It is hard to believe that shoes- a necessity for all, a status symbol for some, and an obsession for many- had an extremely humble origin. From being an object with the sole functional use of covering the feet, the metamorphosis of the innocuous looking shoe has been nothing short of dramatic. Till the 1800s the difference between women and men shoes did not vary greatly. In fact, till as late as 1850 shoes were being made straight- no difference between the left and right shoe.
But the turn of the century had shoes permeating into the psyche of both the upper and the middle classes, through endorsements by famous names followed by representations in popular culture. Jimmy Choo, for example, was made famous thanks to the patronage of the late Princess of Wales, Diana. On the other hand, the television cult hit Sex and the City made Manolo Blahniks a must have for every shoe lover. Today, from high-end shoes to the colourful jhootis found in Indian Bazaars, a shoe lover will know them all.
However, unlike travel lover and automobile enthusiasts, shoe aficionados have very few forums to discuss their favourite objects. Chondamma Cariappa, a Mumbai-based shoe entrepreneur, understood this dilemma, and thus came ‘The Sole Sisters’ into being. ‘The Sole Sisters’ provides a platform for women across the globe to share the pictures of their shoes and discuss the stories behind them with other shoe lovers.
In an interview with Cindrebay, the cat lover speaks about the impetus behind the blog and her new venture that includes making handmade shoes.
Were shoes a fascination since childhood or did you develop an interest in them later on?
I was always drawn towards handcrafted shoes. In school, my sisters wore delicate ballerinas while I was made to wear sturdy handmade shoes because I would ruin the dainty pairs.
What prompted you to start the unique blog? Any particular incident?
It all happened very organically. It all started with an album on Facebook called Fetish. I posted pictures of shoes I picked up from various places I travelled to. This led to discussion among my friends. That’s when it struck me to make it a much larger platform for women to share and discuss shoes. The Blog ‘The Sole Sisters’ came about soon after.
Was it easy for you to get women interest in a blog like that or initially did very few people respond?
The response was very positive right from inception, not just from India but from across the world.
How did you market it? And, why is it open to only women and not men?
Initially, it started with friends and colleagues sharing their pictures. Soon the word spread and I started getting emails from women all over asking me to feature their shoes. The blog targets mainly women, because ladies as opposed to men have this fetish for shoes and feet. We are constantly beautifying our feet or taking shoe fits.
How do you choose which shoe gets a place on the blog? What are the criteria used to measure the style quotient of a pair of shoes?
It’s fairly simple. Girls mail us pictures of their shoes. And, I choose which picture to put up, depending on the whether the shoe is appealing. There are times when the shoe is nice and but the picture does not do justice to the shoe, in that case, I ask them to re-shoot and mail me back. Though I give high points to pictures which are shot interestingly or artistically, sometimes a great or funky pair of shoes shot in a simple way also makes for a great picture. So the criteria are a combination of a good pair of shoes and a nicely shot, clear picture where you can see the details of the shoes.
What is the gap in the market that The Sole Sisters is trying fill with its brand of shoes?
I think women are looking for shoes which are not only unique in style but which are also comfortable and made from quality material.
How, when and why did the transformation from shoe blogger to shoe maker happen?
This again was a very organic shift. I wanted to engage and experiment with my designs with the community that I had created. I introduced a limited collection of the Ikat sandals. The response was overwhelming. Soon I quit my advertising job and started designing shoes.
Why venture into handspun footwear, and how different are they from the normal one?
At the time I started designing, I hadn’t seen much or any handmade shoes with fabrics. So there was a need for it. Every shoe we make is handcrafted from personally sourced leather and fabric. After travelling across the country, I fell in love with the local culture, textile and craft. This love for the traditional is the inspiration for my fabric and motifs, which I blend with a strong contemporary aesthetic. The fabric of every shoe is hand-spun and hand-woven because we also attempt to support and empower local crafts and women.
What is your personal style and does that reflect on the shoes you design?
I personally subscribe to comfort chic with an element of quirk. When it comes to designing shoes I follow the same philosophy. My priority is comfort and quality. Then comes a strong sense of unique style.
Please take us through your design process from idea to execution.
My ideas and thoughts are based on my travels, surroundings and observations. I also rely heavily on my gut for colours and combinations. Once I’ve decided on the designs, most of the time is taken up in new development/sampling. I feel this is the most important stage in the process. Comfort and usage of materials are the key. After we’re done with the samples I test them with my close circle of family and friends. This is the cycle we follow every time we launch a new collection.
Where do your source your material from?
I source my material from across the country. It’s all about what fabric or embroidery inspires me. For example, Chikkankari for our Chikkankari sandals comes from a village in Uttar Pradesh. Women embroider them. I feel it’s important to support and empower local crafts and artisans.
What were the challenges you faced while starting out on your own and how did you tackle them?
No prior education in shoe making was initially a bit of a road block. But I taught myself the ropes and overcame that in time. Another challenge was to find quality karigars and suppliers.
What are the three common mistakes people make when purchasing shoes?
- Purchasing shoes that don’t fit and convincing yourself that it will become comfortable with time.
- Women tend to buy shoes on impulse. And many times because of which they pick up the wrong size.
- Choosing style over comfort.
What three important things should one remember while buying a pair of shoes?
Comfort, comfort and comfort.
What according to you has been the worst footwear trend?
What is your personal footwear style like? Dramatic or subtle? High end or flea market?
My personal footwear style is subtle with just a hint of drama. I pick up what catches my eyes irrespective of whether it’s the high end or the flea market.
Best shopping destinations for shoes?
What would you have been, if not the founder of The Sole Sisters?
It would be some work related to abandoned or rescued animals because I feel very strongly about neglected and abused animals.
And what are your future plans for The Sole Sisters?
Go live with the website soon. I want The Sole Sisters to be the most sought after women’s shoe brand in the country.