The luxury of handcrafted customisation with a promise of ethical fashion is what Paio stands for. Started a year and a half back, this footwear brand holds true to its beliefs and has seen a steady growth ever since. The woman behind it all, Shweta Nimkar caters to every woman today who loves to adorn footwear that’s about class and elegance all at once. Having completed her graduation from Ramnarain Ruia College, Shweta moved to England to pursue Fashion Marketing and Design. After working with her father for a few years, she realised that her interest in crafting footwear could turn into an initiated business. That’s how Paio started. In a candid interview, the go-getter talks about building her brand, her ongoing inspirations and choosing ethical fashion. Read WODROB’s interview with the woman who is taking over the handcrafted footwear scene one day at a time. Excerpts…
1. Take us through your design process at Paio.
Step one is purchasing materials. For which, you need to have an idea of the colour combination you want to work with. The process starts with drawing out the pattern of the shoe. Post this we carve it out on the actual mould. The design is decided on the mould before it actually translates as the actual shoe. We cut the pattern on the leather and that same piece gets moulded onto the shoe. The upper and the bottom part of the shoe are made separately. After allowing this to set on the mould for about 12-14 hours, we remove the cast. This is important or it’s possible that the back of the shoe will refuse to hold for long. The stiffness only comes when the mould is allowed to set in. Basically, when crafting footwear, attention to detail is extremely important.
2. How do you go about the inspiration behind a particular collection?
Sometimes inspirations are taken from the runway or even other designers. There are colour combinations seen on a runway outfit that we really love, which we then try and incorporate on the shoe. We attempt various permutations and combinations before coming across something that we’re really happy with. This season, we are working a lot with embroidery, something that we’ve not done before. The butterfly is our main inspiration, and we’re making shoes that more or less reflect either the design of a butterfly or its colour scheme. We also plan on making ankle-length boots for the upcoming winter.
3. Do you follow fashion seasons like other brands? Also, how do you decide on the colours?
We don’t follow fashion seasons. In fact, sometimes we create 3 or 4 collections a year. In terms of the colour palette, that depends on what is available in the market. Every month, we send somebody from the team to check on what is new in the market and avail the samples. If we think it is a brilliant print and we want to work with it later, we stock it up.
4. You’ve interned with the Ethical Fashion Forum (EFF), UK. Did that experience help in Paio…if so how?
The Ethical Fashion Forum is a non-profit network of small, 100 percent sustainable brands from around the world. They introduce these brands to high-end retailers like Marks & Spencer who may want to source fabric from them. Working with EFF gave me the idea of using vegan leather in my products. It is not easy to make shoes that are 100 percent sustainable as the glue used in the making of footwear is non-biodegradable. However, EFF helped me get in touch with many people who create completely sustainable fabric. At Paio, we try to source from them. The forum helped me with a good contact base and an understanding of how the fashion world works.
5. That said, working with vegan leather… was that a conscious decision?
Yes, it is a conscious decision. I am a big supporter of PETA. In fact, we started another organisation in Thane called PAL (Pet Owners And Animal Lovers) that is still functional and is operated by a very close friend of mine. I have always been an animal lover and I don’t see the need to use animal leather when there are perfectly good substitutes available in the market.
6. Is there a signature design or silhouette that you think always works for the label?
Every design that ends up having a V-cut in the middle has always worked for Paio. We literally have had to make the design over and over again. Also, the Oxford cutout shoe and the pointed ballerinas have done really well for us.
7. You’ve collaborated with fashion designer Siddhartha Bansal during Lakme Fashion Week. How was your experience?
The collaboration with Siddhartha was for last year autumn/winter. He sent us the fabric because he was working with a particular theme for his collection. We made the boots for him as part of his runway show. We also collaborated with Whimsical by Shica by Shikha Ghalsasi.
8. How do you maintain a balance between your ongoing collection and customising orders that have a traditional Indian design?
Collection wise we try to keep it as contemporary and quirky as possible. We play with a lot of prints and colour combinations. We ideally like to keep our collection modern but in case a customer needs it, we customise as well. When asked for, we do make every type of Indian footwear.
9. How difficult is it to create a market for handcrafted products in compared to machine-made footwear?
You can’t tell a handcrafted piece from a machine-made shoe these days. The only way I see handcrafted shoe working is through customisation. Each shoe is made for a particular user…for instance if you want foam padding or have a flat foot, or you need an arched heel it has to be customised. All of these cannot be machine made. Which is why there’ll always be a need for handcrafted shoes.
10. For a footwear brand like Paio, do you prefer having an online presence or a brick-and-mortar store?
As a brand, I would prefer having an online presence. In India, the biggest problem is that we don’t have a standard foot size chart. So customers get frustrated when they constantly have to refer to various size charts. Also, customers here still feel the need to touch the product, especially if its shoes. And for crafting a shoe, the size and fit have got to be correct. So, as much as I would love to have it online, I would prefer it offline as well. Basically, it’s got to be a combination.
11. Do you plan on opening a store in the future?
We don’t have an offline store as of now but we keep participating in exhibitions to reach out to our customers. We are also in talks with boutiques and retail stores for collaborations and make different products for each city. In five years, I want Paio to be in every boutique and every major retail store. That is the goal.
Images Shot & Edited by Suraj Uchil for WODROB Magazine