Good shoes take you to good places and that absolutely rings true in today’s world. And while women are blessed with a plethora of footwear options, from stilettos to wedges and pumps to gladiators, men seem to think their world of footwear ends with a few. That isn’t the case and several brands are showcasing what men can do with a simple accessory – shoes! A great pair of formal shoes grab attention and loafers at a business casual dinner hits the target. One such brand that’s creating tasteful luxury footwear offers unique and personalized styling to suit the needs of the stylish man, whether it is for work, red carpet, a special occasion or a casual outing.
TC46 connected with Nirali Ruparel, designer and founder of Achilles’ Heel, to know all about the world of luxury shoe retail. Here, she talks about the strategic decision of choosing men’s footwear, bridging the gap between price and perception and the importance of happy customers.
1. What is your educational and professional background?
I have a Bachelors in Mass Media and a Masters in English. I have a diploma from Footwear Design and Development Institute. Currently, I am pursuing advanced levels in Spanish.
I started working when I was 16 years old. For 7 years, I used to train at a few gyms as an aerobics and indoor cycling instructor. After which I took up a job with HELLO! Magazine with the Times of India group and 4 years later, I launched my brand in August 2012.
Achilles´Heel was the first homegrown luxury bespoke men’s footwear brand in India governed by style-forward designs and at the same time provides for superior comfort and craftsmanship par excellence. Our shoes are a symbol of style, individuality, and a break away from conformism. Achilles’ Heel strives to maintain a perfect symphony between modern techniques in shoemaking and the traditional finesse of handcrafting an avant-garde pair of shoes.
2. What prompted the idea for Achilles Heel?
It didn’t take too long for me to realise that all I wanted was to be a tastefully popular entrepreneur. I chose to design because I want to be creatively occupied and do something that I’m passionate about – fashion and style. And shoes, especially men’s, as I was certain that it would give my brand an edge.
3. Did you always know you wanted to work in this space?
No, I didn’t know this while I was working with Hello! But I always knew that I wanted to be my own boss and start my own business. And I always knew it had to be in the fashion industry. But choosing to do shoes, especially men’s shoes was a strategic decision. Shoes are no more a women’s monopoly, the new age man was catching up. It’s just that we didn’t give them much of a choice earlier.
Did we offer them anything beyond the classic black oxfords, brown derby shoes or a designer footwear collection? How else would a common Joe become a sartorially skilled man? This is where we came in, to begin with, and then moved on to a complete made to measure shoe brand for men.
4. What was your first milestone and how did you get there?
A lot of hard work and training around the world to continue to better the product and simultaneously working on new offerings like the iconic patina service. The made to measure concept, the DIY e-studio and more contributed to the feeling.
5. What are your tips for an aspiring entrepreneur who wants to enter the men’s fashion category?
It’s ironic. One may think that women are more dramatic when it comes to shopping. But you will be pleasantly surprised to know how picky men can be and how much importance they give to comfort. A woman will buy anything that looks good on her even if it is terribly uncomfortable. But men won’t. So if you want to get into men’s fashion, first learn to understand ‘what men want’!
6. What were the 3 best business/financial decisions you made?
1. Choosing to launch men’s footwear. It is way tougher than clothes.
2. Sticking to working on made-to-measure in spite of the challenges that come with it.
3. Creating a niche brand and not giving in to investors who lured us with their valuations but didn’t share the same vision and wanted to make it a mass brand.
7. How long did it take you to monetise your venture? What was the turning point?
Luckily for us, it only took a few months after we launched. The brand in itself was providing such a unique service that we immediately caught the eyes of many. And of course, our PR strength came from word of mouth of happy men who not only got their style but also comfort that they always looked for during their travels, for the first time in India. So we had the first-mover advantage as well. The only disadvantage was that no fashion week in India to date recognises or simply focuses on fashion shows for shoes. They expect a tie-up with the clothes designers wherein our brand, the designer’s name gets lost and receives no recognition.
8. Are you looking for funding/have-acquired investment?
To be honest, we tried to raise funds initially, but we did not come across any investor who did not want to change the vision of the brand. We are here to bridge the gap between price and perception, as an aspirational luxury brand. If we do come across an investor who is willing to understand our vision and add to that to make Achilles´Heel an international player, we are open to it. Because there is not a single Jimmy Choo, Manolo Blahnik or any such shoe brand coming from India.
9. Who are the key employees/vendors a founder needs to secure to work in this segment (the first 3 hires/vendor partnerships)?
- Shoe Care Products
10. How do you intend to scale up/expand your business in the next 5 years?
Currently, we have a made-to-measure studio at Fort, Mumbai. We are looking at a few more across other cities in the coming years.
11. How has your business pivoted after the lockdown and in light of the pandemic?
When most people chose to wear pyjamas, we thought of playing with slippers and home espadrilles for men through our website. So even during the pandemic, we did fairly okay. But there were many months where we faced labour issues and had a tough time.
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