bank. Of course ... I am more of a realistic and uncommon art person myself.
“Whenever I have free time I will try to create my own [artworks], the most recent designs which I exhibited at the National Art Gallery and Art Expo last year were on heels, where I made the shoes into cake form, and many thought they were edible art, when in reality they belong to wearable art instead.
“I am also venturing into painting pet portraits these days, where I’ve recently painted my own pets on my own shoes as an example.”
You’re even a ballet instructor?
“Yes! This is part of my regime to maintain a healthy lifestyle from a dancer’s perspective, aside from hitting the gym. I would like to clarify that I’m not a ballet instructor, but rather a ballet fitness instructor. I am teaching at Barre-d, a fitness studio located at Bukit Damansara which focuses on barre and ballet fitness workouts to its members. It’s the first studio in Malaysia that introduces ballet fitness to the masses.
“Having more control over time with my current employment allows me to explore more creative areas, and it keeps my creative juices flowing.”