Meet Marre Muijs, Founder of ESSĒN

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Tell us about your brand. What inspired the idea and what is your vision for the future? 

One of the biggest problems in the fashion industry is overconsumption. With ESSEN, I encourage people to buy less and choose better. I aspire to simplify women’s wardrobes, by helping them consider what they really need. That’s where the name comes from – the essentials.

ESSEN is a permanent collection of no-compromise pieces – timeless classics that are reimagined in new ways and made to last. With a permanent collection not focused on traditional fashion seasons, I can take all the time I need and there’s no limit to the resources I can invest in my designs. So I take it slow, developing, testing and then releasing one key piece at a time. 

My intention is for my shoes to retain their value and for customers to have a long-term relationship with them. My definition of progress is reduced wardrobes, built on those fundamental wardrobe staples that will stand the test of time.

As a designer, it’s important to not only consider the longevity of the product and the materials that you use, but in order to make a business truly sustainable, the design process should also relate to creating better systems and thinking about each part of the supply chain in a holistic way. 

One of the things that makes ESSEN different from other footwear brands is that we produce in very small batches, or entirely on-demand. I only work with high-quality materials from low-minimum suppliers. All styles are handmade in Italy, Portugal and Spain in solar-powered factories by expert artisans who have been making shoes for generations. 

Producing on-demand enables us to accurately calculate demand as we only produce what we’ve already sold. This way, we can make smarter use of resources, and minimise waste and overproduction.

What’s the most challenging part and how do you tackle that?

Striving for sustainability and making responsible choices in a traditional industry is an ongoing challenge, but it’s so important to drive change. 

It took a long time to change the mindset of my current manufacturing partners to not expect bulk orders upfront, but instead produce in small quantities or entirely made-to-order. For every partner I work with now, at least ten said no! But in order for change to happen, we have to take on the challenge and there are so many benefits to on-demand manufacturing. I truly believe it’s the future. 

What’s the most valuable advice you’ve received in building a sustainable business?

Solve something meaningful. Starting a company is hard – it’s never static and is a constant grind, so you really have to enjoy what you’re doing and work on something that means a lot to you. 

Don’t be too hard on yourself or too impatient. It’s a work in progress every single day. Surround yourself with people that inspire you; the more you give, the more you get back. When you’re flexible, patient and open to opportunities, amazing things will happen. 

Which sustainable brands do you admire and why?

Stella McCartney for Mother of Pearl and Kimai to name a few. 

In a world of fast fashion and overconsumption, what message would you like to put across about sustainability and its importance?

Only buy it if you really love it. I think the last year has made us realise that we don’t “need” much to be happy. With ESSEN I hope to inspire people be more thoughtful and considerate in their purchases and buy less, but better. 

How do you personally overcome the sometimes overwhelming feeling of striving for sustainable practices in an unsustainable system?

For a long time I felt quite conflicted about the contradiction between being a part of the current fashion industry, producing for consumption, and the concept of sustainability. But people do need shoes, so I’m committed to making better choices every day across the business to minimise our social and environmental impact and becoming the most responsible version of ourselves. Once I realised that, and the fact that it’s an ongoing journey, it become a lot less overwhelming. 

There’s no wrong way to start, every small action makes a difference.

Any advice to share for someone looking to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle? 

I’m always experimenting with new ways to live more sustainably; searching for what’s simple and accessible, but that will make an impact, and then make an everyday thing of it. It can be as simple as using reusable water bottles and coffee cups, and carrying a foldable tote bag with you. Growing your own herbs is also an enjoyable way to minimise packaging waste.