Designer Men’s Shoes is Our Achilles’ Heel
Nirali Ruparel, owner of Achilles' Heel
As we attended The Indian Luxury Expo in Hyderabad last December, we couldn’t help but walk over to a glorious display of men’s shoes that bore strong international influences, were bold and statement making, and were anything but Plain Jane (well in this case Jack). On a quest to find new faces that contribute to the Indian luxury sector, we talk to Nirali Ruparel, owner of the first luxury bespoke men’s footwear brand in India—Achilles’ Heel
What prompted you to venture into the space of designer shoes for men?
I’ve hopped in and out of various fields to explore my interests and gathered inspirations from all the places I’ve worked at, to finally do what brings out the best in me—being creative! All I wanted was to be a tastefully popular entrepreneur and so I chose design as I was extremely passionate about fashion and style. My market research concluded that men’s footwear was a great proposition; one that would lend my brand an edge considering I’d be a front-runner in the segment. And well, don’t forget the age-old adage: Shoes (indeed) maketh the man.
Have you encountered any first-mover advantages? Are men as conscious about owning designer and branded goods as women?
As Carrie Bradshaw in Sex & the City says, "I have this little substance abuse problem… expensive footwear." That is the relationship that every woman has with her shoes. But I can now confidently add to that and say that men are not far behind. Shoes are no more a women’s monopoly, the new age man is catching up. It’s just that we didn’t give them a choice earlier. Did we offer them anything beyond the classic black oxfords, brown derby shoes or a designer footwear collection? How else would a common Joe become a sartorially skilled man? So yes, being the first home grown luxury bespoke men’s footwear brand in India that is governed by style forward designs, and at the same time provides for superior comfort and craftsmanship par excellence, Achilles’ Heel does have its advantages. We break away from conformism and strive to maintain a perfect symphony between modern techniques in shoe making and the traditional finesse of handcrafting an avant-garde pair.
Achilles' Heel also povides bespoke shoes for men
Who is the typical Achilles’ Heel buyer?
We are targeting men between 18-45 yrs of age. A man who plays a host of noir characters in his real life rather convincingly, is a rough character sketch of our buyer. He is a playboy and charmer, but one with preppy panache and class.
What are your price points?
As of now I’d categorise us as 'Accessible Luxury'. Achilles’ Heel occupies the long bridge between luxury brands and premium brands both in terms of pricing and perception. So our pricing ranges from Rs 4,000-Rs 10,000 for the prêt collection, and starts at Rs 15,000 for custom made footwear.
An accesible luxury brand, Achilles' Heel's price points for pret range between Rs 4,000-Rs 10,000
Studies indicate the luxury market in retail is set to reach $15 bn by 2015. The same is juxtaposed by the view that the Indian spender is becoming more cautious given the inflation. Is there a viable market for premium priced goods? Your thoughts…
…I do agree that there maybe be a cautious approach towards buying, but trends have indicated a shift in the perception of luxury as an overall experience versus a mere material possession. A reflection of this can be seen in the potent demand being witnessed from emerging economies like India and China. In fact, China is on track to becoming the world’s second largest luxury market within the next five years; India too is not far behind. With positive regulations and policies for the retail industry being put in place by the government, along with a burgeoning middle class which aspires to own and experience luxury goods and services, India is a market that can no longer be ignored by international brands.
With FDI in retail paving the incoming route for international brands to set up base in India, do you think there will be enough takers for the influx of premium goods this advent will bring in?
The French believe one can never overdo luxury. An infatuation with luxury that started around 2003 in India, has today blossomed into a full-blown love affair, becoming more torrid with the arrival of new luxury labels every month. It’s an era where people are not known for their clothes, but for the logos they sport; brand-spotting and monogram toting have become the favorite sport of the moneyed multitudes. So yes, there are many takers. But mostly for ‘bridge-to-luxury’ or ‘accessible luxury’ brands that are also able to provide for premium bespoke services, personalised attention, and tailor-made experiences.
Which international brand entrants are you personally looking forward to the most?
Stuart Weitzman and New York-based women’s footwear designer Vince Camuto.
Achilles' Heel is located at 77 & 80, Ratna Jyot Industrial Estate, Irla Gawthon, Vile Parle (W), Mumbai. Bespoke services are by appointment only, and you can shop online at www.achillesheel.co.
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