This homegrown shoe brand is competing with Woodland, Clarks, Cole Haan in the premium men’s segment

Founded by Jyoti Narula, Joe Shu is a Delhi-based men’s footwear brand intersecting pricing, style and quality to produce elegant shoes.

India’s retail industry is undergoing a sea change, particularly in the men’s segment. Male-centric brands have been seeing significant growth over the past couple of years.

The number of brands catering to men’s grooming, clothing, and even footwear has mushroomed alongside India’s growing internet penetration.

Initially, men’s footwear was synonymous with buying formal shoes, but today, this category is amalgamating factors such as style, comfort, looks, and affordability. Delhi-based Joe Shu is one such brand that tries to factor in these aspects. 

Jyoti Narula, Founder Joe Shu

From clothes to footwear

After completing his MBA from the University of Massachusetts, like many others, Jyoti Narula joined the corporate world. However, the work didn’t resonate with him and he decided to quit his job. His interest lay in the fashion industry.

Along with a friend, Jyoti started Genesis Colors Pvt Ltd. in 1992, a platform for luxury labels from India and abroad, and ran the business for a couple of years. It also launched the Satya Paul collection which became iconic in India.

However, the business aspects got compromised while running a creative shop. Jyoti exited the business in 2013 and Reliance Brands later acquired the company.

Though the shop got shut, Jyoti kept thinking about what he wanted to do next. “You only build one big brand in your life, and I realised I was not done yet,” he tells SMBStory.

Jyoti had been noticing a gap in the men’s footwear segment. His travel experiences across the globe, especially Europe, gave him a deeper insight into the industry. “There are very few brands in India that are providing stylish men’s shoes with top-class quality and good pricing,” he says.

Jyoti thought of it as  “indeed a good space to venture into.” Additionally, he observed that the women's footwear segment had also been over-exploited and had become saturated. 

Thus, he decided to start Joe Shu in 2016. 

A shoe that lasts

A ‘last’ is the mould that gives the shoe its shape. The success of manufacturing a shoe and its quality depends on how good the last is, says Jyoti, adding, “The ability to make a good last determines how good a shoe you can make.” That is why he says that Joe Shu heavily focuses on the last. 

Another factor that plays an important role in deciding the quality of the shoes is how the leather is treated. “Well-treated leather always looks and feels goods,” Jyoti notes. 

Jyoti says that elegance and style are the two things that make up the company’s USP. 

The shoes by Joe Shu are a mix when it comes to manufacturing. Some are manufactured in India at the company’s facility in the outskirts of Delhi, whereas the rest are imported from manufacturers in countries like Italy, Portugal etc. The raw materials are obtained from various sources. 

Jyoti says that Italy owns the footwear market when it comes to style, followed by Brazil, Spain, and Portugal. However, he adds that India is gaining popularity in the premium footwear segment market. China has also been ruling the space in terms of volume.

The range of price at Joe Shu’s varies between Rs 8,000 and Rs 15,000 per pair of shoes. It offers footwear across formal and casual categories. The business also diversified into other extensions of men’s wear including belts, fashion wallets, cufflinks, neckties, and much more.

Brick-and-mortar at heart

The impact of COVID-19 has been felt in all corners of the world. Along with the hospitality, travel, tourism and real estate industries, the footwear space has also been dealt a massive blow with iconic retailers like Canada-based shoe brand ALDO and US-based J Crew filing for bankruptcy.

Jyoti says that though “at heart, he is a brick-and-mortar guy,” but seeing the situation in the retail and rental spaces, “digital is the way forward.” In the pre-COVID-19 era, the company used to sell SKUs numbering 300 per month in the offline space, while only 10 were sold online.

But now, Joe Shu is forcing its way through digital expansion. It is also present on social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. It is also listed on ecommerce platforms such as Amazon, Myntra, Flipkart and others. It has also partnered with seven stores. Everything said and done, Jyoti says that he is optimistic about the retail sector bouncing back.

“I also believe that something like ‘revenge-buying’ will happen wherein people will say, ‘I am going to shop my heart out,’” he predicts.

Formal shoes by Joe Shu

Lessons from the pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has brought huge and unique predicaments to the world. Jyoti was in Italy in the month of February and therefore, he saw it all coming.

“I was in Italy with a group of Italians who tested positive. The first person in India to test positive for COVID-19 was also in the same fare. When I came back, all hell broke loose,” he recalls. 

What saved the company was shifting all the merchandise from malls and other places to the warehouses, and relying heavily on operating online.

However, he adds that such business shocks are a part of life. “It is important to learn from the pandemic. We have been working on becoming sustainable,” he quips, adding, “People should run their businesses with care whether times are good or bad by also being softer on the environment.” 

Jyoti claims that Joe Shu has not resorted to any salary cuts yet.

The company is also in talks with environmental organisations and agencies to push for sustainability in the industry. They further plan to make shoes from recycled materials like ocean plastics and fishing nets. 

Enough room for all

The shoe industry is an extremely crowded market. Larger players like Woodland, Bata, Liberty, Adidas, Puma, and Clarks are competing for a dominant position in the market alongside smaller players. 

“Competition is healthy. It keeps us on our toes and compels us to continuously innovate,” comments Jyoti.

He also adds that there is enough room for everyone to present their products and do well. 

While it may take some time for people’s lives to return to normal, Joe Shu is leaning on its casual footwear category to spearhead the market in the coming times and forge more strategic alliances with co-branded products. 

Edited by Kanishk Singh


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