Finding the right fit
"It was one of those dingy little places in CIT road. The first two days I went there saying I wanted to learn but no one paid me any attention," he remembers. His solution? To find the rattiest pair of shorts and T-shirt he could find and wear them as disguise. "I went in a torn T-shirt and gave them a sob story of needing the job, and my mother being ill and I was hired for Rs 200 a week. I was the chai and beedi guy, who was sent out to get them during breaks and the rest of the time I spent polishing rexine shoes with kerosene and a dirty rag," he saysBut if you ask him why didn't he try to attend a design school, he has a prompt reply, "I think design is like dance- no one can teach you how to dance. They may teach you the steps but not how to dance. Similarly, design schools can teach you how to make but not what to make." He remembers renting a place from a relative and making samples armed with one karigar. "My first order was for 128 pairs of shoes from a shop in AC market," he says. Soon, he was making shoes for local brands like Sreeleathers, Ajanta and Khadims. When that achieved some stability, he opened his first workshop and retail outlet in Picnic Garden.
"It was the Subway of shoes. You could pick the colour and texture of leather, the sole, the heel, the style, the embroidery, silhouette, almost everything. Initially we didn't even make any suggestions to our customers. We let them pick whatever they liked because we didn't believe we had enough knowhow to make suggestions," he says. The word spread about a man making customised shoes somewhere in the interiors of South Calcutta and in 2008, Rimi Nayak, one of the Lakme Fashion Week (LFW) GenNext designers from Kolkata came to him for shoes. "I made her six pairs of shoes and that too at a loss because I was so excited about being featured in LFW," he says. But on the day of her show the shoe zippers didn't work.
"I was mortified but there was nothing I could do while sitting in Kolkata. But she was very sweet. She understood and didn't badmouth me to anyone," he says. He continued to make customised shoes and do bulk orders for local shops when the chance to work with Sabyasachi Mukherjee came to him. "I wasn't even prepared for him to pick up the phone when I called him. But he did and after a few questions he asked me if I would make shoes for Aishwarya Rai in Guzaarish. I almost fainted," he said. Arora worked with Mukherjee, making shoes for the brand till 2015. In between he was caught as he says "by the fashion bug." I heard that LFW was doing an accessories segment so I sent in my sample for a lark.
"It had knitted leather from Chennai, some Kalamkari and a khadi patch with hand painted Sholay image with Veeru and Basanti that also had a famous dialogue from the movie. I thought it was the stupidest thing I could have done but it worked. The response I got there made me feel like a rockstar," he says. More collections followed including Item and his now famous and much copied, parrot chappals. But 2014 was his last show in LFW. "I think now I need to take a break and concentrate on expansion," he says. With orders flowing in from the who's who of Kolkata and the East, we wouldn't blame him.