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A career in the arts wasn’t exactly what Maggie Tan’s mum had envisioned for her. She would tell Maggie, “Art cannot feed you.”

So Maggie chose to study a business degree instead, something that’s more practical, and thought that was the end of it.

But a simple birthday gift led her back to her true passion. 

Having a knack for painting, Maggie forwent purchasing a present and used her talents instead. She got a pair of shoes in her friend’s size and decorated it with her artwork. Proud of her handicraft, she posted it on Facebook and immediately began receiving enquiries about them. 

“At that moment I realised, ‘Oh hey, so people are actually paying me to paint shoes?’” she recalled. This was back in 2010 when commissioned art wasn’t really popular in Malaysia, but she decided to give it a shot.

Image Credit: MTMT Studios

This marked the start of her artistic journey which paved the way to the opening of her own brick-and-mortar art studio called MTMT Studios, a creative art playground for the young and old.

Let’s backtrack for a second

If you’re a millennial or older zoomer, you probably took part in the sneaker art trend that boomed in the 2010s. Or at the very least, you’re likely aware of it. 

Artists around the globe would paint wearable artwork on sneakers to much fanfare. This could be as simple as adding more colours to make it unique, to replicating the likeness of favourite cartoon characters. 

Image Credit: MTMT Studios

During the middle of her career as a sneaker artist, Maggie’s more recognised works fell under the latter category. This included Spongebob Squarepants, the Simpsons family, and Rick and Morty designs. 

Initially, she painted on Malaysian school shoes like Bata. But when clients were willing to spend more, she moved on to higher-end shoes such as Vans and the trendy Nike Air Forces.

Most of her sales came from the internet where she would post on social media and Etsy, a creative entrepreneurship platform. This led her business to go international where many of her customers hailed from the US, UK, Australia, and even Bosnia. 

“It felt surreal to earn in a foreign currency back then, especially while in university because I haven’t even gotten my starting pay working full time for a company,” she recalled.

Image Credit: MTMT Studios

Paving a path for herself

Upon graduating, she started her career by dipping her toes in different industries. Whether that be banking, insurance, fashion, or even personal development, she persisted relentlessly to find her place in the corporate jungle.

But as time went on, she didn’t feel like she belonged in any of them. Couple that with some unpleasant experiences with corporate bullies and you can see why she wanted to leave.

“Don’t get me wrong, [the] pay was great, but my sense of purpose was empty. I had this epiphany moment thinking if I were to die then, it felt like I wasn’t even leaving any form of legacy. So why work so hard for someone’s company when they don’t even value you?” Maggie explained.

Image Credit: MTMT Studios

Having had enough, she decided to quit corporate life for good. Coincidentally, her mum wanted to downsize her beauty salon as well, which freed up a large space perfect for MTMT Studios. So that’s exactly what she turned it into.

It was quite a gamble as the art industry was (and still is) underappreciated in Malaysia. However, Maggie utilised the resources she could find.

This came in the form of the National Art Gallery’s Young Art Entrepreneur (YAE) programme. A four-month programme, it helps artists build their entrepreneurial skills while enhancing their creativity. 

“YAE opened doors to a lot of opportunities and I’m beyond grateful up till now that this platform allowed so much magic to happen,” Maggie stated. 

Maggie with her YAE programme batchmates during a local art exhibition in 2019 / Image Credit: MTMT Studios

Being flexible & adapting to changes

Her original intention for MTMT Studios was to have a place to grow her shoe painting business. It was meant to be a space to work on her creations while doubling as a workshop area for people to try the crafts themselves. 

Much to her disappointment, it wasn’t well received. 

People didn’t want to wear something they painted, nor did they want to ruin their own footwear. It wasn’t practical for Maggie to supply the shoes either as that would mean stocking up on various sizes. 

So she pivoted and turned MTMT Studio into an art jam facility that hosted various art workshops. 

Image Credit: MTMT Studios

Amongst those were canvas painting, pottery, perfumery, candle making, and embroidery, where she’d invite artist collaborators to teach their niche. Business was booming at some point, where they’d be fully booked for days.

However, as time passed, signups began dwindling and became inconsistent. Knowing this couldn’t go on, Maggie shifted the business’s focus once again. 

Not just a studio, but a community space

MTMT now mainly offers adult painting classes and kids’ art classes. Adult classes include intuitive painting sessions, as well as textured and non-textured artworks. The starting price is RM95 and can go up to RM1,200. 

Image Credit: MTMT Studios

On the other hand, sessions for children include one-off lessons for painting and crafts, along with an annual arts programme. The latter divides students according to age groups: 

  • 4 to 6 years old
  • 7 to 12 years old
  • 13 to 17 years old

Each age group has different syllabuses taught by partnering artists and explores different stages of art skills. For example, lessons for kids below the age of six revolve around sensory play, while classes for teens are meant to enhance discipline and creative expression.

Image Credit: MTMT Studios

The full price for this isn’t stated on the website, but there is a trial session for RM50.

Maggie assured us that all of MTMT Studios’ classes are beginner-friendly. Those with zero background in art are highly welcomed alongside more advanced students.

The business focus shift was quite recent, and the studio is still going through a transitional phase. She hopes this will improve the state of the brand’s finances and make them more stable. 

On a more personal note, her vision for MTMT Studios remains the same—to make it a communal art space where you’re not just picking up skills, but friendships too.

Image Credit: MTMT Studios
  • Learn more about MTMT Studios here.
  • Read other articles we’ve written about Malaysian startups here.

Featured Image Credit: MTMT Studios

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Vulcan Post aims to be the knowledge hub of Singapore and Malaysia.

© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)