The accidental champ

Millennials are putting their stamp on the world, making real their aspirations in ways that previous generations might never have thought of. Our series delves into how young people take bold steps to achieve their life goals in Big Plans Take Time. Dewi Sriwahyuto speaks to aspiring footwear designer Onn Jia Min, our second profile, about her roller-coaster journey into the craft of shoemaking.


As Singapore’s fashion industry matures, so has its range of footwear offerings. Labels such as indyK and Atelier Fang have joined the ranks of labels gaining a place in the trade.

A new name soon might join them: Onn Jia Min.

Never mind that this 27-year-old stumbled into shoe design.

At the time an F&B marketer, she enrolled in a four-day crash course last year by Textile and Fashion Industry Training Centre (TaF.tc) to pick up basic Illustrator and Photoshop skills.

Says Jia Min: “I had to design three pairs of shoes for The Art of Shoes competition as part of the course requirements.”

Then the unexpected happened: she won, beating over a hundred participants and capturing the hearts of judges.


Seizing the opportunity

Jia Min reckons that her design background and love of shoes gave her the edge. She says:“I think I won because my shoes were wearable and more marketable compared to the other finalists, whose designs were gorgeous but more suited for the runway.”

Her prize is a two-month internship with local footwear business Pazzion Group — where she is learning the ropes of footwear design — as well as a sponsored work trip to Italy in September.

She will be attending MICAM, a four-day trade event that gathers global shoe designers to forecast emerging trends. Jia Min’s win not only led her to another career but is a stepping stone to bigger plans.

She dropped her full-time job to focus on honing her craft and is making plans to launch her own shoe label here by 2019.



Putting soul to sole has not been...

Just numbers and spreadsheets. Rather, Jia Min’s approach seems more like that of a globetrotting spice trader.

She intersperses holidays with work trips and recently visited shrines in Kyoto and reconnected with nature in Lombok.

Her work stops include Guangzhou, Bangkok and various cities in Europe, to study unique shoe cultures and trends while sourcing for materials.

For Jia Min, these trips are ways to gather intel — and inspiration — for her label.

“I love good adventures and exploring the world — who doesn’t?” she says, adding that she feels that travel is the best form of education.

“There are lots of things to be learnt from other cultures. I see travel as a great opportunity to pick up trends that are underrated and introduce them back at home.”

Balancing the budget has meant that...

Jia Min needs to dip into her savings. She has also mastered the art of scrimping on accommodation and flights.

Supporting her trade- travel approach to developing ideas are her parents, who see co-financing as a way to build her understanding of the industry.

The chances she is taking has the risk-averse millennial worried at times, but she believes that the move is right for her.

“I’m scared yet excited. I’m giving up something that I’m comfortable and familiar with — this is one of the biggest risks I’ve taken in my life. But I’m really looking forward to seeing where this takes me,” she says.

She is grateful for all she has already learnt and has this advice for anyone thinking of doing the same: “Just go for it. Do not get stuck in a job that you don’t like.”