Lakshya Arora from Desi Hangover: Sustainable Footwear
In this episode of Green Business Podcast, we have Lakshya Arora from the Desi Hangover that offers sustainable shoes under the brand Desis. Desis are reinventing traditional Indian footwear to make it appealing to today’s customer. Lakshya along with his friends, Hitesh and Abha, started the company in 2014. They offer more than 50 product designs now, which are sold through online channels, as well as offline stores across India, Malaysia and Singapore.
Lakshya talks about the origin story of DesiHangover. He met his cofounder Hitesh in 2013, when both of them were in Egypt as part of their internship program. Lakshya had a pair of koulouri chappals, which was loved by all students who were participating in the program. When they returned to India, Lakshya and Hitesh decided to venture into creating a product that would marry India’s art farms with quality. In 2014, Hitesh college senior Abha also joined them. Lakshya says
“If an Italian shoe can get a place where what it has in the world, why not an Indian shoe? Why not these Indian artisans, you know, be at the same level, and that was the motivation, and hence we started the business.”
Scaling up- Product Innovation and marketing:
Lakshya then talks about how their product design has evolved. Their research and customer interactions indicated that the reason people don’t pay a premium for traditional ethnic footwear is because the shoe is not comfortable, there is no uniformity in sizing, there is no quality of material that is comparable to what you can get in any other evolved business.
Lakshya says “So we solved step by step all of those problems and made products which could be made in the middle of a village in India but could be worn in Times Square, and people would love to talk about it”.
DesiHangover started with a Facebook page and then a website. Then they participated in various exhibitions, which also connected them to local retailers. They got their first international client from Malaysia through their Facebook campaign. Today desis are available at 150 plus Fab India stores In India and also in select outlets in Singapore and Malaysia.
Name “Desi hangover” and its target market:
We talk about the relevance of the name Desi Hangover, and who the shoe is for, Lakshya says
“We were 18 and 19 respectively when we started right, one thought in our head was like get over the colonial hangover.” Now, who is the shoe for it’s for? Honestly, anyone, not just in India, but globally. So, we are basically creating a very distinctive category of shoes. For example, in India, right, like one problem with ethnic shows is that you wear an ethnic shoe. And you just wear it for one occasion, and you leave it away, our shoes can be worn on an ethnic occasion. But at the same time, the same pair of shoes is pretty suitable to be born on a pair of chinos or on a pair of denim. So, the lifetime of the show is very big. So, we cater to audiences between 25 to 45 years of age”
Lakshya explains that customers buy desis because they fund their designs unique, and product is comfortable. But beyond that people buy it because they know that this shoe is made by artisans and it benefitted artisans and protecting our art forms.
Sustainability of Desi hangover shoes:
When asked about how shoe made from leather is sustainable considering animals are big emitters of GHG emissions, Lakshya explains that shoes use two types of leathers, for mid soles they use vegetable tanned leather, made by the skin of animals who die naturally. This leather is dyed by using natural dyes such as turmeric and bark. Rest of the leather comes from LWG certified leather tanneries in India. LWG indicates that leather is coming as a by-product of the meat industry (no animal is killed for making leather) and there is limited to no chemicals used in the production of it. Also, Desi Hangover is not restricted to leather alone and is evaluating other plant-based fibres.
We then talk about what sourcing sustainably means in terms of cost of raw materials. Lakshya explains that sustainably sourced materials are 30 to 40% more expensive then regular non sustainable alternatives. However, customers are willing to pay a premium for sustainable shoe.
We then talk about selling a premium shoe online
Lakshya says that to sell online brand needs to build lots of trust, and they need to stop talking about product features and instead talk about how the features benefit the consumers. Lakshya says
“So, we tell our customers that, hey, there is there is a patented footlocker counter, which basically helps you prevent any kind of shoe bite. So, if you buy our shoe, you would not get a shoe bite, that’s why you should buy it. If you wear it for eight hours, your feet would not be sore because we have ensured the comfort in our insoles as well as outsoles. That’s why you should buy it. And material is resilient enough that for the next one year, we would give you a warranty. And you can actually, you know, wear it as much as you want. So that’s where the trust comes into the picture, right? So, it’s about communicating all of these aspects at the different levels of the funnel to the customer. So, because the first time the customer looks at the shoe, they just like the design, when they come to our website, when they come to our website, it’s basically telling them about all these features, then the next set of confusion comes Okay, where do I wear it? So basically, giving them that opportunity to realize, okay, these are the places where you can wear it, then the next question comes in that hey, what if it doesn’t fit me? So, telling them that, hey, if it doesn’t fit you, we exchange it without any questions us? If you want to return it, we return it without any questions asked. So that is the next step to it. And finally, the point comes at, hey, I still don’t trust you can I pay on delivery, then like of course, you can be on delivery like this cod, right? So basically, making that story for the customer and then just replicating that experience across different cohorts of customers, right”
Then we talk about how Desi hangover is scaling up -generating demand and creating supply.
Lakshya explains that creating demand is harder than creating supply. He says that they were bootstrapped for the first six years, so they grew organically, through exhibitions, website and distribution channels and customer feedback. For the supply chain they worked ground up with artisans to outsource repetitive tasks so that artisans can produce more of design intensive work. The artisans who would produce like 500 pairs a month earlier before Desi’s intervention, can now do about six times the same production, so they can now produce more 3000 pairs. Further, the village has more than 1000 artisans, and they currently employ only 150 artisans, thus leaving sufficient capacity for expansion.
You can listen to the episode here