When your child lovingly defaces your pearl white walls with everything they can get their hands onto or into, your first instinct is not to ground the little Rembrandt-gone-awry, but to immortalise his masterpieces. A mother of two had the same yearning, and being the right-brained designer that she was – she decided to make tangible that idea while stumbling upon a technology that added as much value to the body as it would to the eye. This is the story of how Trishla Surana Coloured the footwear industry Mad.
Method in artistic madness
A mother of two who got married at 21, 31-year-old Trishla Surana, a commercial artist from Rachana Sansad, was a logo designer and fashion accessory curator, before she decided to widen her creative horizons, post marriage. Her train of thought led her to imagine all the ways she could make footwear more trendy, colourful and yet, more useful.
Starting by designing the strap on the footwear for kids, her fascination with footwear grew until she was absolutely adamant about creating a niche and unique brand. “So began my journey to explore footwear, its history, and the aspirations of Indian market. The initial thought was to help children express their thoughts and drawings through footwear whereby their design could be printed on demand,” Trishla recounts.
As she researched further, she came across the wonder material, ‘cork,’ which is extremely popular in Europe but much lesser known here. So, Trishla worked with a partner in Delhi to develop cork-based footwear, branded as ‘Comfee, which helps improve body posture, reduces knee and ankle pain and takes the shape of one’s foot, providing extreme comfort.
The next step for a personal and professional relationship
After the full potential of this was explored, her husband was on board instantly as a co-founder, and Colour Me Mad was in business! With a model of retailing through direct sellers, online stores and exhibitions, Trishla also decided to empower women, by training them to sell their footwear as direct sellers across India, and thus, becoming part of the CMM family.
Besides, being durable with a warranty, and having health benefits, they have also filed a patent for superior design that is their vibrant, long-lasting prints on straps as well as the soles, which is one of its kind. Moreover, Trishla’s model uplifts not only women but the underprivileged as well, whereby Rs. 10 from every sale is dedicated to help collect, sort and deliver footwear for underprivileged people through a tie-up with NGO Goonj.
A popular line of products is their ‘Friendship’ series, where they brought on board renowned cartoonist Abhijeet Kini to do the artwork. Some of Colour Me Mad’s retro prints are also becoming a favourite.
The past and the future
“Our role model is a company called Birkenstock from Germany, which invented cork footwear more than 100 years ago, and is a legacy brand. Those who are Birken customers swear by it but we have recently had the experience where two different Birken customers tried Comfee and they were totally impressed with our product, which is a big thumbs-up to our product quality and craftsmanship,” Trishla proudly announces.
In order to establish their brand, they represented India in Turkey for the International Innovation Fair in 2016, participated in prestigious exhibitions like Ruchika in Mumbai, and engaged with fashion bloggers to tap into their communities.
Since their launch in August this year, they have already achieved sales of about Rs 5 lakh. Their target now is to have 20 direct sellers across India by March and with a sales volume of about 4,000 pairs a month, and turnover of about Rs 40 lakh.
Striving to create a Make In India brand, registering efficiency and economies of scale for their handcrafted product has been a challenge. “It is very labour-intensive and we are trying ways to reduce the production time through more efficient manufacturing process and automation wherever possible,” says Trishla.
But for Trishla, the challenges are two-fold. “Being in a male-dominated industry has its own set of challenges, where they don’t take a woman seriously. The larger issue is that the footwear industry is unorganised, and one needs to develop a rapport with the karigars,” she explains.
There are a few local brands that sell cork footwear as well as imported cork-based brands. “But in a lot of cases, they’re not original cork or only use cork sheets, which don’t provide the kind of benefit our product does,” Trishla opines, adding, “we are differentiated in terms of providing users with vibrant prints, extreme comfort by incorporating latex padding, which provides cushioned, non-slippery soles,”
Keep on running
They are also foraying into formal wear. Currently, about 50,000 of the 190 crore pieces of footwear sold in India are of the cork variety.
Internally funded at this moment, the duo has pumped in a total investment to the tune of Rs. 15 lakh. They plan to approach investors at a later stage, when the time is right. “Put in your hard-earned money to prove an idea and make it work – this not only gives you a lot of conviction, it also makes investors more than happy to write you a cheque!”
Colour Me Mead’s immediate plan is to scale in India both online and offline, by participating in marquee exhibitions, appointing CMM sellers, marketing the products online.