Meet the maker: Shakeef, Nimil & Hiten – Yute

'Premium Designer Shoes at affordable prices' is a phrase that seems like it’s been borrowed right out of a fashionista’s paracosm. The folks at Yute, though, are actually turning it into reality.

‘Premium Designer Shoes at affordable prices’ is a phrase that seems like it’s been borrowed right out of a fashionista’s paracosm. The folks at Yute, though, are actually turning it into reality.

Meet Shakeef Khan­, Nimil Goel, and Hiten Sondagar — the three cofounders and brains behind the shoe brand that’s making heads turn. “I used to work rather monotonous job as an android developer when I stumbled upon a mesmerising Facebook thread about a creative artist who designed shoes,” says 25-year-old Shakeef. “After making some enquiries, I realised that people were willing to pay as much as Rs. 2,500 for shoes with a two week waiting period. It was eye-opening, to say the least.” Shakeef says this was where the idea for Yute was born. “After doing some research of my own, I realised that there was a market for such products, as the supply was nowhere close to meeting the demand. Once we started, we never looked back!”

Clockwise from left: Hiten, Shakeef & Nimil

“The initial plan was to create a marketplace for various talented artists from Mumbai to help them sell hand-painted shoes to a wider audience,” says 23-year-old Nimil, who has a core sales background for companies like Helios and Tata Sky. “As we were scaling, though, we saw an increasing number of customer complaints in terms of both quality and delivery time. It was then that we realised that the niche simply couldn’t be scaled as these artists and designers were part-timers and not professionals. A mere 8 months into business, we transitioned into a private label brand for artist designed shoes that were affordable, of the best quality, and had exclusive designs — and just like that, Yute was born.”

Although the brand was initially called ‘Yo Custom Freak’ the trio got sick of people misspelling the name, often referring to it as ‘Yo Customer Freak’, and thus, rebranded to ‘Yute’, with the tagline ‘Youth Personified’.

The third brain behind the company is the most experienced too. At 31, Hiten Sondagar has delved into the pits of various markets multiple times, gaining a lot of experience in the process. “Our products are largely for young men who are fashion conscious,” he says. “Trouble is, in the footwear business, middle-class consumers find trusted international brands like Nike, Puma, and Adidas alluring, but premium pricing seldom makes them affordable. A lower priced local brand, on the other hand, produces cheaper products but with little or no differentiation in the quality or designs. We at Yute aim to be India’s first iconic footwear brand that allows its customers to experience the feeling of both exclusivity and affordability at the same time. We try to achieve this by revamping our collection every four months by working with a new artist who produces fresh designs with a new story.”

For the complete collection, visit the Yute Shop on Engrave.

It’s never as easy as it sounds though, and Shakeef reiterates, “Pivots aren’t easy. Almost always, they come with a heavy price tag. In the race to do it all, I reached a single digit bank balance more than 15 times in past two years alone. Bills were accumulating and we didn’t have a clue as to how we’re make it through the week, but that’s the beauty of entrepreneurship. You work hard, you learn new things everyday, you evolve, and you reap the rewards. If your belief is firm on a particular product or concept you will bounce back no matter what. Despite the highs and lows, this journey has been the best for me till date.”

And bounce back they did. While the present might be stable, they’re aiming to scale greater heights in the future. Nimil says, “We’ve placed our entire focus on the footwear category for the next few years. We aspire to deliver a greater experience and make affordable designer footwear the norm in India.”

Hiten signs off by adding, “It makes no sense to invest your time and energy in building something that your consumers would just consider merely passable at best. It takes lot of passion and effort to create a special brand that lasts years, so that when you look back in reminiscence, you can be proud of what you’ve built. And with Yute, that’s exactly what we’re trying to do.”

Visit the Yute Shop on Engrave.

To read stories about all our makers click here.

Rameez Shaikh

Rameez Shaikh is a twenty-three year old writer. With a degree in journalism to his name, he's an aspiring author with an absolutely astounding admiration for alliteration. Leisure propels him to read, dance, pen fiction and gloat about himself in third person. On weekdays, he works as a features writer. On weekends, he's a Manchester United fan.

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