This venture clearly manifests the Founder & CEO, Harshwardhan Patwardhan’s ability to disrupt the market through his innovative thinking as he explains, “Chappers offer customization to anyone who loves to have their style using augmented reality (AR) technology. We offer various styles right from Kolhapuri chappals to Belgian loafers, mojdis, Peshawari sandals and more, for both men and women.”
Pic: Harshwardhan Patwardhan, Founder & CEO, Chappers
The brand name Chappers is an intelligent mix of Chappal (Hindi for sandals) plus slippers. Harshwardhan started Chappers in 2015 at the age of 24, with 5 lakh rupees as their working capital and with a few artisans from Kolhapur (Maharashtra). Further, the fact that he didn’t join the well-established transport business of his father and set out to launch a start-up in a challenging market shows his risk-taking appetite. Today, Chappers is a profitable brand with 3 crore plus turnover. It has 4 exclusive stores in Pune and presence in another 20 retail partners in Maharashtra.
Typically, the need for colours, limited design options and usage of hard leather in making Kolhapuri footwear resulted in its demand getting limited to male customers in Maharashtra. Through their innovative approach to the design and merger of Kolhapuri chappals with loafers, Chappers has created a path-breaking, colourful range of products that buyers can fully customize as per their personal preferences delivered all over India and even in some foreign countries.
The company has built India’s first virtual footwear customizer, allowing customers to create personalized designs on a touch kiosk in simple steps.
When asked about the consumers and how they perceive the brand, Patwardhan proudly says, “We are an aspirational brand since we operate in a very niche segment. We started as a men’s footwear brand, and our focus predominantly will be men. Though we offer women’s footwear, it will always be in limited options. Our clientele includes well-known celebrities like Sachin Tendulkar, Arjun Tendulkar, Zaheer Khan, Raj Thackeray and Nitin Gadkari to name a few. And, these celebrities have also placed repeat purchases and asked for customization. So indeed, we are doing something right to garner this response.
Our customer’s style has evolved significantly in the past eight years. Men were not so forthcoming when it came to asking for brighter colours and personalization. But they want more today; maybe women will have much tougher competition!”
Technology on the front
Chappers has built a novel solution inspired by the iconic Kolhapuri chappals of Maharashtra and powered by advanced AR technologies. This unique combination of hand-crafted quality and AR-powered creativity has ushered in an era of freedom for consumers wherein each piece of footwear can stand out as a unique and unmistakable part of the customer’s persona. This is something that is not offered by more prominent brands, too, and we are standing apart in this segment due to our offering.
Patwardhan adds, “Chappers is still a growing brand which is being built on technology front. We are investing almost 20 to 30 percent of our profits in technology. Moving ahead, we want to add more features to our augmented reality (AR), making it more capable with all its expansion to a greater scale.”
Brand’s edge: 3D customization
In a typical footwear purchase experience, you walk into a store, see shoes lined up on display walls and choose the right size. While this process allows customers to choose from the stock, it doesn’t have any scope for customization. You might see a design you love, but maybe you would have loved to add red or neon elements to it or wanted it in a different colour and material altogether. Chappers has eliminated this limitation through its technology-driven approach, which is scalable and profitable due to the capabilities of mass customizations.
When you walk into a Chappers store, there is a big touch-screen display. The screen would have thousands of pairs of designs for chappals and different types of shoes for you to choose from. After you find a design to your liking, you click on it, and the proprietary AR-driven software of Chappers offers a mind-blowing repertoire of over 10,000 possible customizations in terms of materials, accessories, colours etc.
The brand provides full support for customers to add an accessory of their choice or completely own the shoe’s look by adding their initials to the design. Once the design is locked, the AR takes over, and you get to see the look and feel of the product with India’s first 4K virtual customization experience. Then, you can place the order, and the sales staff takes foot measurements to ensure absolute fit. You can go home, and within 48 hours, hand-crafted footwear, exactly how you visualized and wanted it to be, is delivered to your doorstep within two to three days from order placement. The entire process is technology-driven, smooth, convenient, quick and customizable.
Product bestsellers and expansion plans
Chappers bestsellers have always been our Kolhapuris. When asked about its brand competitive edge over other players in the market, Patwardhan quotes, “We have sold around 25,000 pairs of Kolhapuris till now, and our average MRP is Rs 2700/-. We have other products which do well for us, including our customized loafers and formal range. We offer colours and designs which other brands cannot provide and hence, we have a competitive advantage. We also make traditional wedding footwear, such as Peshawari sandals and embroidered Mojris. We only make stuff we know we are good at and have a competitive edge.”
Chappers recently unveiled a range of footwear for women, and will expand it in the year ahead with some limited-edition collections. Further, the brand has plans to introduce kids’ footwear and include products based on various other ethnic footwears from different states of India. For market coverage, the brand is leveraging a kiosk franchise model under which they offer franchises to people to set up kiosks in shopping malls. Pune in Maharashtra has 4 such operational outlets and in the long term, the company vision is to have one kiosk in every shopping mall across India.
This summer, Chappers is making Kolhapuris in Italian leather. It has taken its inspiration for European colours with a strong Indian appeal. Talking about the new collection, Patwardhan takes pride in saying, “This has never been done before, and we hope our customers will love the collection. Also, we have launched India’s first footwear customizer, where our clients can customize their footwear on a touchscreen in all our stores. It will also be available for our online clients shortly. The new collection has a lot of pastel colours and summery hues. We have observed that the modern Indian man is very experimental with colours, but at the same time, he prefers subtle designs. Hence, we are developing various designs and colours for the modern Indian man. Not too fancy, but one that can stand out.”
Chappers with its 4 exclusive brand outlets (EBO) in Pune cater to about 60 percent of the brand’s business. Apart from this, the brand is present in 20 multi brand outlets (MBO) that give 20 percent and 1 shop-in-shop (SIS) that caters to another 10 percent of the brand revenue.
Chappers is bringing a change as Patwardhan says, “We have offline retail touch points all over Maharashtra. We want to take the Kolhapuris on a global level. Our products have a good grip, are comfortable and are available in trendy non-traditional designs. But regionally, we sell a lot of traditional designs as people love the fact that their favorite Kolhapuris are now comfortable and do not skid. So, regionally we know that traditional designs do well. On the other hand, the consumers from other parts of the nation are willing to experiment with casual Kolhapuris more than traditional-looking footwear.”
He further adds, “We want Chappers to be present in all major cities of the world. In the next 5-7 years, we want to be present in 350 malls across India. Distribution will also be a key source of growth for us. We want to onboard distributors in all states, so it gives us access to good multi brand outlets and gives us greater visibility. We also plan to launch the customizer online so people can order excellent custom footwear from the comfort of their homes.”
Chappers scores good on the sustainability front as all its products are made out of leather which is the most sustainable material in the footwear industry.
When asked Patwardhan, who explains with a logic as he comments, “Generally, Rexine and faux/artificial leather are called sustainable. But the actual truth is that these materials are made from fossil fuels and polyurethanes and are most unsustainable as they stay on the planet forever and never decompose. Leather, on the other hand, is a by-product of the meat industry. Animals are never killed for the leather. Plus, leather footwear decomposes within a year.”
Today, Chappers has identified the unaddressed demand for personalization and introduced a cutting-edge software-driven approach that ensures limitless creativity and options for personalizing footwear. Along with high quality and the right price, their footwear has been gaining rapid market acceptance. The company is looking at bright future and is working towards expanding their retail network to different parts of the country.