Sole-to-soul: Bespoke cobblers step up Pune’s haute couture appeal

From vegan shoes to Norwegian welting sole stitching, these city designers customise a fine pair to suit your soul and sole.

pune Updated: Feb 18, 2018 16:21 IST
Anjali Shetty
Anjali Shetty
Hindustan Times, Pune
haute couture,cobblers,shoes
Cuero claims to be one of the few companies doing good year welting sole stitching and Norwegian welting sole stitching(HT Photo)

1. Naman Shah, Cuero

Naman Shah, CEO, Cuero (HT Photo)

The journey: As far as Naman’s memory goes, as kids he and his brother were never allowed to wear flip-flops, they were always made to wear leather sandals, shoes or sports shoes. His vacations too were spent going with his father to work, business meetings and just sitting quietly listening to them, there too he was made to wear t-shirt shorts, pants tucked in with a belt.

“This experience made me a good observer, I would notice people, their clothes, the way they spoke etc… All along my father being the role model as he would never leave the house without his watch strap, belt and shoes matching. As I grew up my taste for leather as a material developed immensely and I would be drawn to anything that was made in leather from furniture, bags, shoes etc.”

Thus, his fetish and love for shoes and wanting to hunt down a good pair was born.“While working at the Dairy Farm I had the opportunity to visit Dubai for World Food Festival for a week, it was massive everything related to the food industry from cutlery, dresses, franchises, different foods from all over were displayed.There the Europeans and the Americans were so well dressed top to bottom that is when it struck me that we should do something about shoes and make the best handmade shoes available in India. And keep the luxury aspect in mind also.I came back did some research and found that at that time nearly 3.5-4 years ago nothing was available in the market except for big brands like LV, GUCCI, HERMES but were priced 40K upwards while the other end was Bata, LP, Hush Pupies but not that great in design and price was anywhere between 4-8 and I saw a gap there a bridge I wanted to build between the 10-40K market. That’s how Cuero started.”

Specialities: The brand makes customised leather footwear for men and women, handmade bags. “Our most successful shoes are the brogues and moccasins with tassels which we sell the most and are masters of.We are also one of the few companies doing good year welting sole stitching and Norwegian welting sole stitching.Apart from the soles our uppers are completely handmade.”

Challenges:The easiest and the most difficult part is designing, and making sure your design is not only fashionable but also wearable and sustainable in the longer run. “I personally believe in having timeless designs rather than street styles which fade away with changing seasons.”

Inspirations and influences: “My father has had a great influence on me since childhood, I would see him dress and his fondness for leather which has got onto me, I also am inspired by the Late JRD Tata and his visions. I draw my influence from Antique furniture, old palaces, stories about Kings and Queens history fascinates me specially the British and back home the Guajarati and Rajasthan.”

Current trends:Currently sneakers are a big rage. Specially white coloured ones. Also something in trend is mixing leather with other materials like cottons, linen and brocade.Formal footwear with sneaker soles is also in trend.

Price range of Cuero shoes:12,000/- to 80,000/-

Materials used:Pure Leather and various materials like linen brocade and cotton if the design demands it.

Forthcoming plans: Plan is to come up with a new collection this summer and also cater to a larger audience in India with tie ups in cities like Ahmadabad, Bangalore, Bombay, Nepal

Highlights:Being able to showcase at the New York Fashion Week and Lakme Fashion Week with designers.Also making a pair for Anil Ambani and meeting him and spending 60 minutes with him personally

2. Nidhi Bhandari, Nidhi Bhandari Fine Couture Footwear

Nidhi Bhandari, founder, Nidhi Bhandari Fine Couture Footwear (HT Photo)

The journey: While studying for Architecture Nidhi realised that she wanted to learn and explore her creativity in the field of footwear construction and design. “Customised footwear was a niche that hadn’t been catered to earlier. With a passion for bespoke wear I was inclined towards creating such genres of footwear.”

Specialities: The USP of a Nidhi Bhandari shoe is the additional layer of Gel Cushioning that takes the comfort factor to a higher level. With 'Lazer-cuts' being our forté, the latest Winter/Festive collection features the intricate use of hand-embroidered embellishments and motifs, whereas the summer collection highlighted the use of soft tones like White and Rose Gold.

The USP of a Nidhi Bhandari shoe is the additional layer of Gel Cushioning that takes the comfort factor to a higher level. (HT Photo)

Challenges: “It was quite tough initially to get this brand out to people, first within a very niche market like Pune, and then pan India. The idea of ‘customizing’ your footwear is a new concept, which often makes people unsure of doing it. Surprisingly even though this idea was something new and personal, the target audience took a while to get accustomed to it. Overtime with the persistence of well curated Footwear for brides and grooms, my clients and prospective customers have begun to accept and adapt to this idea of unique and personalised Fine Couture Footwear.”

Inspirations and where influences:Seeing her father build his business and having that dedication, she always looked up to him and wanted to be like him, further establishing a name in the market. “He is my biggest mentor, and my mother the strongest source of inspiration. Family has always taught me the value to fulfil my passion and be driven to towards a successful business. All of nature serves as an influence in my designs, be it the tiny droplets of rain or the smooth drapes of a cloth, or simply the movement of colours.”

Current trends in footwear:The Block Heel is something that will be a trend quite soon. Earthy, subdued tones of colours. Minimalist styles like thick straps and bands. Heavily embroidered footwear for the Brides-to be in metallic tones

Price range: Rs.2,500 onward

Materials used: Velvet, Suede, Sheep Napa

Forthcoming plans: Expanding the label globally

Highlights of the journey so far: Being a speaker on TedX, watching the label becoming a celebrity pick

3. Nupur Chaudhuri, Nupur Chaudhuri Label

Nupur Chaudhuri, founder, Nupur Chaudhuri Label (HT Photo)

The journey: Nupur started working as a journalist at the age of 16. After 11 years of hard work and scaling the ladder in this field, she decided to quit and pursue her second passion- Shoes! So in 2011, she studied Footwear Design at the London College of Fashion, followed it up with another course at Footwear Design and Development Institute Mumbai in 2013. “I spent another few months living in Mumbai to study and survey the market, find the right craftsmen, experiment with samples and finally launch my own label - Nupur Chaudhuri - in 2014. I’ve learnt the ropes of the business along the way, especially with my husband Ashwin’s help and support. Designing and making an actual product is one part of the business, but selling and reaching out to the right clientele is another very important aspect for which I rely a lot on Ashwin. We’ve been choosy about what exhibitions and how many exhibitions we participate in. Earlier our main focus for exhibitions was Mumbai but we have participated in successful popups in Pune and Ahmedabad as well.”

Speciality: “One aspect that has helped the label stand out from the crowd has been that the shoes are 100 per cent cruelty-free. The tagline of Nupur Chaudhuri is that “No souls are harmed in the production of our soles”. We try to promote a fashion conscience and that resonates with quite a few people. In fact, even our competitors have started doing this - making the switch from leather to non-leather - and I feel happy that I’ve inspired people to make a cruelty-free choice.”

One aspect that has helped the label stand out from the crowd has been that the shoes are 100 per cent cruelty-free. (HT Photo)

Inspirations and influences: “My passion is in keeping with my work - I love animals. I’m vegetarian by choice for eight years now and I do everything I can to help animals. Hence the decision to design and make vegan shoes. We’ve adopted a dog at my parents’ place and two dogs and 5 cats at our restaurant Amrapali and two dogs at our resto-bar Mr. Rabbit's Bar & Burrow - my life is loaded with cuteness and yes, I always ask for more! I’ve lately been very inspired by my brother Dhruv who is a fitness and martial arts expert so fitness has also become a passion. Learning new ways to eat healthy, work out, build strength and push my body beyond previous limits set by my mind have become a part of my daily life. And this helps lessen work stress and focus and march on!"

Challenges: Every business has its ups and downs. “In my line of work, the main challenge I face is from fast fashion. There are too many options available at too many places, particularly online. Shoes are produced by the thousands in factories in China or India and sold on popular websites for a few hundred rupees. So convincing the market about your design level, the process behind making each pair - everything is handmade at the workshop - and the exclusivity of the product is a challenge faced by independent designers. There’s too much clutter around and you have to constantly work to shine through that clutter.”

Price range: Rs.2,500 onwards

Materials used: We use non-leather materials - PU, faux suede, velvet and fabrics.

Forthcoming plans: To design a chic pret line that is even more affordable. The focus this year will also be on taking our contemporary Indian designs to international markets.

Highlights of the journey so far: Every pair of shoes sold is a highlight but if I were to name one specifically, it would be Lakme Fashion Week. We tied up with designer Vidhi Wadhwani and customised our designs to match her resort collection last year.

First Published: Feb 18, 2018 16:14 IST