'Personal taste and individuality - not conformity - are the ultimate badges of style': Cuero Founder Naman Shah
Before Naman Shah became an entrepreneur, he was a ‘Jack of all trades’ on a dairy farm. And before that he was a confused student not sure what to do with his life. But he was sure about what not to do. “I was offered a job through college campus placements at Google, Hyderabad Office. I declined as it was not the kind of work I wanted to do with my life. My father suggested that I work with his friend who was setting up a Dairy Farm on a large scale and was just starting to hire people. So I went in for the interview and got selected on the condition that I would not leave for two years and would be ready to do any job that was asked of me, irrespective of my educational qualifications and background. I agreed and thus began the most adventurous journey of my life (second to starting up of course).
I did everything from being an office boy getting tea, to managing the construction of the farm, from living in a portable cabin to travelling by passenger trains, working with the farmers, making PERT Charts, marketing and sales…Basically I did everything one can imagine doing on a farm,” says Naman.
When it came to starting up however, Naman settled on an idea as far away as possible from anything he had ever done on the farm. The seeds were planted when he was a little boy, watching in awe as his father would get dressed every morning for work. “Every day he would be impeccably dressed; matching his belts, watch straps and his shoes (All leather). It fascinated me.”
That fascination revisited him as an adult on a trip to Dubai. “It so happened that while at work for the dairy farm project, I had a chance to visit Dubai for a Trade show. It was huge and had people coming down from all over the world for the same. What caught my attention there was the Europeans and the way they carried themselves. The shoes worn by these men were of top notch quality and were clearly showcasing their great sense of style-something that was not being offered in India at that time. I then decided that I should start something offering Indian Men fine quality handmade shoes, something that was totally bespoke and made to measure,” he shares. And in the August of 2013, Cuero was born.
Cuero means ‘leather’ in Spanish. The name appealed to Naman because of his ardent love for that language. “Cuero is one of the first luxury ‘Made in India’ brands offering fine quality handmade shoes,” says Naman proudly. In the short time that it has been operational Cuero has racked up big name clients both in the entertainment and corporate industry. “Apart from celebrity clients like Gul Panag, Amrita Puri and Monica Dogra various industry CEO’s and top managements of companies are our patrons,” says Naman.
Given the kind of care and craft that goes into making each pair of shoe, for Naman this success is well deserved. “Also all of Cuero’s shoes are made by hand by skilled craftsmen who are trained in the traditional way of shoemaking. The shoes are made of pure leather from the upper, lining and the sole which today is not easily available in India,” he explains.Once the client approaches them, an appointment is fixed where the personality and needs of the buyer are discussed at length. “From that first meeting to catering to comfort, taste, fit and other niche issues, the process to deliver one pair of shoes is about 4-5 weeks,” Naman elaborates. But that pair of shoe is one of a kind and worth treasuring for the buyer, he insists.
While this kind of effort is laudable, it also leads to the questions about the sustainability of Cuero’s business model. Few can afford ‘one of a kind’ products. For those who can, what would their reasons be for bypassing traditional luxury brands with more name power (think Gucci, Prada, etc) and go for a little known Indian startup dealing with locally created luxury goods? “Personal taste and individuality — not conformity — are the ultimate badges of style. The logo-emblazoned goods that these brands provide are a passé for the truly classy. And since people already have owned the brands like LV, Hermes, Gucci before, they do not mind giving us a try,” Naman offers. “Moreover,” he continues, “India is the next big thing. It’s growing as a market and people are willing to give local luxury goods a try. I would not want to compare big labels with Cuero as they have been around for decades and they command that respect in terms of the brand itself.
What we offer is high quality goods at an affordable price point. This is luxury made in India and, for us, there is pride in that.”
When it came to starting production, the good and the bad offset each other. “Raw material (i.e. leather) in India has always been in plenty. The main challenge was to find the labour to carry out the process of making handmade shoes. It took us sometime to gather a base of customers who were ready to buy Cuero shoes as we were not advertising at all,” says Naman.
But now their scaling plans are on in full force. “Today we are looking for a Pan India presence after having a customer base in Pune and Mumbai. And developing newer products offering a complete platter to our clients.” Naman is most excited about Cuero participating in the upcoming Lakme Fashion Week this season.
He has good reason to be excited because, as he explains, “In 2014, luxury goods in India continued to outperform the growth witnessed in the previous year as consumers showed a willingness to spend. The spending capacity of people living in urban cities has gone up drastically. This is also due to the influence of vast travels and global trends reaching India at the same time due to social media platforms.”
Naman further expounds, “Consumers are now aware of what they are buying and we are today in a space where quality is given importance over quantity in the luxury space. Globally and in India affordable luxury goods are on the rise. This trend has been particularly seen with watches, handbags, footwear, accessories and designer wear. Players such as LVMH Watch & Jewellery India Pvt Ltd, Hermes India Ltd, Genesis Luxury Fashion Pvt Ltd and Burberry India increased the number of offerings in the Indian market.” He has enough reasons to predict that Cuero will carve its own little niche among these big players.
Naman is undeterred by competition. “We don’t believe in the idea of competition. In this global scenario every company can make a space for themselves.” As for the future, he envisions Cuero as a, “A global company providing top quality leather goods for men, women and children.”The best advice that Naman received was from a mentor who told him, “Along with your hard work, your attitude is what matters most. Success is a by-product of the two. Luck doesn’t matter.” These words provided the much needed push during the early days of starting up, which Naman says were unduly hard. “The realization that, along with myself, I was responsible for all the people working in Cuero and their families was numbing. When you start your own business you become responsible for every action in the company. Hence you have to rope yourself into every tiny detail in order to achieve a level of perfection.”
To conclude, he offers some seasoned advice of his own. “People are the key to any good business. Always have strong relationships with all the stakeholders (Clients, workforce, suppliers etc).
If you do not know, ask for help. There is nothing wrong in asking for help and getting in experts to manage that particular task. One man cannot do everything and as entrepreneurs we sometimes tend to be extra hard on ourselves, wanting to do it all by our lonesome.”