Shirin Mann – “Reinventing Jutti”

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All eyes on Needledust

Shirin Mann– the founder of Needledust has built a jewel studed empire. Shirin was an investigative journalist and gave up journalism to pursue her passion and love for juttis. Shirin has always been a shoe person! She always knew she would not be any other girl wearing stilettos with her Sabyasachi wedding lehnga. Shirin Mann, chose juttis over heels and that’s how it all began.

The idea and success story of ‘Needledust’
“I started looking for juttis and I found every jutti very mundane, gold, silver, black and brown. I had certain design of juttis in my mind- a gold zardozi with ghungroos, so I started looking for them. After a few days of search, I realized nobody is interested in designing those juttis because it was a dying handicraft. Finally, I had to find ‘karigars’ to do it for me. My friends and relatives came to my wedding, and they loved my juttis. During my research I realized that it was a dying handicraft and the karigars have taken every day jobs like rikshawpullers, and labourers. I decided to revive the handicraft in a small way again. In order to revive the jutti industry and make footwear with great quality of raw material, so that it also becomes stylish for high street and international fashion, Needledust was born.”

Vision behind the brand ‘Needledust’
“The goal of the company is to convert every girl into a Needledust girl. And, that every girl would love and feel comfortable to wear Needledust juttis. We were the first movers in contemporizing the juttis, when girls thought it cannot look stylish; Needledust started their business to make it more fashionable and trendy. I have spent a lot of time in R&D, and small details like why a jutti pinches. So, the cuts and curves of our juttis are very different from all the juttis ever made or are being made. Keeping in mind the comfort, we use 100 percent calf leather from registered tanneries. We use double pad to make sure the juttis are extremely comfortable and does not sit down. The front of the juttis is cut in a way to make your feet feel more slender and feminine. The designs of the juttis are extremely unique and extraordinary. Our basis of designing is to make something unimaginable in shoes. So, we do everything from Swarovski crystals to Abu Jani Sandeep Khosla. The fact that Abu Jani wants to do collaboration with me was beyond my imagination, as they are an inspirational brand for me. We have done techniques that were never done before. We were the first Indian handicraft footwears to do Swarovski crystals collaboration. The idea was to bring Abu Jani’s designs on our juttis.”

“I was a journalist so, this was my first business idea to reinvent juttis and redo the juttis for contemporary fashion. The idea was to do traditional things into more classier and elegant way. Then we went on to doing metal fringes, 3D butterflies, a lot of pearls etc. The idea is to create everything for anyone who comes into the store.”

New learnings!
“I do not think there was any mistake I wish I could have avoided because every mistake has been a learning experience. If that mistake was not made, I would not be where I am today. For example, what kind of leather we should use, what sort of padding we should use, knowing that there are more than 20 types of beads and why we should use Japanese beads, it was not just mistakes. Because of all the research and our efforts, our juttis never tear, which is the most common thing in a jutti. Our juttis are cut in a way that they would never hurt your feet. Every profession has failures and when you are growing at a pace that you have never imagined, there will be roadblocks. I still do not sleep if I have something big the next day. For me, even if a single client complaints, that’s a failure. I want to maintain 100 percent satisfaction level for every Needledust customer.”

Future plans
“The plan is to open more national and international stores. We would like to reach as much people as we can. Our website ships to over 170 countries. We hope to venture into men’s footwear and more women’s footwear. Quality is non-negotiable for me.”

Reviving the Jutti industry and challenges
“The most important part of my whole business journey was to revive the jutti industry and to sustain employment. The highest pay role in my company is a woman. The idea is to increase women employment. My biggest challenge is that we want to get more people on boards since we are expanding but a lot of karigars are hired to copy our designs based on seasons. When the season is over they lose their job. I try my best to provide a job security to all the karigars working with me. The second is knock-off markets. We spend a lot of time on our designs and in making them but somehow they copy and sell them for cheap.”

Chandigarh as the new ‘Needledust’ home!
“This is where I belong (Chandigarh), my family, friends, relatives, all are from Chandigarh. It is like homecoming. I am a Chandigarh girl, and I did not know what to do for this city. People do not realize the potential of our city; we do a lot of great things.”

Abu Jani & Sandeep Khosla collaboration
“I have my dream collaboration with Abu Jani Sandeep Khosla, Swarovski crystals and only at the Chandigharh store, we are starting customizations on Swarovski. We have made juttis for Priyanka and Deepika on their wedding. We have also worked in movies like Padmavat and Veere Di Wedding.
Deepika specified in terms of colour and packaging for her wedding juttis. She picked two juttis from Needledust which was silver and gold, going with the theme of her wedding. She gave these juttis to 200 guests. She was very specific of the colour and kind of packing we were doing for her. Priyanka just wanted to do a pop-up of colours for her wedding. They picked from our design which was amazing. Sonam Kapoor and Sara Ali Khan are big fans of Juttis too.”

Advice for novices
“Do not listen to the people who just comment negative things. People kept telling me who would wear juttis but I was passionate enough to ignore those comments and started off.”
“Today Needledust house 25 families of jutti makers and sponsor their kids education and staying.”

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