My Business Asia: Putting the best foot forward

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionLewré Lew: 'I started working in a shoe factory in the 80s - without knowing I'd fall in love with the shoes later on'

What makes an entrepreneur? The BBC's Jennifer Pak spoke to Lew Fong Voon (now known as Lewre Lew) about discovering his passion for shoe design while working in a manufacturers and how, despite initial obstacles, he came to create his own brand.

In 1991, Lew Fong Voon thought he had a big break when his shoe trading company was chosen as one of nine businesses to represent Malaysia at an international exhibition.

He gathered all of the best designs sourced from Malaysian factories because he said that the GDS fair in Germany was "like the Olympics" of the shoe industry.

But nobody looked at his collection.

People had no idea where Malaysia was or how to even pronounce the name of the country, said Mr Lew.

"It was very discouraging and at the same time humiliating," he said.

Mr Lew did not get any business that year or the next two years after that but he continued to show up at the annual international shoe fair even when the other Malaysian companies had given up.

He believed Malaysia had very good shoe craftsmen but didn't have updated designs. Bringing back ideas from the fair, he aimed to change this.

In the fourth year, two customers finally ordered a thousand pairs of shoes from Mr Lew. The small shipment helped launch his overseas business.

Over the next decade he produced shoes for international labels, but there was a slow push in the country to not only rely on natural resources and cheap manufacturing.

Mr Lew was inspired to work on his own brand after he met fellow Malaysian designer Jimmy Choo.

Starting the brand

Image caption Being on trend means having the latest fabrics, ornaments and designs

He produced his mid-priced collection under the name Lewre, a loose combination of his surname and the name of his first company, Roondy, in 1997 at the start of the Asian financial crisis.

The venture was risky but it also meant that production costs became cheaper, he says.

Mr Lew's company weathered the financial crisis. He attributes this to the fact that his childhood prepared him for the tough battle. He was one of ten children in his family. Food was a struggle. At eight years old, he started working at a plantation in northern Perak state, tapping rubber trees before dawn to help make ends meet for his family.

Mr Lew 's commute to work required him to walk across terrain filled with snakes and the sounds of tigers growling nearby.

"It was full of challenges [and] I think full of fun," he said.

Today, Mr Lew has exchanged the jungle for a spacious office on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur and has expanded his brand to more than 20 countries.

He turned an initial capital investment of RM50,000 ($15,000; £10,000) in shoe manufacturing in the late 1980s into a company whose revenue is expected to reach $25m (£15.5m) in three years' time.

Growing in a downturn

Image caption Couture shoes are hand made to specific measurements and fit

At the Lewre headquarters in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, middle-aged women sit in the back of the workshop sewing each bead onto a satin heel.

Mint-green shoe moulds belonging to affluent women, including actress Michelle Yeoh and the Duchess of Cambridge, hang in the backroom.

The recent global downturn has not slowed down Mr Lew's expansion plans. He is set to open a couture shop in London and the company has invested millions to develop several new sub-brands.

Mr Lew describes his designs as "fashion forward". He wants to prove that Asian brands can produce quality products that appeal to a global audience.

His future projects could make even more customers take notice - Mr Lew has considered designing high-heel shoes for men.

It was normal for women to wear 4-5in (10-13cm) heels now, so as our women got taller so the men needed to "catch up," said Mr Lew.

More on this story