In Ahmed Dulla's shoes
“I always had the best shoes during my school years,” remembers Ahmed Dulla. In fact, his friends would actually ‘book’ his shoes days in advance. “They would have to tell me beforehand if they wanted to wear a particular pair of shoes so that no one else would get it that day,” he smiles.
The soft-spoken 25 years old is probably the first young shoe designer in Nepal. His childhood fascination for shoes grew beyond pestering his parents for expensive shoes – in grade four, he was wearing shoes worth Rs 5,000 – when he had to ask himself what he wanted to do after graduating from high school.
He spent three years learning the basics of footwear design at FDDI. When he first discussed his plan to study footwear design, his father asked him to choose a normal career. His uncle asked him why he wanted to be a shoemaker.
“That shook up my resolve a bit,” he laughs. “On the day of admission, I asked myself if I really wanted to do this. But since then, there’s been no looking back.”
After six months of internship at G-Shoe Export in Mumbai, which exported shoes to companies like Zara, he made up his mind to work independently. He started out by designing men’s footwear. He sold the first pair for Rs 5,000 in India.
“I told the customer to pay me what he thought I deserved and that’s the amount he handed me,” he says.
Ahmed has sold around 200 pairs of shoes till date both in India and Nepal, without any retail shop. He relies on social media and word of mouth to keep his business going and get new customers.
He uploads pictures of new designs to gauge the reaction. Sold within the price range of Rs 2,500 to 3,500, his shoes have to compete with the vast Chinese products in the market. In his own words, his shoes are sleek rather than flamboyant.
The responses for his creations are varied. Some have said they started wearing heels, some claim that his heels are comfortable enough even to run in.
The quick-thinking designer is always improvising and fixing his designs. During an instance when the back portion of a shoe was very loose, he inserted a piece of paper cleverly within the strap to tighten it. And to loosen a pair, he inserted a plastic full of water inside the shoe.
“Then I put the shoes inside the freezer. The water turned to ice and it expanded the shoes as well. It’s simple physics,” he says.
While he hasn’t received a single complaint since he started selling his shoes, he shares an incident from his internship days that has made him view individual opinions in a different light. “Once, my boss told me to throw my design in the dustbin because he found it horrible. I threw it. Later, I retrieved it and put it up on Facebook where I received seven orders for it. It was a men’s shoe design but most of the orders were from women. That made me realize that individual opinions don’t have the final say,” he smiles.
The constant load shedding and the scarcity of good leather in Nepal are some of the reasons that he now manufactures his shoes in a factory in Mumbai. He okays the leather and the wood (for the heels) before they are manufactured.
“There are still many problems. Where it could actually take 10 days to produce 10 pairs of shoes, the factory takes many extra days. Thus, wasting valuable time,” he rues. The lack of skilled laborers in Nepal is a huge problem that not only he suffers from but also big established shoe companies in Nepal.
“Sometimes I decide to make myself a pair, and if it’s simple men’s loafers, I can finish it in a day,” he says.
Women’s high-heeled shoes are more complicated and time-consuming. He has to be very careful and precise when he designs and makes his shoes. A simple mistake can be costly, as there’s no redoing it. He has to start all over with a fresh piece.
The young designer is in talks with Sky Shoes to collaborate on men’s collections. He can also sell his shoes in Holland and Australia where interested retailers have asked to team up.
“The only problem is that their sizes are extremely big. Women in Nepal and India wear sizes from 35 and above while abroad, their sizes are 40 and 45,” he states.
So his next plans include establishing a small footwear design institute.