The ongoing pandemic has forced the whole of the footwear industry to retrace its steps. With sales of formal shoes declining and consumers working from home, the footwear brands are turning towards casual and open footwear.
While giving a great opportunity to brands in the open footwear category, in the likes of Solethreads, this trend has affected the mainstream footwear brands in the likes of Red Chief, Metro Shoes, Mochi, etc. that have rejigged their strategy in the past year to remain relevant and in line with the consumer demand. In fact, online retail major Myntra too has maintained that a relatively smaller segment of open footwear, which includes flip-flops and slides has posted the strongest growth in the footwear segment on its portal in 2020. Interestingly and rightly so, the open footwear (flip-flops, thong sandals, slippers, flats, etc.,) segment in India is estimated to be worth more than Rs 6,000 crore and is growing at a CAGR of more than 15 percent.
Besides this, the pandemic is also pushing industries towards taking a digital route ahead, fashion being the biggest witness to this shift. According to a report, fashion has the highest potential among all segments contributing to the D2C market. Now, in the overall fashion category, the footwear market is projected to display a robust growth represented by a CAGR of 8.28 percent during 2020-2025, according to Business Wire.
While the trend is going towards the popularity of and shift towards branded shoes from the unorganized and unbranded segment, open shoes have recently topped the charts.
Riding high on this potential market are homegrown brands that are competing for head-on against the international bigwigs in the segment.
Sumant Kakaria, Co-founder, Solethreads, asserts, “India is the second-largest footwear manufacturer in the world and yet sixty to seventy percent of its consumption is met via imports, mainly from China, which means that there is a lot more consumption happening and not enough “Made in India” supply. Leaving that aside, there is no Indian brand that is innovating, designing, and manufacturing footwear to cater to the needs of Indians. The behemoths such as Nike, Puma, and so forth use standardized products for India, without fulfilling any need-specific demand in any specific footwear category. The situation gets further exacerbated when we talk about flip-flops. Whilst it has a huge market in the US, UAE, and South East Asia, with places like the US having dedicated flip flop brands, India has not seen this level of disruption in its market. We have the climate, the acceptability, and the potential to become one of the largest flip flop markets in the world. Solethreads is a segment leader in this sunrise category and aims at creating flip flops that are innovative, comfortable, and cater to the needs of Indians. We aim to bring in global level offerings to the Indian market.”
Founded in November 2018, Solethreads is the brainchild of co-founders Sumant Kakaria and Gaurav Chopra. The duo was later joined by Vikram Iyer as co-founder and chief business officer and Aprajit Kathuria as co-founder and chief marketing officer.
What’s on Offer?
While this category, for years, has been either dominated by mass players such as Relaxo and Liberty or high-end international brands such as Skechers and Crocs, it is only now that a youth-centric, homegrown brand has come to the fore creating a niche for itself with its range of quirky and chic in-trend flip-flops.
“Ours is a brand that is all about comfort and innovation. Our products are not only innovative in terms of comfort, but they are also functionally superior, and ahead of the curve in terms of design aesthetics. The technologies we have developed ensure that people have constant comfort across the portfolio via SUPERFOAM ™ used for making spongy-soft footbeds. Since ours is a sunrise industry, we feel even more of a responsibility towards getting it right. We strive to be the disrupters of today and the pacesetters of tomorrow. Our portfolio is robust, thanks to additional features offered through our bespoke designs, such as a dedicated collection with active cushioning that takes care of foot sole and makes daily walking far more comfortable (TRUBOUNCE ™), flip flops with a footbed made from a yoga mat (RECLINER) for consumers who are looking for super soft footbed for their feet, all-terrains flip flops (EVERLAST) for active walking even on a super sturdy path and a lot many choices for serious flip flops’ consumers. We have a total of twenty styles, priced between Rs 700 to Rs 1,200,” informs Sumant Kakaria.
The D2C brand has, over time, invested heavily in R&D and improving its manufacturing capabilities in-house which enable it to give a supreme offering to the user, at very sensible price points. In terms of retail presence, Solethreads is a digital-first brand but does believe in a ‘long-term omnichannel strategy’.
Sumant Kakaria avers, “We have tried out a couple of pilots in the offline space. We’re doing strategic tie-ups and cracking the route that best works for us. Our first tie-up is with Metro Shoes, with its presence in 120 stores pan-India. This has turned out to be extremely successful and we have been approached by more MBOs and offline channel partners since then. All these channels and affiliations are under our active consideration. Meanwhile, we are also working on creating brand imagery, doing our research, and preparing to wow the customers through this new brand direction.”
Solethreads prides itself in doing everything – building raw material, prototyping, innovating, and quality control – in-house. The brand raised Rs 13 crore in series A round funding from DSG Consumer Partners and Saama Capital, this April, and plans to invest the money to create a better customer experience and strengthening its digital capabilities.
Tech & D2C Push
Solethreads prides itself on being the harbinger of innovation and working alongside the latest technology in footwear designing. The brand has Phylon molded technology (ultra-light and shock absorbent), Squishy technology (super soft and comfortable), and its patented Synturf technology (grass flip-flops) under its umbrella.
“Being a tech-savvy brand, Solethreads has also partnered with tech solution partners. These include Glaucus for smart inventory management, Paxcom for e-commerce analytics and channel intelligence, Shoptimize for AI-based performance marketing, and Vinculum for omnichannel integration. Further, we are digitizing all our offline sales pilots. We have enabled our B2B partners to order directly on our B2B portal. This also allows ease of procuring and empowers them to make decisions that best suit their business, while keeping our CAPEX needs minimal. Our portal SolethreadsCart.com allows our trade partners to view our catalog, place their orders and track them in real-time. As we move with our omnichannel strategy in the future, we plan to work on partnerships with Udaan, and Reliance for a more comprehensive B2B approach,” elaborates Sumant Kakaria.
The open footwear start-up has recently revamped its own D2C website. Sumant Kakaria says, “We’re relatively new as a brand, and to get 9-10 percent of our customers as repeat buyers, on our website itself is definitely encouraging. We are now concentrating on building a robust CRM team so that we can listen to our customers and continue to delight them throughout their ownership of Solethreads flip flops. This endeavor is also further strengthened by the great relationship we have with Amazon and Myntra, where we get a lot of actionable insights.”
The Way Forward
Even as the overall industry reeled under the impact of the pandemic, while trying all they could to survive and stay afloat, fighting competition and catering to changing consumer shopping behavior, Solethreads surmounted all the marginal operational setbacks with ease on the back of its digital and D2C business model. The start-up registered a 3X growth from the pre-Covid times.
“Comfort and innovation form the very 'sole' of our company and we are now working on pioneering concepts that will place us on the global map. It would be opportune to mention that one should just wait and watch. Our technologies, our products, and our best practices are being tweaked so as to create an entirely new level and benchmark of customer and market ‘wow’. We are all about comfort, and the customer knows it. We are a trend now, and that trend is here to stay,” concludes Sumant Kakaria.