What started as a side project became a full-fledged career for Sugandha Tyagi. The founder of Shoes Your Daddy began painting on her sneakers because she never found funky ones in her size. Having a large feet, UK 7 size, Tyagi would often scourge the markets to find footwear of her size and liking and end up buying Bata shoes. Since 2014, she started painting on pairs she bought, creating unique sneakers for herself. Soon, the advertising professional started getting requests from friends, colleagues and family members. In fact, one of her then colleagues suggested the brand name. “I didn’t realize how huge it could be," says Delhi-based Tyagi, 28.

The growing appreciation and requests lead her to set up Facebook and Instagram pages, where she showcased her custom- painted shoes, bought in bulk from Bata. Eventually, Tyagi decided to pursue her creative passion and quit her job as client servicing executive in an advertising firm.

Although Tyagi is one of the many creative entrepreneurs selling painted sneakers exclusively on social media platform, what sets her apart is the variety of themes she offers and the attention to details, she says. For instance, she paints minions or Iron Man as well as Frieda Kahlo portrait or Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night. One of the highlights of her journey was when Bollywood actor Ranveer Singh reached out to her after noticing the “Crime Master Gogo" painted sneakers.

Best foot forward

Sensing the potential in custom-painted sneakers, Tyagi signed up for a one-year graphic design course. “I had no money to pay for the course, nor did I have much savings. I asked my father to fund it. My father was tired of me shifting careers since I had graduated in journalism honours and then worked in advertising. He asked, ‘Now you want to become a mochi (cobbler)?’ It was difficult to explain I wanted to design shoes," recalls Tyagi.

She took up a job as graphic designer with The Shop, a design studio set in Delhi and simultaneously, began taking part in events like Lil Flea Market. “Events give you a lot exposure and it was an attempt to position the brand professionally. The response was crazy," says Tyagi, who displayed 10 pairs and clocked in nearly 80 orders. Since then, she has participated in four events. The stint at the design studio for two years gave her the impetus to plunge into the shoe painting business full time. She sells her shoes, which are available from sizes UK 4 to 10, in the range of 2,000 to 3,000.

Since her business was set up in staggered form, Tyagi is unable to pinpoint the amount that kick-started the venture. “I am making lot more money than a job though. I am able to sustain myself and pay the salary to the person working under me. Beyond that whatever is left over, I put it back in the venture," she says. From two pairs a week, she now dispatches 10-12 pairs of shoes.

Roadblocks

Considering she labours over each piece, Tyagi says she doesn’t have the bandwidth to do return or exchange if the sneakers don’t fit the person. Another major hurdle was getting a vendor to supply shoes of various sizes. “I used to paint on Bata shoes but the paint wouldn’t stay for long. It took me four years to get a good vendor. Since I require small quantity of shoes (about 100 pairs) in different sizes, wholesale vendors aren’t interested," she recounts.

Plagiarism is a common complaint that every artist has. For someone selling on a social media platform, Tyagi’s case is no different. Her themes are often copied. “What irks me is that even the shoe images have been lifted as it is and showcased as if they have taken the photo," she says.

Handling everything on her own becomes an issue when she gets a lot of orders. That’s the reason why she hasn’t promoted her webpage, in spite of having one. “On Facebook and Instagram, I can stop taking orders when I want. On website, I have no control," says Tyagi, who does the marketing herself.

Learning curve

As they say, no experience ever goes to waste. Tyagi realized this only once she started her venture. “All the marketing I learnt is from my stint from the ad agency. The graphic design experience helped with the design, usage of colour combinations, visual appeal of designs and so on," she says.

Another thing that she learnt was pricing her work. Earlier, she would sell her shoes at 1,200 a pair but six months ago, she increased the price, after friends and customers told her that she was selling it cheap. “There is a perception that the quality of the shoes will be poor if it’s at such a low price," she says.

Tyagi is now planning to expand her repertoire to denim jackets and small furniture pieces like coffee tables and bar stools.

Style Wise is a series that looks at how accessory startups are finding a niche and overcoming challenges. 

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