Meet the designer whose hand-painted footwear are a hot favourite of Sara Ali Khan, Sonakshi Sinha, and Swara Bhaskar
Rohtak-based Neha Sahu’s handcrafted and hand-painted footwear brand Haelli has become a huge big hit with B-town celebrities like Sara Ali Khan, Sonakshi Sinha, and Swara Bhaskar.
Sara Ali Khan, Sonakshi Sinha, Swara Bhaskar, Neha Dhupia, Bhumi Padenkar, and Tapsee Pannu are style icons from Bollywood. And they all like to step out in style in Haelli – a range of handcrafted and handpainted juttis from Rohtak-based designer Neha Sahu.
“Though I started my label while working a full-time job, I soon realised I felt more content and at peace when I worked for Haelli. I never planned consciously to design juttis. It was just an experiment born out of creative curiosity and one thing led to another,” she says.
Best foot forward
Right from childhood, Neha has been artistically inclined and this led to her hand-painting a pair of juttis for herself. The response of family and friends was encouraging so she put up a picture of the pair on Facebook.
“After that I received criticism, speculations, also freaked out a bit but never stopped painting. My Facebook posts started reaching a bigger audience, which brought in some good responses and a few orders. It also bought motivation and hope, which pushed me to work even harder.”
Born and raised in Rohtak, Haryana Neha completed her Master’s in Computer Science and Technology and started teaching as an assistant professor in an engineering college.
When she started Haelli, she was still teaching and giving up on that comfortable and secure 9-5 job was her biggest challenge initially. She continued with her full time job for a year-and-a-half until she realised she could no longer manage with interns and part-time staff.
“Coming out of my comfort zone was the biggest challenge. Leaving a well-paid job is never easy and you are surrounded by so many doubts.. But sometimes you have to risk it all for a dream only you can see.”
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Symbol of a rich heritage
Officially started in 2016, Haelli derives its name from beautiful ancestral homes in villages in Haryana called Helli.
“They symbolise the rich cultural heritage we possess. My husband suggested this name saying what better to start off with something which is always so close to our heart and where we belong. And at Haelli we fulfill the contemporary fashion needs but at the same time stay connected to our roots,” explains Neha.
The hand-painted juttis have quirky slogans and motifs. They are also custom-made according to customers’ specifications.
Most of these juttis are bought for to give away as wedding gifts, guests and bridesmaids.
Haelli’s USP Neha believes is in its design, which is desi yet quirky. “We made a strong statement through our quirky designs like panda, unicorn, penguin and also introduced some fun slogans calligraphed beautifully on the juttis like kudi pataka, teekhi mirchi, dekho magar pyaar se. What makes us unique is that you can wear a piece of art and also have the liberty to add a personal touch.”
However, in the creative space, as always, ripoffs abound and Neha hasn’t let that bother her. “It is a part and parcel of the business,” she says.
Keeping it slow and steady
Even though the brand picked up pace last year, Neha continues to work from home where she has set up a workshop. She works with karigars in Gurugram who make the juttis according to her specifications She then paints on them in her workshop,
Currently she has a 14-people team with interns joining her throughout the year. After she received a positive response on Facebook, she is now leveraging Instagram as a platform to connect with the market.
The competition is tough since there multiple jutti brands in India. However, Neha believes that “competition is very good for your and always pushes you to be the best version of yourself;I also think we are working on our own timeline and not limiting us to anyone else’s progress.”
Celebrity endorsements matter
The brand has been approached by stylists and celebrities.. Having celebrities like Sara Ali Khan, Swara Bhaskar, and Sonakshi Sinha wear her juttis has given a big boost to business.
“It helps us reach larger audiences. When people see a celebrity wearing our juttis, they look at it as good quality and wearable items and something they can incorporate into their style. We often get the maximum orders of the juttis that celebrities are seen wearing,” she adds.
The highs and the lows of entrepreneurship
Entrepreneurship is all about hustling points out Neha. “Every day you encounter something which makes you doubt your decisions, the initial phase is the most difficult. Over time we learn to be a little more fearless and confident. When you have only one aim and you know there is no back up plan, you work for it giving your 200 percent.”
Neha’s aim is to see Haelli among the top designer footwear brands in the country, promoting hand-crafted products. “We are also hoping to see Haelli have a good physical presence in top locations across the world and garner a premium customer base.”
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