fashion

ESSĒN Designer Marre Muijs Keeps Her Feet Firmly On The Ground

14/09/23

Author: Divya Venkataraman

DOCUMENTED BY: ESSĒN

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Her Melbourne-based, European-inflected footwear label knows how to fill gaps in the modern woman’s wardrobe.

There are designers who dwell in the realm of concepts, thinking of their inspiration as ineffable and their aesthetics burdened with meaning. Marre Muijs is not one of them. Yes, she has always loved shoes (ever since she was a two-year-old and she would totter around trying on her mother’s)—but she isn’t the type to start a whole business on sentimentality alone. “Good design should answer a problem in your wardrobe. I don’t want to create what people don’t want and that will end up in landfill,” she tells me in her crisp, open manner over the phone from her home in Melbourne. “When I was building [ESSĒN], it was all about practicality.” Clearly, the Dutch-born, Australia-based founder prefers to operate very much in reality—and her label follows in her stride.

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The Foundation Flat

ESSĒN

Documented By: ESSĒN

ESSĒN makes sturdy shoes for living in, for comfort and support while catching buses and for juggling a miscellany of errands. Its styles are sleek but painstakingly crafted, with months (sometimes years) put into perfecting the shape of a vamp, or the perfect height of a heel. 

They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and that old adage certainly held true in Muijs’s case. She began the brand in 2016, and developed it while living in London—where practicality was key. “At the time, I was myself just looking for comfortable shoes that were ethically made, that had timeless design—and didn’t cost a fortune.” 

When that search didn’t yield the results she hoped for, Muijs considered putting her fashion background towards designing. She got her start at a wholesale shoe label, where she became involved in the product development. It was while she worked there that she realised that she wanted to start a brand from scratch. “I love being able to tell a story from start to finish,” she explains. 

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The Strappy Sandal

ESSĒN

Documented By: ESSĒN

Muijs puts part of ESSĒN’s simple, no-nonsense aesthetic down to her Dutch background. She was born and brought up in the Netherlands: the land of sneakers and bicycles and changeable weather, known for the kind of fashion where practicality indexes just as highly (if not higher) than trendiness. But she herself has always gravitated towards simplicity and cleanness in her own wardrobe. “I’ve had my crazy phases, for sure… but really, I’ve always been about classic pieces. I still have things in my wardrobe from when I was 17 or 18 years old.”

Sustainability in its most everyday, practical sense, was also always a part of her life. “I grew up with a mother who was very into repair and reusing things.” 

Now, Muijs focuses on infusing those principles—of long-term care and repair, of slow consumption, of an appreciation for timelessness and classicism—into her own label. Early on in her trajectory, Muijs decided that she wouldn’t let ESSĒN be held hostage to seasonal drops. Instead, she would create small first batches of new styles, which would only be developed as she saw the need, usually in black and see how they sold. If they were popular, she would go back and create larger runs, or experiment with other colours. It’s a way for ESSĒN to reduce its excess stock, and avoid contributing to the problem of overproduction in the fashion industry as a whole.  Even now, ESSĒN doesn’t produce according to seasons, and only releases new styles when Muijs feels the time is right. Or when she feels that there is a gap that needs filling. “I always come at my design from a practical point of view. ‘What do I need in my wardrobe?’”

“Because I don’t have to constantly produce newness, I can really focus on getting the details right,” she explains.

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The Chunky Slide

ESSĒN

Documented By: ESSĒN

Each one of ESSĒN’s pieces is designed to be a “wardrobe staple”. For example, the Foundation Flat, with its high vamp and buttery soft leather fabrication, is one of the brand’s most popular styles. It comes in a range of colours, from lemon yellow, to white, to a lightly glistening gold and a rich, caramelised cognac. Muijs developed it in 2019—a time before the world caught on to the return of the ballet flat. At first glance, she was part of the brave vanguard, but through Muijs’s paradigm, the style made sense even though it wasn’t ‘trendy’.

So she started with twelve pairs in black and in white, and she slowly introduced new colours when each run started to sell out. “I wasn’t even wearing ballet flats at the time,” she says. “A ballet flat is just a wardrobe staple—even if it’s not necessarily my style. I like that as a design challenge.”

Like the Foundation Flat, many of her styles come in slightly different iterations, with the addition of hardware or a small raised heel, to suit the needs of her clients. Overall, though, she’s not interested in changing her designs in fundamental ways if they don’t need it. “I try to put modern and interesting twists on them—but not in a way that dates after two or three years.”

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The Strappy Sandal

ESSĒN

Documented By: ESSĒN

This focus on longevity is a key one for Muijs’s work. She takes practical measures to reduce her impact on the environment, from using minimal packaging, to selling online to keep costs down. Pre-ordering has always been a part of ESSĒN’s business model, but now, more and more customers are getting used to the idea. She has been slowly educating them on the beauty of waiting. 

But Muijs knows that making a brand more responsible is a continual process. She has recently added a new feature. On the ESSĒN website, beside each product, a mapped flow aims to increase transparency about it. Prospective buyers can view how many times each piece should be able to be worn, how many people were associated in its creation, and view the certifications and accreditations associated with the tanners, raw material producers and manufacturers ESSĒN uses. 

“There’s just so much product out there in the world,” she says. “I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel… I just want to make pieces that you are comfortable in and that you’ll still love in five years.” 

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The Elevated Essential

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The Foundation Flat

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The Sporty Sandal

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The Foundation Flat

ESSĒN

The Mary Jane

ESSĒN

The Chunky Slide

ESSĒN

The Foundation Flat

ESSĒN

The Strappy Sandal

ESSĒN

The Sporty Sandal

ESSĒN

The Modern Moccasin With Hardware

ESSĒN

The Strappy Sandal

ESSĒN

The Elevated Essential

ESSĒN

The Evening Sandal

ESSĒN

The Sporty Sandal

ESSĒN

The Foundation Flat

ESSĒN

The Strappy Sandal

ESSĒN

The Perfect Pump

ESSĒN

The Luxe Loafer

ESSĒN

The Chunky Slide

ESSĒN

The New Classic

ESSĒN

The Elevated Essential

ESSĒN

The Leather Lug Sole

ESSĒN

The Leather Lug Sole

ESSĒN

The Modern Moccasin

ESSĒN

The Foundation Flat

ESSĒN

The Modern Moccasin With Hardware

ESSĒN

The Modern Moccasin

ESSĒN

The Modern Moccasin With Hardware

ESSĒN

The Foundation Flat

ESSĒN

The Foundation Flat

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The Foundation Flat

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The Elevated Essential

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The Elevated Essential

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The Foundation Flat

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The Evening Sandal

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The Sporty Sandal

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