Entrepreneurs Samia and Azmay are sisters with popular acclaim. Renowned for providing unmatchable quality, exceptional attention to detail and keeping up with global trends, the namesake shoe brand Samia & Azmay Shahzada have contributed to the Pakistani shoe industry in a big way.
The duo has been designing shoes for the last 15 years and have been in retail for the 12, having been among the first in the country to adorn their creations with brooches and Swarovski crystal mesh. Equipped with a diversity of European courses and training in shoe design from countries such as Italy and Switzerland, Samia and Azmay use only Italian leather and work closely with specialist leather technicians armed with decades of experience at their own manufacturing facility.
When did you first realise you wanted to become a shoe designer? What attracted you to footwear specifically?
Samia & Azmay Shahzada: 1998. We saw a gap in the market for high end, well made leather shoes for women, designed with a close attention to detail and aesthetics that catered to a younger sensibility. That, and the fact that we had access to some great leather tanneries right here in Pakistan became the inspiration for this business. We have both always been really interested in shoes! They are the most important but, often overlooked, accessory that makes or breaks an outfit. Also leather is a material that really inspires us. The colours, textures and sheer breath of this medium make the whole process very interesting for us.
Tell us about your journey. What challenges have you faced?
S&A: The journey has been tough but also immensely gratifying. To see something you have been passionate about and poured in all your effort and hard work into, expand and flourish is really the most wonderful thing!
The designs were always well received – from day one! What we then needed to work on was production, marketing and retail presence – all of which happened at a time when none of the three were developed in Pakistan. Retail was in its infancy with no malls or high-end boutiques and online did not exist. So we did exhibitions till the point where the new mall Park Towers happened and we stocked at the store Labels, which became a multi brand store stocking different designers (all of whom were just starting out).
From Labels in Park Towers we went on to open our very first stand-alone retail outlet at The Forum Mall. We were one of only two stores there at the time! This was followed by a store situated on the upcoming Zamzama neighbourhood, followed by a store in Lahore. Then came the Beverly Center store in Islamabad, followed by a huge stand-alone store in Park Towers and one at The Dolmen Mall Tariq Road. The retail environment was changing rapidly and new mega malls were replacing old ones. We found ourselves being the first ones when The Ocean Mall and The Dolmen Mall Clifton opened.
Along the way we introduced new product lines such as shoes for little girls, babies and toddlers, which became hugely popular, as once again we were the first ones in the market to offer a designer product catering to children’s footwear, made in Pakistan. Then came the online revolution with smart phones and laptops becoming the new sale and marketing mediums. We made the shift from over priced mega malls to stand alone retail boutiques with a specialised and exclusive buying experience for our customers. Our online presence through our exclusive website www.samia-azmay.com gained traction as we now see more and more people shopping online. Design and quality remain the cornerstones of our business with more and more attention being given to materials used in order to enhance the appeal to our finicky customers. We are now a local business competing in a global marketplace! The shoes are painstakingly designed by us with a tremendous amount of discussion and detail given to the aesthetics of every collection. This remains are true edge and something we enjoy doing as much today as we did in 1998.
What do you feel you bring to shoe design that sets you apart from your contemporaries?
S&A: A lot of thought, lengthy discussions and serious man hours are spent on our design process. We take painstaking care to ensure that the materials we use match the design in question. Our work is very specialised so the learning curve matters tremendously.
The brand has incredible depth. We are making flats, short heels (in many styles), high heels (again in many styles), wedges, pumps and shoes for little girls, babies and toddlers. We also make customised shoes for clients based on their colour and heel preferences. We are perhaps one of the only ones designing and manufacturing shoes in Pakistan. Almost everyone is getting shoes now made in China with mass-market designs popularised on the Internet. So we stand apart in that respect.
What’s your style philosophy?
S&A: Our style philosophy is modern, on trend footwear.
Do you have someone specific in mind when designing your collections or a particular shoe?
S&A: We look to popular culture for inspiration and are inspired most closely by the leather we have that season and we ourselves wear the most in our daily routines.
Many people have passion projects but they lose steam after a certain point.
What has been the biggest factor motivating you to keep going with this venture?
S&A: It’s definitely the love for design and the creative process. It’s the best part of the business!
What has been the most surprising thing about entrepreneurship in this field?
S&A: The most surprising thing is the warmth and the reception of our product from our customers! We’ve had loyal clients buying from us since 1998 and they are so encouraging and proud of the products they have seen growing in front of them.
What inspired the current collection –The Wedges?
S&A: The wedge is a great canvas for showcasing a particular leather or print. We loved working with them because we could show so much of the fantastic material being used to make the shoe. Additionally, they are so great for garden parties! Comfortable and chic, they give height with ease and you never have to worry about sinking in the garden or twisting your foot. The wedge is the new go-to shoe for any event in which you foresee standing for hours.
What do you think makes a good shoe?
S&A: Design, material, style and fit.
How has your work evolved over the years?
S&A: Work has become busier and more intense.
Of all the shoes that you’ve designed, which has given you the most satisfaction?
S&A: The shoes for little girls, which we love designing and the joy of seeing our children wearing them!
What’s next for Samia & Azmay?
S&A: A stronger online presence and international markets!
One celebrity you would like to see in one of your designs?
S&A: Mahira Khan.
If you could choose anybody, who would you collaborate with?
S&A: Our field is very specialised so collaborations don’t really work for us.
Who are your favourite footwear designers?
S&A: For comfort and innovation we love Todd’s internationally, especially for the sole they have pioneered. We love Louboutin’s flair and drama as well.
Describe yourselves in three words?
S&A: Creative, passionate, meticulous.
What is one thing on your bucket list?
S&A: For our Pakistani brand to have a huge, prominent international retail location.
Who is your favourite super hero?
S&A: Wonder Woman.
Who do you admire the most?
S&A: Michelle Obama.
S&A: There is no place like home.
TEXT: MEHR KASSIM
PHOTOGRAPHs: courtesy Samia & Azmay