Harshwardhan Patwardhan, Founder of Chappers, a startup footwear brand

Harshwardhan Patwardhan

Interview: Harshwardhan Patwardhan, Founder of Chappers, a startup footwear brand

Chappers is a bespoke footwear brand founded by Harshwardhan Patwardhan. The brand came into existence when Harshwardhan needed to revive Kolhapuri chappals beyond Maharashtra.

Finding tremendous response, Harshwardhan decided to offer more; he decided to add colors and new styles to men’s footwear.

The brand gained acceptance with celebrities like Sachin Tendulkar, M S Dhoni, Nitin Gadkari, and more. Now the brand has simplified customizing shoes further by using AI. One can either go to their website or any kiosks in malls in Pune or their retail outlets in Pune.

In an exclusive interview with Harshwardhan Patwardhan, Founder of Chappers, a startup footwear brand explains How he start his entrepreneurial journey.

Tell us a little about yourself  

Harshwardhan Patwardhan: I am Harshwardhan Patwardhan, a business management graduate from Nottingham, UK. Chappers is the first entrepreneurial venture I launched after returning to India.

My family has a thriving transportation business, but my heart was fixated on launching my own. That’s how my entrepreneurial journey started.

Please tell us a little about your entrepreneurial journey.

Harshwardhan Patwardhan: I have always been a huge fan of Kolhapuri chappals and wore them while studying abroad.

It was pretty surprising to see that my footwear used to get a lot of attention and appreciation from people.

This made me contemplate the idea of launching a venture that could redefine the conventional Kolhapuris into a contemporary and global product.

After I dabbled with my family’s transportation business, I decided to pursue my idea and started initial research.

I used to travel alone to Kolhapur to understand the manufacturing process, find leather manufacturers in Dharavi, and hold meetings with them.

After I dabbled with my family’s transportation business, I decided to pursue my idea and started initial research.

The early product prototypes were extensively tested under diverse weather conditions and heavy rains.

Once I was confident of the product quality, I decided to formalize the brand by naming it Chappers. The name is a modern combination of Indian chappals with contemporary loafers.

It defines the vision we have created for handcrafted Indian chappals that are as comfortable and stylish as flip-flops.

We started our product marketing and sales efforts by setting up a small stall in a popular shopping mall and only a few hundred pairs of footwear.

There was a phenomenal response from the buyers, which convinced us to take risks and expand rapidly. Since then, we have undertaken a lot of technological innovations and product variations which have consistently helped Chappers grow its clientele.

The start, just an idea, has become one of the fastest-growing fashion startups in India today, and we are witnessing an ever-increasing demand for our products. We are now in several stores in shopping malls and retail through our online portal.

What service(s) or product(s) do you offer?

Harshwardhan Patwardhan: We offer bespoke footwear using the technological interface. We started by providing a men’s footwear range, and now we offer women’s footwear too.

 What is unique about your label brand?

Harshwardhan Patwardhan: Chappers is unlike any other footwear brand in India. We have reinvented the Kolhapuri chappals by integrating the handcrafted quality of the footwear with modern aesthetics in terms of color, materials, and styling to create what we proudly call Indian Handcrafted Sandals.

The core USP of Chappers is that we provide our customers with complete freedom to select what they want from their footwear.

They can design their custom sandals using advanced AR technology available at all Chappers outlets. We offer them the choice of color, design elements, and material options to create personalized footwear and even the option of adding their initials or other accessories to the products.

The customized product is delivered to customers across India within two business days, and the pricing is correct if we compare it to designer and branded shoes.

What made you choose this type of business?

Harshwardhan Patwardhan: I have been passionate about Kolhapuri footwear since my early years and wore them even when I went to study business management at Nottingham.

What amazed me was how people appreciated the footwear and showed interest in it. This made me realize the huge untapped opportunity presented by a customizable and contemporary revamp of the Kolhapuri chappals.

I also realized that my heart wasn’t in joining my family business of transportation, so I decided to launch a path-breaking footwear brand.

What was your mission at the outset?

Harshwardhan Patwardhan: My mission is to make Indian handcrafted footwear a global favorite by leveraging the artistic diversity, quality, and comfort factors and adding a contemporary style to it.

How many employees in your organization?

Harshwardhan Patwardhan: Our total team strength is 15 employees.

What’s your company’s goals?

Harshwardhan Patwardhan: Our goal is to scale the retail store network of Chappers rapidly and, within the next few years, mark our presence in every shopping mall across the country courtesy of our low-inventory kiosk in the mall strategy.

We also receive international orders, and our long-term goals include selling Chappers in foreign countries.

We also aim to take the conventional Kolhapuri beyond the limitations of color or gender and make footwear for men, women, and children.

Chappers kiosk

What have been some of your failures, and what have you learned from them?

  • We tried to scale customization without the use of technology. We expected people to imagine how their custom chappal/shoe would look and order them at a steep price. We realized later that people are willing to pay a steep price if they know precisely how their chappal/shoe would look. Now, we have created India’s first virtual footwear customizer wherein people can customize their chappal/shoe on a touchscreen through augmented reality. This way, they’re more comfortable ordering footwear.
  • We launched our products at steep prices and gradually lowered the prices as we sorted our manufacturing. This got fewer people to buy the product at first which would fizzle out the impact of a good design. Today, we launch our products at the right price and keep them constant. We also come out with limited edition collections to keep our design language fresh and vibrant.
  • We started diverging from our core product too much. Our hero product is the kolhapuri chappal. We call them “Kohls.” We started doing all sorts of things like mules, formal shoes, sneakers, etc. Now we have a tight-knit collection comprising 70% chappals and 30% rest of the products. We know what we are good at. We are good at making chappals. We make the best kolhapuris. We are good at making Pathani sandals and loafers too.

What was the inspiration behind turning an entrepreneur?

Harshwardhan Patwardhan: I come from an entrepreneurial family and have a flourishing transportation business.

Therefore, I had an entrepreneurial streak in my genes, even during my years in the UK for my business management studies.

The only thing I could decide was whether I wanted to continue with my family business or launch a venture of my own. Eventually, I chose the latter option and started my entrepreneurial journey with Chappers.

Key things to consider before starting a startup?

Harshwardhan Patwardhan: There are a few things that every start-up founder must carefully ponder before launching the business. These include:

  1. Having the right understanding of the customer’s pain point and how it can be resolved
  2. Knowing that there is a problem or unfulfilled demand at a scale that can be converted into a sustainable business opportunity
  3. Having the right technological and financial resources and knowledge to establish and run the venture
  4. Willingness to spend adequate time on innovation without any compulsion to hurry through the Go-to-Market phase

Your success tips for young and aspiring entrepreneurs

Harshwardhan Patwardhan: Becoming a start-up founder is difficult, especially if you balance your business ambitions with financial challenges such as finding the funds needed to bootstrap.

Secondly, there are times when things would go slow, and there would be no results to show, especially in the initial stages.

That’s where one’s commitment gets severely tested as low to no income might come in the first couple of years, and you would need only to invest in product development, research, innovation, and finding the right talent. If you are determined to sweat it out and have a clear vision of what you are doing, then go for it.

Website: https://chappers.in

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