Chondamma Cariappa is helping keep traditional ethos alive with her handcrafted footwear label

From advertising to blogging, and then finally designing shoes for her own footwear label, Chondamma Cariappa has come a long way. Read her #PassionToPaycheck story below.

These boots are meant for walking, and that’s just what they’ll do.

These lines from Nancy Sinatra’s hit number could very well be the theme for Chondamma Carippa – an avid traveller-turned-footwear entrepreneur.

Hailing from a small hill town in Coorg, the travel bug bit Chondamma at a very young age. “I grew up in various cities across India because my Dad was in the army and we would move every few years,” Chondamma recalls.

Chondamma was always drawn towards shoes, especially the handcrafted kind. “In school, my sisters wore delicate ballerinas while I was made to wear sturdy handmade shoes, because I would ruin the dainty ones,” she says.

So it was only time before she decided to combine her love for travel and shoes with her own footwear label, ‘The Sole Sisters’.

The first steps
It all began with a Facebook album named ‘Fetish’. Chondamma, an advertising professional, would post pictures of the shoes from various parts of the world that she came across on her travels. This soon took the form of a blog titled ‘The Sole Sisters’, and Chondamma started inviting followers to share their shoe stories. But what she didn’t anticipate was the kind of attention the blog would receive. She says, “That’s when it struck me that I can turn this into a much larger platform for women to share and discuss shoes. And since I already had a community of women (from the blog), along with a creative background and my fascination with shoes, I decided to make a capsule collection and introduce it to the blog community.”

The response that followed was so overwhelming that Chondamma decided to quit her advertising job and make time to learn the art of designing shoes. “One of the main challenges was teaching myself shoe-making techniques. With no prior training in this craft, it was initially a bit of a roadblock,” she adds. But things finally fell into place, and Chondamma started ‘The Sole Sisters' label in January 2014 along with Parveez Shaikh, a screenplay writer.

A soleful adventure
“Knowing how much we love rocking a strong stride, our first priority has always been comfort and quality. Then comes our sense of unique style, where we believe every woman is rooted, yet reaching up to find herself in the most individualistic way possible. This is why we’ve chosen to re-invent, handcraft, and deep-design every process that goes into each pair,” says Chondamma.

‘The Sole Sisters’ draws inspiration from traditional crafts and earthy culture. Chondamma’s ideas and thoughts are based on her travels, surroundings and observations. She also relies heavily on her gut instinct for colors and combinations.  The next step is spending hours with the right craftspeople. She explains, “Once I've decided on the designs, most of the time is spent in new development/sampling. I feel this is the most important stage in the process. Comfort and usage of materials is the key. After we're done with the samples I test them with my close circle of family and friends.” This is the cycle they follow every time a new collection is launched.

At present, ‘The Sole Sisters’ clientele ranges from women in their early 20s to late 40s, across the globe. Every shoe that is made is handcrafted from personally sourced leather and fabric. “After traveling across the country, I fell in love with local culture, textile and craft. This love for the traditional is the inspiration for my fabric and motifs, which I blend with a strong contemporary aesthetic. The fabric of every shoe is hand-spun and hand-woven because we do our best to support and empower local crafts and women,” she says.

The path ahead
Chondamma feels that they’ve reached the right markets so far. There has been an organic growth, and they never felt the need to raise funding. She says, “We love our craft and will continue to make handcrafted shoes and reach boutiques and stores who understand and appreciate this process. We intend to make money via this process gradually as opposed to mass producing.”

The entrepreneur wants to expand ‘The Sole Sisters’ range to include footwear for younger girls. Apart from that, a website is also in the pipeline. It’s been quite a journey for Chondamma, and it hasn’t been without hitches. But Chondamma believes in taking risks, and ‘The Sole Sisters’ was one of them. “If you strongly believe in your passion, my advice would be to take risks. Things fall in place eventually. You have all your life to play safe,” she signs off.

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