StartupTalky presents Recap'22. This is a series of interviews in which we conduct in-depth discussions with founders & industry leaders to understand their growth in 2022 and their predictions for the future.
The footwear industry has grown significantly in recent years, driven by a number of factors like an increase in consumer demand, advancements in technology, and the growth of e-commerce.
People are becoming more conscious of fashion and are willing to spend more money on high-quality footwear. Additionally, consumers are also becoming more health-conscious and are looking for footwear that provide comfort and support.
Advances in technology have also played a role in the growth of the footwear industry. New materials and manufacturing techniques have allowed for the creation of new, innovative footwear products.
Another trend that is driving growth in the footwear industry is the increase in customization and personalization of shoes. With the rise of 3D printing and other technologies, it is becoming easier for consumers to create their own unique shoe designs.
The Indian footwear market is valued at approximately $13 billion in 2020 and is projected to grow at a CAGR of around 12% during the forecast period from 2021 to 2028. The production of footwear in India reached around 2.8 billion pairs in the year 2020.
For this Interview, we invited Harshwardhan Patwardhan, Founder of Chappers, and we talked about the growth, challenges, insights, and future opportunities in the footwear industry.
StartupTalky: Harshwardhan, What's Chappers all about? What was the motivation/ vision with which you started?
Harshwardhan Patwardhan: Chappers is a footwear brand that offers customization to anyone who loves to have their style using AR technology. We offer various styles right, from Kolhapuri Chappals to Belgian loafers, mojdis, Peshawari sandals, and more, for both men and women.
I have been fond of Kolhapuri chappals since college, and when I went to study in the UK, I took my favorite footwear along. It received much appreciation from my friends and other people around me, but the only challenge around wearing Kolhapuris was the need for more color and design. This gave me the idea to build a world-class footwear brand that could offer unmatched design and color innovations and give Kolhapuris a contemporary avatar. This is the vision with which I started my journey with Chappers.
StartupTalky: What other products/features have been added in the past year? What is/are the USP/s of your products?
Harshwardhan Patwardhan: Chappers is a brand unlike any other in the Indian footwear market. We have created a unique fusion of Indian and western footwear to create stylish, high-quality, durable, and comfortable footwear. Alongside expanding the range of Chappers customized footwear, Chappers, which started as a men’s footwear brand, recently introduced some SKUs for female customers with the festive and wedding footwear demand in mind. The uniqueness of Chappers lies in the usage of cutting-edge design and AR technology in order placement. We encourage our customers to create designs with colors, materials, and even personal symbols or accessories for footwear.
Thus, our customers can make their style statement through footwear. This kind of designer footwear is offered to them at far more affordable prices than other international brands providing such services.
StartupTalky: How has the footwear industry changed in recent years and how has your company adapted to these changes?
Harshwardhan Patwardhan: The footwear industry has been steadily growing in size over the years. However, there has yet to be growth when it comes to innovation. All major brands keep producing thousands of pairs of almost identical-looking footwear. Chappers has identified the unaddressed demand for personalization and introduced a cutting-edge software-driven approach that ensures limitless creativity and options for personalizing footwear. Along with high quality and the right price, our footwear has been gaining rapid market acceptance and is now available for delivery all over India from our e-commerce portal. Customers can also order the footwear through our offline stores in Pune, and we are working towards expanding our retail network to different parts of the country.
StartupTalky: How do you stay up-to-date on the latest trends and developments in your industry?
Harshwardhan Patwardhan: I attend most of the industry events and exhibitions. It is inspiring to see how Indian entrepreneurs are coming up with newer technology and innovative manufacturing techniques. I also research many foreign brands that have made a mark on the footwear world, like Christian Louboutin, Versace, Salvatore Ferragamo, and Giuseppe Zannotti.
StartupTalky: What key metrics do you track to check the company's growth and performance?
Harshwardhan Patwardhan: We track Month on Month sales growth and the number of customer touchpoints added. We want all Indians to experience the power of customization. We believe our model will change the footwear industry forever.
StartupTalky: What were the most significant challenges your company faced in the past year and how did you overcome them?
Harshwardhan Patwardhan: In the early stages of Chappers’ evolution, we faced challenges related to the procurement of raw materials. Still, we overcame those through extensive research and visits to leather makers across Maharashtra, especially the Mumbai region. In recent times, we have had challenges with the pandemic. Still, we have built a full-fledged eCommerce website to ensure that customers can order Chappers footwear from their homes across India now and get them delivered in three to four days from order placement.
StartupTalky: Repeat purchase is one of the most important parameters on which most eCommerce brands are betting. How do you keep your customer engaged to stop churn?
Harshwardhan Patwardhan: Chappers is a one-of-its-kind footwear brand in India. We offer customers freedom of choice to get their footwear made the way they want. We have built a patented AR software that lets them choose materials and colors and add personalized elements such as accessories or signs. They can visualize the look and feel of the product through AR tools, and if they are satisfied with the design, they can finalize it and place an order. This is the only brand currently offering right-priced footwear options in this country. This has been a critical driver for Chappers retaining its customers and getting many repeat orders. Even the comfort and quality of the products are very high, making the customers choose Chappers over other brands.
StartupTalky: What are the different strategies you use for marketing? Tell us about any growth hack which you pulled off.
Harshwardhan Patwardhan: We have been using different content marketing approaches and increasing online brand visibility through media coverage and footwear style guides. Further, Chappers also participates in a lot of exhibitions and fairs. We also run social media and search engine marketing to optimize our customer reach.
StartupTalky: What are the important tools and software you use to run your business smoothly?
Harshwardhan Patwardhan: Chappers is a technology-driven brand, and we have built our proprietary AR software to enable customers to design and visualize the footwear even before it takes shape. For sales, we use the latest e-commerce technologies and keep improving the tech stack to streamline operations further.
StartupTalky: What opportunities do you see for future growth in your industry in India and the world?
Harshwardhan Patwardhan: As a country of nearly 1.4 billion people, a strong audience is keen to buy stylish, high-quality, personalized footwear. We have revamped the iconic Maharashtrian Kolhapuri footwear and made it apt for consumers worldwide. Chappers has already received several orders from foreign countries. In the long run, my vision is to make Chappers available in every shopping mall across India and through eCommerce channels in every part of the world.
StartupTalky: What lessons did your team learn in the past year and how will these inform your future plans and strategies?
Harshwardhan Patwardhan: Covid was a challenging phase for all of us. We must stick through the bad phases in life to see a brighter future. Testing times are always short-lived, and there’s always a ray of light at the end of the tunnel. Never give up! The past year has seen a tremendous rise in sales of high-ticket-value items, which was surprising for us.
StartupTalky: How do you plan to expand the Customers, SKUS, and team base in the future?
Harshwardhan Patwardhan: We keep track of the most popular Chappers designs and frequently upgrade our database with new SKUs based on these designs. Chappers recently unveiled a range of footwear for women, and we will expand it in the year ahead. Further, there are plans to introduce kids’ footwear and include products based on various other ethnic footwear from different states of India, such as more from Rajasthan.
For market coverage, we are leveraging a kiosk franchise model under which we offer franchises to people to set up kiosks in shopping malls. Four such outlets are already operational in Pune, and in the long term, the vision is to have one kiosk in every shopping mall across India. We will expand our team of craftsmen and other professionals in sync with the brand’s growth.
StartupTalky: With so much hype around d2c brands spending on ads, what will be your growth strategy organic or inorganic? How to plan to work around SEO and content marketing?
Harshwardhan Patwardhan: Digital marketing is the key to success for any D2C brand today. Chappers generate many organic leads as customers who use our products recommend the brand to others. We currently use SEO, content marketing, social media marketing, and even search engine marketing to engage the audience. In the future, we will leverage influencer marketing and other D2C-centric marketing channels for faster growth.
StartupTalky: So finally Harshwardhan, one tip that you would like to share with another d2c founder?
Harshwardhan Patwardhan: I personally believe that d2c is a misunderstood term. People relate d2c just to online businesses. That is not true. Direct to Consumer businesses can run offline sales channels too. Online business is highly overrated. It is good for marketing and customer acquisition. But businesses must build the right mix of online and offline sales points to gain traction. Do not restrict yourself to any particular point of sale. Eventually, sales growth is essential; whether it comes online or offline does not matter.
We thank Harshwardhan Patwardhan for spending his valuable time and sharing his learnings with all of us.