EP Basics: How to Start a Footwear Business in India? Stepping into the Shoes of Successful Labels
How to start a footwear business in India? That’s a loaded question, with no straightforward answer. India is the third largest footwear consuming country in the world and produces approximately 2.1 billion pairs of shoes every year. Of these, 90% are consumed by Indians, while the rest are exported primarily to European nations.
Indians seem to be buying a lot of shoes…So it is only natural that there is an interest in starting a footwear business. A shoe business, like most other businesses, cannot thrive on ambition and talent alone, there is a vast amount of planning, strategy, and decision making that goes into it. Hence, if you find yourself asking the question, ‘How to start a footwear business in India?’, I’m going to attempt to answer it for you. Luckily, we are not short of successful shoe businesses that we can learn from.
1. Research, Study, Learn.
“When I first started, my father wouldn’t let me make a shoe,” recalled Jimmy Choo. “Instead, he said: ‘Sit and watch, sit and watch.’ For months and months, I did that.”
After learning from his father about the craft of shoemaking, Choo found himself in England in the early 1980s to study at the Cordwainers Technical College in Hackney, where he graduated with honours in 1983. Choo chose to remain in England, and he opened his first shop in Hackney, in 1986 in an old hospital building. It didn’t take long for his reputation to build. Within two years of opening his shop, Choo’s shoes were featured in an eight-page spread in Vogue magazine.
So If you are wondering, how to start a footwear business in India, it would be important to stress that research, knowledge and experience is required. As talented as Jimmy Choo is, even he went through the learning and observing phase, and this probably contributed greatly to the foundation for his empire.
Consider working/interning at a shoe business for a time to better understand the practical side of running a shoe business. No amount of reading can prepare you for the real thing. Take a footwear design course, if you plan on designing your own shoes. There are multiple courses available at various fashion schools in India. Or at the very least, have a long chat with someone within the field and absorb all the information you possibly can.
2. The Leg Work
Once you have zeroed in on the products for your shoe business, the next step would be planning the business in great detail. This would be best executed through a business plan that lists the exact nature of the business and the way in which the business will be operated. This document will be one you revisit over and over, through the course of your journey in the industry.
Consider the market, study competitors, break down your expenses and investments. Your plan should include:
- The cost of setting up the business. Having an investor is always a good thing. Angel investors or loans from family members tend to be the most beneficial for start-ups.
- Location of the business. This determines whether you will sell exclusively online or whether you want a retail space. In the world we live in today, online businesses with no brick-and-mortar shops save tonnes of money, and in-turn can reduce their prices, widening their audience.
- Time taken to break even after starting the business. You have to account for losses. And you have to be prepared to make near no profits at the very beginning. Having your predictions down on paper can help you overcome the difficulties that come with beginning a business.
- Sourcing. You can’t have a shoe business with no shoes, Depending on what you are selling, you need to have your production system planned out. It would benefit you, if all your prototyping and experimentation is done before you launch your business. Switching manufacturers can be quite a taxing task, hence having this sorted with a few backup plans is essential.
Think of your business as a road trip. This makes your business plan the map. Without it, you probably will end up somewhere you did not hope to.
3. Standing Out in a Sea of Shoes
Christian Louboutin found the inspiration for his trademark red outer soles in 1993. “My assistant was sitting there, painting her nails red. I took one look and decided to colour my soles red as a statement for the season,” Louboutin told Footwear News. “I thought, ‘Oh my god! Red soles are so flirtatious,’ and my customers asked me not to stop.”
You cannot deny the fact that we have an abundance of footwear labels, and it can be difficult for a start up to stand out and be seen in this sea of shoes. So, it is important that you find your USP, the element that sets you apart, the quality that makes you desirable. And most importantly, it is essential that you listen to your customers, and continue to give them what they ask for.
Brands that seem to have made it in the Indian footwear universe all seem to have something that sets them apart, and makes them very recognisable amongst all their competitors. So if you are wondering how to start a footwear business in India, it would be wise to look to them for advice. Fizzy Goblet, for instance, is a brand that offers completely out-of-the-box designs for traditional juttis. Laksheeta Govil was 24 when she started Fizzy Goblet. Over the years she has worked to add a new-found sense of fun and a modern twist to the traditional juttis, making them unique and irreplaceable.
One would assume that the Indian market is too full of juttis and traditional footwear, but new brands seem to keep popping up and doing well! To understand this better, I spoke to Shilpa Grove, current owner of Ffeetoor, a brand that specialises in luxurious juttis at affordable prices. Ffeetoor was founded by the passionate and creative Shikha Grover, who unexpectedly passed away earlier this year. Ever since her passing, her sister Shilpa Grover has taken over the management of the business. I asked her what motivates her, and what it is that works for them when it comes to their retail business.
“My biggest motive, of course, is Shikha. She had such a passion for Ffeetoor and I cannot stand by and let that passion fade. Shikha always donated some of her profits to various charities, so now, I donate all our profits to various charities. So that is a huge motive, apart from giving work to our talented craftsmen who are really suffering in our economy.”
“I want everything we do to be excellent. So not only do we strive to offer luxurious, comfortable, long lasting and absolutely stunning juttis to our customers, but we also strive to improve our communities. And this is something our customer base really admires. We don’t have a physical shop, so everything we do happens online. And the thing that has worked for us above all strategies, is influencer marketing.”
“There are so many shoe brands out there, so spreading the word can be really difficult, and we struggled for a while. But with influencers, they already have such large audiences that they seem to me, the best way to share our story and products with the world”
Don’t you think the jutti market is over saturated? How are you finding success?
“Yes, there is so much competition. But that’s besides the point. What we offer is unlike any other jutti. Every piece is hand stitched and hand embroidered, and we produce in very small batches. So, our quality is top notch. Each design is inspired by some element of nature or some quality in the personalities of people we love. Consumers are very receptive to these things, also we have very low margins, so our juttis are far more affordable than many other brands out there.”
4. Marketing your Footwear Brand
Marketing is undeniably one of the most essential elements when it comes to running a successful brand. You can have the best products, but if no one is talking about them, they offer little to no value.
Christian Louboutin attracted the likes of Princess Caroline of Monaco and Madonna who wore his precariously high heels in some of her videos, introducing Louboutin to the world.
Jimmy Choo became the go-to for the celebrity world. Princess Diana was spotted in Choo’s footwear nearly everywhere she went. Jimmy Choo’s relationship with Vogue was what really resulted in his worldwide success. Despite the rise of his popularity, Choo was still a small operation, producing just 20 handmade pairs of shoes per week. But Tamara Yeardye Mellon, an accessories editor at Vogue, sniffed out a larger market for Choo’s creations. Together they quickly grew the business, keeping their focus on creating high-end footwear.
There are multiple ways to market a brand, but in the current climate and market, influencer marketing seems to be the way to go and also the way that many infamous, classic brands have gained their credibility and success. For more on marketing and influencer marketing, read here.
Social media has become a non-negotiable part of our lives in the past decade, and influencer marketing has exploded and how! Consumers are turning to their favourite Instagramers, Twitter personalities and YouTubers for recommendations on their purchasing decisions. Especially after 2020 when people are extremely likely to stay home far more than before, the amount of time spent on social media platforms has skyrocketed, and retailers are all making the most of influencers to spread the word about their products.
In August this year, influencer Aashna Shroff collaborated with The CAI Store, a homegrown women’s footwear brand, to design and launch their new collection ‘You are Magic’. Aashna has over 854k followers on Instagram alone. This gave the brand an instant audience of 854k followers that garnered them immense success.
We often go about building businesses to stand out from the crowd, but at the end of the day, our markets are far too saturated to find an unoccupied niche every time. So, if you find yourself googling ‘How to start a footwear business in India’, you must accept that there is no harm in admiring existing brands and learning from their success. They did something right, and you can adapt and learn from their success to create value for your very own brand.