Sisters Yoke Sin and Yokie Theam never intended to enter the shoe business, let alone start a company, although they hailed from a family of shoemakers. Yoke Sin studied graphic design and worked in London for many years while Yokie studied business before getting a master’s in fashion and textiles.
But after returning from Melbourne and working in Kuala Lumpur for a couple of years, Yokie approached her sister with a business idea that changed everything. Cue Yoke & Theam, where they would design their own shoes and have them manufactured in their father’s factory, which makes shoes for various brands.
“We used our names for our brand because we wanted to keep the heritage of the family, as we are the third generation of shoemakers,” says Yokie, as we look at some of their new designs in her studio cum apartment. Their grandfather owned a shop that sold raw materials for shoes and he occasionally made shoe uppers.
Working closely with family can be a challenge but the sisters have found it quite beneficial. “It’s a good thing to work with your sibling because after a two-minute fight, you’re back together because you’re used to it. Whenever we fight, we always come back to what is good for the brand,” explains Yoke Sin.
Yoke & Theam’s first line were rubber sandals, which proved to be a first for the factory. “We took about a year to study how to make these shoes and how to make them properly,” explains Yokie.
Starting from scratch — from the brand to the website — proved difficult initially but Yokie reflects, “We are lucky. I think it’s easier to start a company now than in the past because all the information is available online.”
Yoke Sin is based in Ipoh, handling production at the factory, while Yokie handles operations in Kuala Lumpur. Inspired by their travels and music, the sisters work on their designs together and often travel up and down the country to handle various tasks, showing that teamwork is key to their success.
Yoke & Theam’s brand aesthetic is sporty and elegant, balancing masculine and feminine qualities. Made with the strong, modern woman in mind, the sisters offer fun and stylish footwear — from simple slip-ons and sandals to vibrant mules and heels.
Attracted to the stylistic opportunities offered by footwear, the sisters want to offer their clients a different way of planning their outfits. “People always go for clothes first and they want to match their shoes to those clothes. We want to show that shoes can be a statement that is just as important. You can actually fall in love with shoes first, then decide what to wear,” says Yokie.
“Every woman has a different walk of life and you need a good pair of shoes to bring you through this journey, so we wanted that connection of shoes with women and their dreams,” she adds. Thus, they have #ytwalkoflife — a campaign that celebrates women from different professions by asking them about their journey in pursuing their dreams. Working with a content marketing team, the blog features inspiring women such as fashion designer Cassey Gan, model Nia and artist Dianne Tahir. “The shoes you wear is part of your whole journey, so we want to bring out how confident a person is in their walk of life,” says Yoke Sin.
With its lines being sold at Isetan KLCC, Robinsons in Gardens and some tourist retails, Yoke & Theam is gaining popularity. The sisters occasionally participate in bazaars as it gives them the chance to interact with customers, current and new.
In the future, Yoke Sin and Yokie hope to develop genderless designs with equality in mind. “We want to show that a man and woman can wear the same designs. We want designs that anyone could wear.”
This article first appeared on June 25, 2018 in The Edge Malaysia.