Meet the woman behind Crimzon shoes
Sonali Dalwani, founder and creative director of Crimzon shoes, talks about how she got her start; reimagining our future shoes; expansion plans and more
Tell us about how your fascination for shoes started? When did you first realise that you wanted to be a shoe designer?
My fascination for shoes started when I was very young. Back in the day, my friends and I would lust over the beautiful bags and shoes we would see in glossy magazines like Vogue, which we would buy from old magazine stands or when we had enough money to buy one from a book store down my house called Readers Paradise. Also, my mother would buy a pair of sandals and a handbag in every colour to match her saris. She always dressed so elegantly. I would sit and watch her getting dressed and admire how she would put her whole look together. I loved her effortless, elegant style and I was inspired.
Soon after I had my second child, I went to work at an export house that sold shoes and bags to the European market. What was meant to be a part-time job with flexible timings turned out to be a full-time job. Four years later I quit because it was getting too hectic and there was no time for me or my kids. Having worked in this space I looked at the domestic market and found there was a big gap for international quality footwear. Since I had experience working with export houses dealing with shoes and bags for big international names, I felt I could offer something unique and different to the domestic market. My designs are a combination of traditional Indian craftsmanship with international designs.
What were the first steps you took towards becoming a shoe designer?
The design part was easy. I allowed my creativity to flow and translate into designs that were so well received. The part I struggled with was the technical aspects. With no formal education in shoe making I found I would hit roadblocks ever so often. I could point out a problem or tell where it needed to be corrected but I often didn't know how to fix it. I knew I had to do something about it. The Italians are master shoemakers and I needed to learn from the best. So, I enrolled in a shoe making course by the Italian school of shoemaking, Arsutoria, which was being held in New York for designers with no background in footwear making. That course provided me with the knowledge I needed to make a quality product. Shoe making is nothing short of a science and making a quality product requires not just skill but also a lot of technical know-how.
What has been your biggest struggle in this journey?
Struggles have been many and as a business grows one faces new challenges everyday .It’s a work in progress. The job is never truly done. It’s like you give birth to a newborn and then you have to nurture it through all its ups and downs. But one of the biggest challenges I faced initially was being a woman in a man’s world. When I first set up my workshop in 2008 everyone associated with this industry said “you won’t be able to handle it. You will burn your fingers”. I knew it was something that had to be done if I were to get the end results I desired. Getting the karigars to take instructions from a woman (something they weren’t used to), to respect me as their boss, was very challenging. I got cheated several times but I stood my ground and didn’t give up. It would have been very easy at that point to put my hands up and drop this ambitious idea of running my own brand but I knew if I had to grow this brand there was no other way.
Many people have passion projects, but they lose steam after a certain point. What has been the biggest factor motivating you to keep going with this venture?
Crimzon is my baby and I am extremely passionate about the work I’m doing. I love every minute of what I do. What gives me the greatest joy is seeing a satisfied customer. It’s what drives me to work harder and keep improving on my product. Also, I have always had the unwavering support of my husband and my sons without whose support I wouldn’t have come this far.
What has been the most surprising thing about entrepreneurship?
Any entrepreneur is a lifelong learner; a juggler of sorts wearing multiple hats. You have to keep adapting to every situation; listening and learning. In today’s fast paced life, change is the only constant and one has to constantly keep adapting to new technology, new innovations, new social environments in order to stay relevant. It pushes you to rise to the occasion every single time; learn from it and move on. Self belief and resilience is what it takes to be an entrepreneur.
Your sons, do they share your passion for shoes?
They don’t share the same passion I do in the creative process but they share the same vision for the brand. They are the next generation in the business and their inputs and way of working helps me keep this almost two decade old brand relevant with the current generation.
What is your advice to them?
My advice to them is that there are no shortcuts in life. Work hard and be patient. Sow the seeds and nurture your vision and the results will surely follow.
What are their big plans for the brand?
We just launched our second flagship store in Khar in September, 2023. Our aim is to open our own stores in Delhi and Kolkata next year. We are also revamping our website to give our customers a better shopping experience and adding features like build your own shoe. For our overseas customers we will be adding international shipping as well.