Wearing a little happiness on your feet

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Colours on canvas... how a passion for art can become a viable business venture. Colours on canvas... how a passion for art can become a viable business venture. Colours on canvas… how a passion for art can become a viable business venture.

By T.K. Tamby

It took 20 years for Wendy Chen to return to her first love – art. Then three months ago, the 48-year-old political journalist turned art teacher, who painted on anything she could lay her hands on, had a eureka moment when she stumbled upon a medium that now provides her art a commercial niche.

In September this year, Wendy (pic) happened to glance at an ordinary pair of white canvas school shoes and thought some colour could make it less drab. Before the thought could dissipate, she got hold of a pair of plain white canvas shoe and started painting on it popular computer animated characters, the Minions. Her first experiment became a gift to her husband Victor, who wears it almost every single day.

While transforming plain white canvas shoes into more attractive footwear, Wendy found a unique medium to showcase her talent. “I just started painting on shoes for the sake of art and never gave serious thought to going commercial until some of my husband’s customers became very excited when they saw the shoes in his shop and decided that they wanted some, too.”

As a result, in just two months, she sold about 30 pairs to customers who had walked into Victor’s frozen seafood shop, Fishy Fishy, and her shoes have found their way to France, Thailand, Australia and the Philippines. The unexpected response pushed Wendy to seriously consider the commercial viability of her hand painted shoes.

Wendy, who excelled in art at school, graduated with a diploma in graphic design. However, art became a mere hobby when she decided to pursue journalism. She became a political reporter with a local Chinese daily, Nanyang Siang Pau, covering two prime ministers, Tun Mahathir Mohammad and Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. In 2007, she’d had enough of politics and decided to seriously pursue a career in art.

“Art and craft have always been part of me even during my days as a journalist but had never taken centre stage until I decided to quit journalism.” Wendy then become an art and craft teacher, teaching both children and adults. Currently, she is an art consultant for a kindergarten group, where she trains the art teachers as well as designs its art syllabus.

After a few pieces depicting the Minions, Wendy decided to focus on original designs, drawing inspiration from her own life experiences. She has so far created three design series.

The first series was based on her beloved pet Kat Kat, a beautiful white cat that died from cancer five years ago. “She left us with so many beautiful memories. In honour of her, I wanted to inject an element of playfulness in my artwork with the hope that it will lift the spirit of the person who wears the shoes.”

A devout Christian, Wendy decided to draw inspiration from her beliefs for the second series. According to her, this design series serves as a reminder that God is with us in every step we take. A tribute to feet and fashion, her third series is called the pedicure series, which has pretty paintings of adorned feet. “These are fun and playful designs.”

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Wendy‘s shoes, which are hand painted with fabric paint and embellished with crystal studs, are priced from RM80 to RM140. “Each pair has two different designs and I can paint only three pairs a day, which translates into six designs.

“The mix and match designs on each pair are meant to give these shoes an added fun element because I want people to feel happy when they look at their feet.”

To make these shoes more affordable, Wendy and Victor are on the lookout for a shoe manufacturer who is able to print her designs for bulk production. Bulk production will also give her designs a wider reach, Wendy feels.

“However, we are not looking for just any manufacturer but someone who appreciates originality and who is willing to invest in my concept and designs.”

Nevertheless, Wendy assures that going bulk will not put a stop to her turning out hand painted shoes.

The enterprising couple is considering two types of products for two market segments: machine printed shoes would be cheaper and appeal to a wider market; while hand painted products are costlier, catering for customers who are drawn to hand painted shoes and are willing to fork out more.

Wendy can be reached at telephone number +603-78464974.

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