With gender-neutral shoes, this Noida-based brand is making customers spoilt for choice
JVAM was incepted in 2017 after which it started wholesaling in Japan. Recently, it launched its gender-neutral collection in retail stores in India. Here’s the story uncovering the idea behind the launch of genderless shoes.
Thursday November 14, 2019,
4 min Read
We have all grown up seeing different variants in footwear for males and females. And, our conventional choices too have become selective, based on our gender - sandals are for girls, shoes are for boys.
To break this stereotype, Raoul Mehra started JVAM shoes in 2017, a gender-neutral footwear brand. The company was launched under the parent company, Vanilla Moon founded in 1989.
In an interaction with SMBStory, Raoul says,
“I was working in the US and came back in 2016. I always wanted to create something that is not gender-specific. And, while I already had a family business that dealt in shoes, I took inspiration from the same to design something that can cater to the choice of everyone.”
Edited excerpts from the interview
SMBStory: What is JVAM? How did you start the business?
Raoul Mehra: JVAM is a loose play on “Japan Vanilla Moon”, a gender-neutral footwear brand that stands for inclusivity and the idea is to encourage people to come out of their comfort zones, allowing them to express themselves, however they want.
I was doing my BA in Economics from the University of Pennsylvania. I returned to India in 2016 after which I joined my family shoe business. Though I wanted to start something of my own for a very long time, without the knowledge of business, prototyping, and manufacturing, it wouldn’t have worked out.
I worked in the company for a year and then launched my own brand under the parent company.
SMBS: What inspired you to create gender-neutral shoes? Where do you manufacture the products?
RM: Since my family is into women's footwear business, I always felt there should be a product that could be genderless.
I was always fascinated by the street style culture in Tokyo, and how forward the transition of fashion is. So, taking cues from blurring gender identities when it came to fashion, I decided to venture into the territory of making gender-neutral shoes. Also, because of the fact that these designs were easy enough to execute with minimalist styles, I decided to take the plunge with my idea.
Our shoes are manufactured in our two units in Noida and Agra, following some unique construction techniques like - Sacchetto and Bologna constructions, that gives the shoes their softness and comfort.
It means there are no hard components and the shoes are 100 percent flexible. As you wear them, they mold to your feet and become more ergonomic.
We use the highest quality of leather to make this line and are offering them in the market at prices between Rs 4,500 and Rs 10,000. For the same quality of shoes, one would need to spend about 5-10x as much.
SMBS: How are the customers reacting to gender-neutral footwear?
RM: Right after I launched the brand in 2017, the following year, I started retailing in Japan through a distribution network. I knew the acceptance of the product will be more in Japan and hence, I started from there.
Gradually, I started retailing in India from two Vanilla Moon stores across the city located in DLF Emporio, Vasant Kunj and South Point Mall, Gurugram.
The demand for the product has been enough, and to give a rough example, I put 300 pairs of JVAM shoes in stores, of which one-third has been sold already.
SMBS: What are your challenges in sustaining the business?
RM: Marketing is the biggest challenge. I believe in the idea and we have the strength as a manufacturing company to produce very high-quality footwear. However, it is equally
important to invest in marketing and get the brand out there for anyone to buy.
The market is quite small for JVAM shoes in India. The real scope for these products is in the Tier I cities. Today, I think people are more open to new experiences, and I want to give them something they haven’t seen before.
Competition is tough but, it is important to embrace your uniqueness as a brand and stick to your core belief. For me, that emphasises inclusivity and comfort. Retail in India is tough and I am eager to see what the response is like this winter.
SMBS: What are your future prospects?
RM: Future prospects seem appealing. We aim to bring more styles into the collection, diversifying it into more season-based footwear. JVAM is soon coming up with its own website to attract more customers and orders.
We are also planning to expand the reach and hit more retails stores across New Delhi.
(Edited by Suman Singh)