JUTTIs = NEEDLEDUST
Shirin Mann's brand Needledust was born in 2014 out of her own need for comfortable yet exquisite Juttis. Within 4 years she has managed to carve a top spot for her brand in the market that cannot be challenged no matter how much her competitors try. She noticed a gap in the Indian market for the age old hand-crafted footwear that once adorned the royal feet, and managed to not only bring it back in fashion but also successfully monopolise the very gap. The brand has been worn by every renowned celebrity and is recognised by every Indian girl. Behind the intricately adorned traditional flats of Needledust is a very strong businesswoman.
In this exclusive interview, Shirin sheds light on the business aspect of her brand, and shares some valuable insight as an entrepreneur.
Did you have a formal education directed towards entrepreneurship?
I did my Masters in International Journalism. So no I did not. I strongly believe you don’t always need formal education in the creative field. If you have a creative personality, are passionate about something and are willing to work hard you can achieve your goals.
What were the hurdles you faced initially while setting up Needledust?
Juttis were a dying handcraft and I wanted to bring them back but in a whole new way- retain the traditional royal mould, with contemporary designs and great quality for an international shelf. Needledust is all about beautiful designs, best raw materials and absolute comfort! We changed them from being a mere traditional handicraft, into an international ballerina, of course retaining the caft of jutti making (which I love!).
How did you tackle the initial bumps?
The main ‘Bumps’ were before I launched!
When I discussed the idea even with friends and family, they weren’t sold on it. There were lots of ifs and buts, but I knew I had to do this. I also launched in Delhi, where averagely a girl wears 6 inches of heels! So to break into that with formal flats is what I was going to do! And to occupy that segment I had to launch something that was beautiful, if I may say so myself, ‘extra ordinary’ and I think we did! I first launched on an online portal and were sold out within the first 10 days!
If you could go back in time and undo a business decision, what would it be?
Absolutely Nothing! Everything was a learning, like I said you learn so much on the job! I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for every decision I made.
What business decision do you consider to be your best one till date?
Bringing back the juttis in trend!!!
But if you mean in Needledust, then reaching out to the world through our website!
Your brand was one of the first to focus on juttis. Did it involve a lot skepticism from people around you?
Yes it did!
There were lots of doubts. But I had been everywhere for my wedding juttis, with designs and colours in mind and found nothing! There were mundane juttis in poor quality and there was no way I going to wear those on my wedding. So I designed my own, and a thought emerged- there might be so many women like me who want beautiful, eclectic, trendy, confortable flats for their wedding or formal events but were unable to get it! And soon we launched contemporary travel inspired juttis and now we cover every style, technique of design on juttis! We aim to achieve designs that have never been done or even thought on juttis! Plus my husband was a huge driving force behind it. He made me take the plunge!
How can a startup leader deal with such skepticism?
With self belief ! You have an idea, execute it! The same people that once did not believe in you, will be proud of you!
What aspect of your business is the most challenging for you?
Managing human resource! 100% manufacturing of Needledust juttis is done in house, that required many levels and segments of artisans, managers etc. and having everything be perfect to achieve a perfect product is extremely crucial to me. Which is also a huge challenge!
Product vs. marketing?
If your product doesn’t speak for itself, no amount of marketing can help it! The word of mouth is the best kind of marketing your product can get!
How do you stand out as a brand from your competitors?
I don’t really fret about the ‘competition’. I just want to make beautiful shoes that people look forward to wearing, and that gives me immense happiness! My team tells me that there re about 48 profiles that knock me off (that we know of), people have come up to me and said -"we are always glued to the internet waiting for Needledust to drop styles so we can just copy them. Our business thrives on it!". What do you say to that! It annoys me, but I know that our clientele- which is increasing each day, understand why Needledust in its design, quality and customer services stands out from all the other labels that came after us. People buying Needledust knock offs were never our clientele in the first place! And the ones that wanted to try out a different brand, have come back to us! That speaks for itself!
Do you think standing out is important or is it overrated?
It's important! You have to be different! You have to be experimental! You have to have an identity of you own! You can tell a Needledust jutti in a crowd and from a distance.
I believe you’ve never ‘Made it’!
theres always so much more you can do, there's always lots more to achieve.
- Shirin Mann
What do you think is the major reason for your brand’s & ultimately your success?
I’m honest to my work, to the people who who I work with and to our clientele! I believe you’ve never ‘Made it!’, theres always so much more you can do, there's always lots more to achieve! I still work the same hours, maybe more! I am as involved in every department of my business as I was when we first started out! I am as passionate about design, even more so now! If you have the drive, work hard and never be arrogant about your achievements, then you are inclining towards succeeding!
Define your leadership style.
I have a very fluid work environment! I believe that every person attached with Needledust is the reason behind its success. Therefore we are like a family! There is no such boss-employee relationship, we are extremely friendly! Happy work environments increase productivity!
Who is a Badass woman?
The one who breaks stereotypes! The one who dreams big and isn’t afraid to achieve them! And that woman is in every one of us, you just need to give it voice!
Some Badass women who inspire you
My Mom! It’s a clichéd answer, but she really is a badass woman in a man’s world! There is nothing she can't do. She’s a leader. So much so, when my brother was little, he used to go around and say I think my mom's super man! She can do anything! I think I got some of her work ethic and passion!
Your advice to budding female entrepreneurs?
To all budding entrepreneurs you know that faint voice in your head that says ‘DO IT’ listen to it! No idea is too big or too small! Try not living in the regret that ‘I wish I did it’!