Meet the woman whose juttis are worn by Deepika Padukone, Priyanka Chopra, Sophie Turner, Kriti Sanon

Shirin Mann fell in love with juttis as a child. She chose to give up her career as an investigative journalist to launch made-in-India footwear brand and celeb favourite NEEDLEDUST.
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Sonam Kapoor, Deepika Padukone, Priyanka Chopra, Alia Bhatt, Shraddha Kapoor, Sonakshi Sinha, Sara Ali Khan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Katrina Kaif, and Sophie Turner. What do they all have in common? The NEEDLEDUST juttis on their feet!

Launched in 2014, Delhi-based NEEDLEDUST is a made-in-India footwear brand that offers handcrafted designer leather juttis and flat mules.

Founder and Creative Head Shirin Mann, who watched her mother don gorgeous hand-crafted juttis since childhood, says she developed a soft spot for this traditional footwear at an early age.

That’s why embellished juttis were her footwear of choice when she was getting married. However, a long-drawn out search for a pair that matched her specifications of style and comfort did not bear fruit. Realising the dearth of beautiful juttis in the market, she finally chose to design her own wedding pair adorned with delicate ghungroos.

The success of her project and the support of her husband encouraged Shirin to embark on an entrepreneurial journey and launch NEEDLEDUST in 2014, leaving behind her career as an investigative journalist.

Shirin Mann, the Founder and Creative Head of footwear brand NEEDLEDUST, says the brand is always reinventing to stay ahead of the curve.

It was a good call because soon everyone was clamouring for a pair of NEEDLEDUST juttis, including the biggies of Bollywood. Shirin’s brand has now grown to include on-ground stores across three cities, a thriving online business, and several copycat brands trailing on the heels of her success.

In a conversation with YSWeekender, Shirin explains her vision, the challenges she faced in setting up her label, and the future of the Indian fashion industry.  

Excerpts from the interview:

YS Weekender (YSW): When did you launch NEEDLEDUST? What was your vision?

Shirin Mann (SM): The main vision behind starting NEEDLEDUST was simple – to reinvent the jutti! Through my juttis, I aim to keep the finery of an heirloom while offering excellence in design and high quality raw material. And I believe that is why we stands out.

Today, there are hundreds of pages on Instagram that knock off our designs. In fact, I’ve even had people tell me that they wait for NEEDLEDUST to launch new collections, just so they can copy the designs. This doesn’t deter me from my goal though. I feel my endeavours have led to the revival of the entire industry, and created jobs that never existed earlier. This engulfs the disappointment of being copied and having to deal with India’s massive knock-off industry!

YSW: Bespoke traditional footwear had never been taken seriously in the sphere of luxury retail. How do you think your brand has changed this perception?

SM: In a market that constantly craves “something new”, the idea behind revamping the basic jutti was to amplify the power of our traditional crafts, highlight their precision in craftsmanship, and stress on sustainability. Juttis, often referred to as Indian ballerinas, are also appreciated abroad. I believe these factors have helped us effortlessly tap into the luxury sector. 

NEEDLEDUST offers fine leather juttis, hand-crafted by India’s finest artisans, with a desire to preserve the rich cultural heritage of our country. 

Each and every pair we put on our shelves is 100 percent handcrafted by a team of highly skilled artisans and craftsmen to achieve high measures of finesse, beauty and quality.

We experiment with designs and colours that are unexpected on juttis. We pride ourselves on serving a vast clientele ranging from children to young women to brides and bridesmaids as well as a discerning elderly group.

YSW: Why do you think your brand is favoured by celebrities across the board?

SM: We are constantly re-inventing our designs, in an attempt to stay ahead of the curve, and our quirky and chic designs have made juttis fashionable and cool for everyone to wear!

This led them to being the chosen footwear of many celebrities like Sonam Kapoor, Deepika Padukone, Priyanka Chopra, Alia Bhatt, Shraddha Kapoor, Sonakshi Sinha, Sara Ali Khan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, and Katrina Kaif to name a few.

Our designs have been featured in numerous publications and fashion magazines. We have designed footwear for Game of Thrones star Sophie Turner and American reality TV star Danielle Jonas for Priyanka Chopra's wedding.

On this occasion, we also showcased the Abu Jani Sandeep Khosla x NEEDLEDUST collection in an exclusive pop-up. We also designed some exclusive juttis for Deepika Padukone's wedding, which were gifted to her guests at her mehendi function at Lake Como.

YSW: You have now expanded to clothing with your label SAND by Shirin. Please tell us about this new brand.

SM: My clothing label SAND stemmed from my desire to establish a responsible business model. SAND is an acronym for ‘Such A Nice Day’, and is my ode to minimalist luxury. The fabrics we use are made from aloe vera, eucalyptus, rose, soybean protein, and banana with organic pure linen, cotton and hemp to keep the body cool in the sweltering heat.

Shirin Mann’s clothing label, SAND by Shirin, focuses on universally flattering silhouettes.

Our winter collection focusses on the use of the finest cashmere and pashmina to keep you snug yet stylish. 

The universally flattering silhouettes of SAND’s collection are a nod to the uniqueness of every woman.

Many would agree that our clothes are often our biggest body-shamers, because when we gain or lose weight, our clothing is the first to let us know! Through the clothing at SAND, I aim to make my patrons feel confident, fierce and beautiful at all times.

YS: Do you think the future of the Indian fashion industry lies specifically in a marriage between traditional Indian crafts and modern design sensibilities?

SM: Yes, I believe so. In India, we have so much diversity, not just within our own culture but also through a ready acceptance of western sensibilities. Our fashion choices too have always lived in harmony, juxtaposing collections influenced by our culture and traditions with those from foreign lands. I feel the future of the Indian fashion industry lies in adopting certain western practices, while maintaining our Indian essence for every creation.

YSW: What has been your biggest learning through your experience of the fashion industry thus far?

SM: As someone who hasn’t studied fashion, I have learnt everything along the way. But I feel my biggest learning so far is that it is important to explore creativity based on our instincts, while staying within the framework of our financial model.

YSW: With the pandemic having severely affected the fashion industry, what is your mantra for survival and continued success?

SM: Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic closed many doors for numerous people, but I have not stepped down from my path of achieving my goal.

I’ve been concentrating on developing the best-in-class marketing strategies to allow our virtual audience to consume our products just as they like - at all times and on all platforms.

Our on-ground stores in Delhi and Chandigarh are closed presently, but we have been generating significant online sales through our websites as we ship in India and internationally. We will be opening our fourth physical NEEDLEDUST store in Mumbai, and a store for SAND by Shirin is also in the offing.  

Edited by Teja Lele Desai

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