Taking Kolhapuri chappals global: meet the entrepreneur offering customised footwear through tech
Footwear brand Chappers was founded in 2014 by Harshwardhan Patwardhan to give Kolhapuri chappals a worldwide recognition. After expanding to different categories, the brand is now offering customised footwear through tech.
The footprint of centuries-old Kolhapuri chappals, the hand-crafted leather slippers that are tanned using vegetable dyes, seems to be fading in the recent years.
Harshwardhan Patwardhan, a 30-year-old entrepreneur, says,
“We have known Kolhapuri chappals for ages. The making technique of these chappals remains the same as it was centuries ago. However, given the lifestyle changes, the design and comfort of these sandals also need an upgrade.”
Around 2013, Harshwardhan was working with his father in the transportation business. During this time, he started thinking of stepping out of the family business and start something of his own. While he was yet to come up with a concrete business idea, his love for Kolhapuri footwear drew him to Kolhapur. Here, he met the local artisans and closely observed the manufacturing process of the sandals. And the idea was in front of him. He decided to work towards making the iconic handcrafted footwear be recognised globally by adding an element of comfort and luxury. This led to the birth of footwear brand.
Chappers was started in 2014 in Pune with Kolhapuri chappals, but today, the brand also deals in loafers, mules, moccasins, and more. Harshwardhan has also launched one of India's first 3D footwear customisation platforms.
Taking Kolhapuri global
After hitting upon the idea of introducing comfortable Kolhapuri chappals, Harshwardhan says his next step was R&D as he had no knowledge of leather or even the footwear industry. He had heard about Kolkata, Kanpur, and Chennai being leather hubs, and thus made his first move towards Kolkata, where he met manufacturers to garner basic understanding of leather.
Due to limited funds, he contacted scrap leather dealers of Dharavi in Mumbai to initiate the process of making Kolhapuri sandals. He also contacted a few artisans from Kolhapur and started his first workshop in Mumbai.
“My first sale of Kolhapuri sandals was to friends and family. It was mostly offline where they would visit the workshop and give us the order for footwear, which we would customise as per their needs. From the colour of the footwear to the design, we customised everything. Customisation has been our prime feature since day one,” says Harshwardhan.
In the initial days, the business was slow as not many people were aware of the concept, and due to limited budget, Harshwardhan couldn’t spend a lot on marketing. The following year, he took Chappers online through his website, and since then Harshwardhan claims Chappers is growing 25 percent year-on-year post COVID-19 hit.
The Kolhapuri chappals, which he started on a small scale, now has a global appeal as Harshwardhan says Chappers Kolhapuri sandals are being worn by his customers in 27 countries including the US, Europe, etc.
The brand closed FY 21-22 at Rs 2.5 crore turnover.
A step in the right direction
In 2015, Harshwardhan opened his first luxury footwear store in Pune. And in 2017, to scale up the brand, he travelled to Italy to learn about Italian leather shoes. He returned with a new product range of Italian shoes, where he can customise premium quality shoes as per customers’ choice.
“From the kind of leather to cushion, colour, design, and everything else, customisation is possible even in our leather shoes. The concept is very new to the Indian market where men are groomed in a way that they wear a maximum of three colours - brown, black, and tan. They don’t compliment their attire with shoes and this is the change Chappers wants to bring,” Harshwardhan tells SMBStory.
With a model where 25-30 selected bestsellers are kept in a ready-to-wear section, and rest of the designs are for bespoke customisation with 20 in-house artisans, there is a low need for inventory and retail outlets. The delivery timeframe, Harshwardhan says, is up to 72 hours.
The price of Chappers footwear starts from Rs 2,500 and goes up to Rs 60,000. The brand competes with the likes of Metro, Mochi, among others.
A 3D customisation platform
To bring a change in the way footwear is being worn in India, Harshwardhan launched one of India’s first 3D footwear customisation screens in his stores. The same feature is also enabled on his website as well.
“Through this screen, people can customise their favourite designs using our 3D customisation platform and can surf through 250 of hand-picked colour combinations and some of India's finest leathers,” Harshwardhan tells SMBStory.
So far, Chappers has about 25,000 customers and has delivered orders to 27 foreign countries. It envisions taking the Indian traditional footwear to every corner of the world with a customer retention rate of 40 percent.
Challenges and the way ahead
One of the major challenges, according to Harshwardhan, is the mindset of male customers who are hesitant to try different designs and colours. However, with the customisation option already available with Chappers, where customers can visualise the end product through 3D screen, he is hoping to overcome this challenge.
In the future, Harshwardhan is planning to increase the offline retail presence of Chappers by introducing franchise-model.
Edited by Megha Reddy