As avid sandal wearers, Richard Tsen and Alfies Lu actually struggled to find open-toed shoes that could fit them well. Most available brands on the market come from European makers catering to larger foot sizes, which can be uncomfortable for Asian feet.
Not to mention, they were pricey and easily susceptible to wear and tear within a short time.
“We treat open-toed footwear with the same respect as sneakers and loafers. Imagine our frustration and horror with how the general male population abuses and disregards slip-ons as part of their footwear collections,” Richard expressed to Vulcan Post.
Thus, with experience in original equipment manufacturing (OEM) for local shoemakers, and Richard’s knowledge as a lecturer in fashion franchising, they launched their own footwear brand, Projet1826.
A market that fits the name
The inception of Projet1826’s name came up over some beer during happy hour between the Sabahan co-founders. It was at exactly 6.26PM when Richard and Alfies had both decided to start their own sandals brand in 2019.
Its name and founding story even suited the brand’s target consumers: after-hours office executives switching out of closed-toed leather shoes into something more comfortable like sandals. “That’s where Projet1826 plays the perfect role to meet these needs,” added Richard.
Additionally, while it’s common to see working class men dress in leather shoes as part of their office attire, this isn’t usually the case for those in the startup environment.
Richard and Alfies believe that the latter group shouldn’t have to rely on formal footwear to prove themselves. Sandals, while comfortable and breathable, are also stylish and just as good; they can be worn as everyday shoes throughout the workday.
Smart casual and comfort are their priority, according to the team. “Slip-ons have become the essential footwear for everyone, and Projet1826 serves just that,” shared Richard.
Sustainability in their source materials
As Projet1826’s sandals are made in part with recycled plastic and rubber, its team is conscious of sustainability in the sandals’ production. For one, the brand collaborates with a private rubber farm in Ipoh, Perak to purchase the farm’s unused remains of rubber milk that are often deemed as waste.
This is because there tends to be excess latex that drips from the cans which are used to collect the milky liquid from rubber trees. Instead of throwing out the leftovers, Projet1826 uses them to make their shoes.
The idea to do so was actually suggested to Richard and Alfies by their own footwear suppliers, who initially struggled to meet the brand’s high demands for rubber milk to produce the sandals’ outsoles. Equipped with the new insight, the co-founders set out to purchase the raw materials directly from local rubber tappers and deliver them to their suppliers.
“A simple yet effective measure which we are very proud of,” affirmed Richard.
The current iteration is supposed to make the sandals’ outsoles more flexible and able to withstand the country’s humidity. The brand also claims it makes them less prone to mold.
Projet1826’s eco-friendliness also extends to its shoe boxes, which are made from 70% recycled paper.
If the shoe fits
To ensure their sandals are a glass slipper fit for most Malaysians’ feet, Projet1826 owns a variety of Asian foot lasts for various foot types from wide feet and wide toes to heavy-heeled and skinny feet types.
Dictionary time: A foot last is a wooden mechanical form shaped like a human foot used by shoemakers to manufacture footwear.
Furthermore, all sandal designs are fitted on live models to test their comfort prior to approval and production. The latter process takes up to 45 days before it’s listed on their website, which is also updated with new designs every month.
Due to the brand’s shortage of skilled craftsmen to make the footwear, however, Projet1826 currently doesn’t take orders for bespoke sandals. In the future, Richard expressed his desire to enter foreign markets. To do so, the team has been working with foreign stockists as well as trade show organisers and councils like the Hong Kong Trade Development Board to promote Projet1826.
Featured Image Credit: Richard Tsen and Alfies Lu, co-founders of Projet1826