Meet the designer whose juttis completed Anushka Sharma’s wedding look

This is the story of NIFT graduate Shilpa Agarwalla’s journey and her jutti brand ShilpSutra that caters to actors like Kangana Ranaut, Shilpa Shetty, Kriti Sanon, and Sara Ali Khan, among others.

More than five years ago, Shilpa Agarwalla and her family members were shopping in preparation for her sister's wedding, when they found it difficult to find the right pair of shoes to complete the traditional look. She recalls that they had to finally settle for a pair of heels that were miss-matched and had very little embellishments. 

Shilpa Agarwalla, Founder of ShilpSutra

A design student at the National Institute of Fashion Technology, Delhi at the time, Shilpa was perplexed by this lack of footwear needed to complement traditional clothing.

 “While we have plenty of designers for clothes, jewellery and even shoes, an affordable range of options in Indian footwear was lacking. That is when the idea to create a traditional Indian shoe design brand occurred to me.”

Anushka Sharma wearing ShilSutra's Pink Woodland

This idea that had her dancing all night, was the fashion entrepreneur’s eureka moment that led to ShilpSutra in 2015. A brief stint as an intern at renown fashion designer Anju Modi also gave her the impetus to start on her own. 

The Delhi-based brand has grown from a small room workshop with one karigar to now a showroom with a team of 25 has been instrumental in completing the looks of major Bollywood celebrities like Kangana Ranaut, Shilpa Shetty, Kriti Sanon, Sara Ali Khan, Sonakshi Sinha, Neha Dhupia, and many others. ShilpSutra’s juttis were also worn by actor Anushka Sharma in her much-adored and widely circulated wedding pictures.   

Mother’s wardrobe, the fashion vault

Shilpa’s relationship with fashion and design goes back to her childhood in Siliguri, a city in West Bengal.

Growing up, she was never satisfied or satiated by the designs available in the market and often found it difficult to find something she liked.

Dressing up was a hobby that kept her occupied through most of her childhood. She says, “I remember coming back from the school eager and excited to try out outfits, jewellery, shoes from my mother's wardrobe. Even though nothing really fit me as a child, the memory is something that I will always cherish.”

The 30-year-old believes everybody has their childhood fashion evolution stories connected to their mother’s wardrobe. Shilpa went a step ahead, and was inspired to start up. 

Today, she boasts of a proud homegrown brand, backed by the hard work of artisans and karigars who handcraft each jutti pair. With a starting price of Rs 2799, some of their best-selling pieces include Love me Knot, Kala Pani, Doe a Deer, and Amaryllis collections. 

At the same time, even as she operates in the glamour of the fashion world, Shilpa believes she is not part of the rat race and is not bothered much by competition.

“I am a spiritual person and I also believe in energies. Whatever you wish for, want, and desire for is all there in the universe. It is upto us to pick them up and how we choose to see them. I am always a learner, I seek inspiration from travelling, reading a book, listening to soothing music, sharp architectural structures, cooking, and trying new cuisines,” she says, adding that designs for the Kala Pani collection is inspired from the Cellular Jail she visited on her trip to the Andamans last year.  

COVID-19 and other challenges

Shilpa is no stranger to various challenges that come from being a woman entrepreneur. “I have often felt a lack of acceptance by men in general. There is a constant effort that we have to put into meetings, or to sell our ideas and points,” she adds. 

She says entrepreneurship is all about ticking one box at a time and teaches you to level up and never give up. Though COVID-19 has significantly impacted the consumer’s confidence and spending, Shlipa shares that the brand has started receiving bigger volumes of orders online.  

She remains in constant communication with artisans and karigars, who are core to the business. “While we continue to pay full salaries of workers and vendors, their migration to villages has resulted in so much chaos and a lot of things slowing down,” she says. 

In the interim, Shilpa is working on creating an easy and effective online shopping experience amid social distancing. She hopes to expand the brand in India and in international markets as well. “It’s just the beginning for ShilpSutra, and there are miles to go,” she adds. 

Edited by Rekha Balakrishnan