Jameel Shah: A bag factory worker who set up a Rs 8 lakh dancing shoes company 'Shah Shoes'
Two decades on, he is a renowned maker of dancing shoes, with Bollywood stars as clients and business worth Rs 8 lakh. It all began with a dream to make it big in Bollywood. Like most teenagers, he loved Hindi movies and was consumed by curiosity about stars' lives. So, in 1996, he moved to Mumbai to work in a relative's power loom factory at Bhiwandi.
The other incentive was that he would get to meet his father more frequently since the latter picked up odd jobs in the city between crop seasons. A year later, he got a better-paying job at a bag factory at the Dharavi slums, which continues to be his place of residence. However, he lost all his savings in mid-1998, when a colleague ran off with about Rs 25,000. Shah tried to track him down, travelling as far as Bangalore, where he ran out of money.
A chance conversation with a security guard, also from Bihar, landed him a job in May 1999. For the next two years, Shah worked as a security guard, saving enough to try and reclaim his life in Mumbai. By the end of 2001, he had returned to working in the same bag factory at Dharavi, but enrolled himself in a salsa dance class run by the famous choreographer Sandeep Soparrkar.
"I wanted to learn some form of dance and improve my English to further my chances of succeeding in Bollywood," says the 30-year-old. However, he withheld this information from his friends and colleagues. It was only when his stunned employer saw Shah dancing on the TV show, Boogie Woogie, that the truth was revealed. Slowly, things began to look up for Shah.
Soparrkar turned out to be a kind mentor, and in many ways, helped him achieve his current entrepreneurial success. In dance classes, Shah faced a constant problem— comfortable shoes. He noticed that the dancing shoes were either imported or of inferior quality. This gave birth to his business idea, encouraged by Soparrkar—making the perfect pair of dancing shoes.
His first attempt, a pair made at a local factory for Rs 400, was far from satisfactory. It took a year of tinkering and consultations with shoemakers, before Shah managed to make the perfect pair in late 2005. Meanwhile, he continued with his day job. His first clients were the fellow dancers in Soparrkar's classes, but eventually gained a reputation across the city.
In 2006, he got a big break when he was asked to supply shoes for the cast of Holiday, a Bollywood remake of Dirty Dancing. Seeing the boost in demand after the film was released, Shah realised it was time to scale up. Towards the end of 2006, he quit his job, took a loan of Rs 5 lakh from a bank and invested it in a 120-sq-ft plot at Dharavi. "I had never seen so much money in my account," he says.
He employed two people, and by March 2007, Shah Shoes was up and running. The shoes cost Rs1,600 onwards per pair, and his turnover was Rs 60,000-70,000 in the first year of operations. By the end of the second year, he managed to break even. Today, his 18-employee firm caters to demand from Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad.
Apart from celebrities like Katrina Kaif, Ajay Devgan and Madhuri Dixit, his main clients are firms that organise corporate balls and salsa events. His annual turnover is around Rs8 lakh and he hopes to scale it up before opening outlets in other cities. Of course, he continues to dream of making it big in Bollywood.