Artimen derived its name from its mission of creating ‘Art for Men.’ Founded by The Shoe Garage, the brand diversified from its initial introduction to the shoe industry into creating its own range of men’s bespoke footwear. Here Sukrit Khanna, founder of the brand, tells S&A’s Dipika Chopra about where the brand has been and the road map he wants to follow to take it to the next level.
Reflection on the journey so far
THE SHOE GARAGE, also known as TSG, embarked its journey in the retailing business in New Delhi in 1999. TSG in its early days functioned out of a garage in a residential area with only a 100 pairs on display. Prior to its retailing venture, TSG operated as a ‘manufacturing’ and a ‘fabricating’ unit under the name of Rare Fashions( RA) for close to 10 years. Gaining substantial experience and expertise from the local footwear industry in India, RA rightly leveraged this knowledge in expanding itself into the field of exports, mainly Russia, Portugal, US and Saudi Arabia.
This experience encouraged RA, a pure manufacturing unit, to venture in the retailing business while keeping its manufacturing capabilities as a value-addition in the retailing business. It was during this approach that TSG invoked an innovative transformation in its business model by incorporating a new approach in its traditional way of selling shoes. It began one of the city’s first ‘made-to-order’ or ‘ bespoke’ footwear services. This ‘customization’ feature encouraged creativity to flow in and out of the system. In the last 17 years, TSG has managed to enforce such high a level of customisation and quality that it was recently bestowed the honour of being amongst “Top 150 Best Shops Boutiques in New Delhi”.
Artimen derived its name from its mission of creating ‘Art for Men.’ Founded by The Shoe Garage, the brand diversified from its initial introduction to the shoe industry into creating its own range of men’s bespoke footwear, called Artimen.
Artimen not only has its independent collection of shoes but also allows the customers to get a feel of being a designer of their own shoes. With our label, we not only offer a run of the mill store but an experience which makes the shoe game even more interesting. It is a playground where you are allowed to come play with the designs and test your imagination. “You Imagine, We Create.”
What’s the emphasis of the brand been upon – craftsmanship or innovation?
It’s a mix of both, they go hand in hand. Innovation cannot be given a shape without the other, so our focus is to keep things simple classy innovative designs
What’s the brand’s USP?
It is being able to customize your pair, after sales and price to a large extent compared to what and how the market is as on date.
Who is your target market ?
We try catering to all age groups, but with Artimen our main focus is for people in the age bracket of 20 to 45 who believe in style. We also look into other age groups but that percentage is lower than the age group mentioned above.
What’s your set up like?
It is completely bespoke and totally handcrafted. We give our clients a feel of being their own designers. We have a couple of retail stores in delhi and also sell out of Dubai Mall and a stand alone store in Dubai as well as in Bombay. Also a factory of our own to gives people imagination and a look and feel on the feet.
How do you see your brand being positioned today in the Indian market?
If I talk about Artimen, it has made a name for itself in the Indian Market. We have opened a second store in less than two years and are also selling shoes internationally. Lot of big names likes Akshay Kumar, Varun Dhawan, Fawad Khan etc have stepped into our shoes. People do recognize the brand quite a lot in Delhi.
Tell us the product lines you have in your disposal. Also discuss with us the new ones you will be launching in the near future?
We create designs every 2-3 days. Creativity never stops here. We don’t dispose our old ones, we make only what we know will sell throughout the year and designs that speak for themselves. For now, my focus is to get a summer line out soon which would be more in fabric and casual or semi formal too for weddings in the hot months.
What strategies have you adopted to expand the brands presence?
Fill in the gap which is there in the market. Give our clients an experience and feel of being their own designers and get their imagination to reality. We have used platforms like Facebook, instagram, couple of brick and mortar stores and ecommerce platforms to attract customers. Strategy would be to design shoes which would complete your personality and not make shoes which are already there in the market with other brands. However, one cannot go that different with the designs, but here we give you a chance to speak up your mind when it comes to design. We are also available at Aza Mumbai. Making celebrities wear our brand is a great feeling too, and especially when they come back again and again to get more.
What challenges do you face in India?
Majority of the people in India are brand conscious, so to make them believe in your product can be a little painful at times. Our direct competition is with high-end brands that are international which makes it a challenge as well as something to feel proud of because you are getting compared to luxurious high end brands.
Share your overview of the footwear industry from sourcing raw material to finished products.
If we talk about sourcing raw materials locally, especially not in large quantities, it, at times, becomes a bit of a challenge. Accessories are the most difficult to source locally, as we need to check the quality and not compromise on it at any stage. Talking about finished products in the industry, I feel that lot of brands are over-rated and they are doing the same usual run of the mill. In our model, we make it from scratch; so we try keeping an eye on the product from the word ‘go’.
Considering that India is still a price-sensitive market, what challenges does the brand face while designing as well as launching new products?
Somewhere it is changing slowly, but surely, people do give a lot of importance to price. But in mens shoes, trend is changing. Bespoke has come in and people are there to spend for quality products with good services. If they can get something to their liking, pricing becomes secondary but yes it is still there. We, as a brand, have priced our shoes decent because of the fact we offer a playground to play with designs, material and comfort at a price which brands are selling ready-to-pick shoes of the shelf. But we still have a long way to go though.
Online retailers, with deep pockets, have been selling products at highly discounted prices, and this has made a lot of brands quite uneasy. What¹s your view on their move?
This is one strategy which I personally don’t support. It spoils the whole feel of the market. While we put in our 200% in every shoe we design for our clients, or for display, but others giving huge discounts only to attract customers is a negative strategy. It reflects their lack of confidence in their own product. It should be on the merit of the designs, innovation, quality, service etc and not on offering discounts. In simple words, it is hampering the culture. Discounts, I believe, were introduced to clear leftover stock,not to attract clients for other reasons.
How do you strategize your digital initiatives to gain brand visibility?
It surely plays a very vital role in carrying out any business for that matter. However, for us, it has been of great advantage. We started displaying on Facebook when we started, and today we have our visibility across the world. We have clients ordering from the US, Britain, Canada, Nigeria, Australia, New Zealand and other places. We have our presence on social media outlets to attract clients from every part of the world. Recently we have introduced our own website as well where people can order from the pictures shown or send us queries if they have their own design. We are constantly trying to put our story out to people to come step in our shoes. Celebrity stepping into Artimen is also a great initiative to have clients believe in our brand. We have been featured in different magazines too for the works we do with our craftsmanship.
Space scarcity and high rental have been the main hurdles in setting up retail stores. How big an issue is this for you?
In simple words, rentals kill at the end of the day. I agree there is a lot of scope and buzz around online stores but for a brand to have a name and fame, I feel it is important to have a brick and mortar stores too along with an online presence. However, it is very difficult to survive with high rentals and slowdown in business environment these days. We have two stores in Delhi and we understand the pain of high rentals incurring on businesses.
In what regions of the country do you see more growth? And what¹s your growth projection?
I somewhere feel, tier 1 cities are saturated and where we should be targeting more are tier 2 cities. These places have the capital to spend but not enough places to shop from, hence you see a lot of people traveling to metro cities to shop for their necessities and luxuries. Our growth projection is to have presence in other cities by the end of this year and also to open up another store in Delhi as an established market. We have narrowed down a couple of places so hopefully we can achieve what we have aimed for now.
Share your roadmap for the next five years.
Global presence internationally; expansion to different cities within India; presence in high end stores; making it a brand which is premium and high end; and giving customers a sense of bespoke shoes in a different way. We would like consumers to open their minds to play with their own imagination and not be a part of the normal shoe game with a stand of its own, and experience to sell and not only shoes. Also, we want to create our presence globally in addition to Dubai.