FEMtrepreneurs: Karishma Bhatia & Poonam Chauhan – Founders and Designers of NESS Shoes

They say that good shoes take you good places. So, when two ambitious friends with a passion for shoes and an eye for design decided to build a business around formative footwear, they knew that it would lead them to great places. Mumbai natives, Karishma Bhatia and Poonam Chauhan noticed a void in the footwear market, where women weren’t able to source the type of niche shoes they desired. This inspired them to create NESS, a new-age designer footwear brand that allows the customer to conceive their own, personalised shoe design.

These young and dynamic FEMtrepreneurs learnt the ins and outs of footwear construction and established their company, Walking Wardrobe, in January 2017. They’ve been steadily climbing the slope of success since then, (in fabulous shoes, naturally), and spared some time to tell us more about their pioneering business model.

Karishma (left) and Poonam (right)

What inspired you to start your company?

India caters to a huge ‘supply and demand’ in the footwear industry, however, we observed some gaps that were unfulfilled by suppliers. These gaps varied from style and design to comfort, utility and price. We found ourselves constantly looking at alternatives to fulfil our footwear needs. This inspired us to create a brand that would acknowledge the growing needs of niche markets.

How did you turn your vision into a reality?

Learning the know-how was of key importance, thus, our priority was to study footwear design and development. We completed a 9-month Advanced Shoe Design & Development course at SRFAD in Mumbai Here, we really dove into the subject, learning more about components, materials, styles and the process of design. We constructed a variety of shoes with our own hands, and of course, we just fell in love with it all. Towards the final month of our course, we decided to take an official step and get incorporated.

What does your brand name ‘NESS’ stand for?

After almost four months of going back and forth on dozens of names, we came up with the concept of NESS, and instantly knew it stood for exactly what we were doing. As a brand, we wanted to appreciate and enhance every quality for our customers; whether they were brides, the disabled, the elderly, athletes, dancers or regular fashionistas.

NESS is a suffix used to enhance the degree of various adjectives, eg. CuteNESS, BoldNESS. We also loved that it was four powerful letters, the sound was easy and it held a hidden meaning.

What processes are you both personally involved in when designing and manufacturing the shoes?

We’re both personally involved in every step of the process. We survey the market for missing designs, structure the design, and then develop samples with our manufacturer. Thereafter, we test these samples ourselves, and with a few friends. Once these samples are approved, we initiate production, where we provide hand-picked materials and accessories to ensure quality and uniformity. Once the production is complete, we conduct a quality check for manufacturing defects.

Tell us more about your customised shoe service:

This is our initiative to take up any challenge (as designers) that come along with a customer’s unique design and style needs. We offer an e-catalogue where the customer can select the following:

1. Shoe style

2. Toe shape

3. Strap support

4. Heel shape and height

5. Materials and colours

6. Embellishments

We meet with our clients who express their individual requirements, and with our guidance, we make selections on all the above-mentioned parameters using a catalogue. The final pair of shoes is delivered anywhere between 2-4 weeks.

What do beautiful shoes mean to each of you?

Poonam: My idea of beauty is comfort; something in which you feel comfortable, yet brings out your unique quirkiness.

Karishma: Each pair of shoes is a work of art. I feel so empowered in a beautiful pair of shoes.

What was the very first pair of shoes you sold?

Our Tan Brown Oxfords. We just love when our customers come back to us and say that they love our designs.

 

What challenges have you faced as a FEMtrepreneur and how did you overcome them?

Answering this question is ironic because when we started out as FEMtrepreneurs, one of the biggest challenges we faced was not being taken seriously by manufacturers. The footwear industry in India is male-dominated, and it hasn’t seen many women succeed. But we continuously prove them wrong by growing as a brand, staying updated with trends, being strong-willed and persistent in achieving our goals.

What sparks your creativity in conceiving new designs and ideas?

Mumbai. It is a perfect balance of ethnic and modern, and as women who grew up here, we are always excited by the blend of these two worlds.

What has been the most effective way of marketing your business?

Our pop-ups have always been the most effective way to market our brand – with face-to-face interaction with clients, walk-ins, designers, students, etc.

What is the most courageous thing you’ve done as a FEMtrepreneur?

I think being a FEMtrepreneur is courageous enough 😉

We did take up an order of 75 pairs of shoes that had to be delivered in three days. We brought the world together to manufacture this order, and delivered on our commitment right on time.

 

Describe yourselves in three words:

Poonam: Perfectionist. Trustworthy. Dreamer.

Karishma: Dancer. Teacher. Designer.

 

What do you love most about your career path?

Waking up not knowing where the day will take us, and being excited by silly and little things.

What are the drawbacks to running your own business?

Sometimes we have to do all the dirty work.

Favourite pair of shoes you’ve designed?

Baby pink & mint green heels.

What’s been the greatest highlight of your career so far?

The biggest highlight is our partnership – we are each other’s pillar of strength.

What are your future goals for NESS?

Growth is our primary goal at the moment. Our vision is to bring fashion inclusiveness to every kind of footwear need.

What advice would you give to other young female entrepreneurs?

Being an entrepreneur is not all glory. It’s betting on yourself, sometimes when no one else will – and that’s what makes it exciting. It will change you in ways you can’t imagine.

Keep learning and observing, keep your calm and patience, and don’t overcomplicate things.

Just do what you feel is right, and don’t be discouraged when you’re wrong, because it’s going to happen. Celebrate the little things and empower your team. Put your love into whatever it is and it will happen for you. Believe it!

FUN FACTS about Poonam and Karishma

Favourite business tool: Mobile phone
My personal style is… Poonam: Fashion changes every day, so why stick to one style. I love experimenting, but I also love classic styles.

Karishma: I’m a sucker for boots. Ankle-length boots with block heels are my favourite style.

Heels or flats? Poonam: I am more of a flats person. I was really happy when athleisure became a trend; now I can pair my cute sneakers with skirts, without making a faux pas.

Karishma: I just love heels! I can cook, clean and dance in heels, no jokes!

My favourite pair of shoes are… The first complete shoe I made with my own hands during the course.
We take a break by and relax by… Ballroom dancing – another excuse to slip into heels!
Favourite shade of lipstick: Poonam: Coral red & blush pink

Karishma: Blushed nude & bold red

Book recommendation: Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki and Sharon Lechter
Celebrity we’d love to see wearing our shoes: Rachel Brosnahan from The Marvelous Mrs Maisel
If I had an unlimited budget, I would shop in/at… Poonam: London

Karishma: Hamster London – I’m a stationery buff!

Dream destination: Poonam: London, Paris & Milan

Karishma: Paris Paris Paris!

The one thing required for success is… The ability to laugh at everything.

Poonam and Karishma’s passion for customising shoes that are innovative and befitting of each woman’s style and personality guarantees that every client will have a perfect pair of sole-mates in her closet that no one else will. In a world where fashion and trends tend to be repetitive and duplicated, NESS gives customers the thrilling opportunity to witness their own unique shoe designs come to life.

BONUS: Word Couture Co. readers are treated to a 10% discount when shopping the NESS collection. Use the code: FEMtrepreneur

You can shop the current NESS range and create your own personalised pair via their website

And yes, lucky for us, they do ship internationally!

For more shoespiration, visit the NESS Instagram page

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