It’ s been over a year since the normcore fad. But now even canvas shoes—earlier a part of normcore—have become a context for experimental design. Indian designers are fast capturing the space of the “casual", often neglected for the serious business of formal or sports shoes. For instance, Scentra, a start-up that makes strawberry- scented organic cotton slip-ons, has infused a literal breath of fresh air into casual sneakers —so far the stronghold of a few global players. As you enter Scentra’s office in New Delhi’s Nehru Place area, a faint smell of strawberry bubblegum greets you. “This hint of smell makes you feel nice, like you’re carrying a little secret with you," says Karan Vij, Scentra’s 25-year-old founder. At a price range of 2,000-3,000, you can buy machine-washable, easy-to-fold cotton shoes manufactured by combining Spanish shoe-making technology with design talent from New Delhi and California, US. Scentra focuses on global trends, and the brand’s forthcoming Fall/Winter collection has solid-coloured platform cotton slip-ons inspired by the 1990s trend of platform shoes, à la Baby Spice from the girl band Spice Girls.

Indie-designers all around the country now use fabric in footwear to create a casual yet unique Indian aesthetic. The Sole Sisters by advertising professional-turned-designer Chondamma Cariappa is one such label. Cariappa started a shoes blog in 2010 that gradually amassed a large community of women followers who checked in with pictures of their shoes and where they had bought them. Four years later, Cariappa who had stayed at her advertising job till then, made 60 pairs of Ikat sandals, in four different colours, as an experiment. “The response was overwhelming," she recollects. The Sole Sisters has now expanded, making shoes with chikankari cloth and eco-friendly Khadi, in styles ranging from flat or heeled sandals to slip-ons. It has lately introduced brogues with patches of Khadi or Ikat tailored on to them. These can be bought on The Sole Sisters’ Facebook page or from stockists in Mumbai, Jaipur, Goa, Chennai, and internationally in New York, Prague and Vienna.

Back at Scentra, Vij says fabric shoes—which primarily attract a clientele in the age group of 16-35—are practical, especially if you’re on the move. His brand’s appeal also lies in the scent dyed into the natural rubber outsoles, which give the shoes reasonable longevity. Scentra, which owns the patent for making scented shoes in India and currently sells online, will soon have kiosks in city malls.

Both Scentra and The Sole Sisters have celebrity clients. The Scentra website shows social media posts by actors Alia Bhatt and Siddharth Malhotra sporting their shoes. Film producer Kiran Rao has been seen wearing sandals from The Sole Sisters’ latest Hippie Sole collection. Actor Sonam Kapoor was also seen in Khadi sandals by Cariappa.

While footwear brands such as Bata or Liberty have been manufacturing canvas shoes for decades, a new crop of designers is experimenting with this “canvas".

Laksheeta Govil’s roots lay in DIY, as she started by painting on plain white canvas shoes to customize them. A graduate from New Delhi’s Pearl Academy of fashion, Govil is known for her brand Fizzy Goblet, which exclusively makes juttis. Priced under 3,000, her juttis have prints, and quilted or floral tops, held together on vegetable-tanned leather soles. Govil’s new line, The Broguesters, has brogue juttis in denim, lace and Ikat with comfortable inner padding. Fizzy Goblet also has juttis made with raw and malkha silk with appliqué, mirror work and kundan jewellery, which can be cleaned with a mild soap.

Also working on this DIY premise is Banwarey, a label that uses mass-manufactured solid-coloured canvas sneakers to make Kutchi Shoes. The founders—Apurva Nayal, Ajay Singh Rawat, Shruti Joshi and Shrishti Jain—are fresh graduates from the Delhi College of Art. This year-old project embroiders distinct Ajrakh patterns on canvas plimsolls, while patches of jute weaves are placed over the plastic bumpers that cordon off the sole from the fabric. Conventional shoe laces are replaced with thin jute strings that end in little bells or trinkets. The shoes are priced at 5,100 for a pair, to be dry-cleaned only.

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