‘A good story transcends boundaries, breaks barriers, and opens doors. It is a key not only to starting a business but also to clarifying your own personal identity and choices.’ – Blake Mycoskie.
The story behind Fuchsia Shoes is equal parts social venture and equal parts building a veritable world-class brand for Pakistani shoes. It’s no coincidence that Afshan Abbas, CEO of Fuchsia, lists Mr. Mycoskie (social entrepreneur and Founder of TOMS Shoes) as one of the driving influences behind her team’s passion project.
Fuchsia Shoes – There’s One for You
And here’s how.
Fuchsia Handmade Shoes for Women – The Origin Story
Meet Afshan Abbas, Rameez Sajwani and Hamad Khawaja, all Pakistani-born data engineers and technologists who have previously worked at Microsoft, Google and Amazon.
The story of their collaboration begins 2 years ago.
In 2013, Afshan and Hamad were on a visit to Pakistan. A self-confessed ‘shoes fanatic,’ Afshan just couldn’t resist snagging up a blend of ethnically-inspired footwears, especially Punjabi ‘Khussas’ and ‘Kohlapoori’ sandals woven by craftsmen and craftswomen from Multan, Sangla, Lahore and various other places.
‘I wanted to bring these shoes back to the US after the trip to Pakistan. I wore them at work, at home, everywhere I went. And you’ll be surprised at the ton of compliments i got about them from co-workers and even curious onlookers at the street.’ – Afshan Abbas, CEO of Fuchsia
During her return, Afshan and Rameez were also discussing the possibility of doing a social venture. Seeing the great reception she got for the traditional khussa (leather flats) and Kolhapoori sandals, the idea was born for Fuchsia Handmade Shoes.
Following two years of intense market research and validation, along with trunk shows and events where they showcased their products, the stupendous response they got from others was enough to make the co-founders realize that they needed to make the right call.
And thus began the Fuchsia project: to build a quintessentially Pakistani, high-end brand for exotic footwear that can hold its own against premium Italian and Spanish fashion brands.
How Fuchsia Finetuned the Blend of Quality, Social Empowerment and Customer Satisfaction Behind Its Offerings
After brainstorming over the idea of producing high-quality shoes for the Western market, it was time to put the venture together.
Hamad made trips to the rural artisans who made sandals and khussas for the Pakistani market. Based in Lahore at the time, he researched about the quality, make, market and various other factors that were unique to the Pakistani craft of leather sandal-making.
He settled on the hub of ‘khussas’ Sangla, reaching out to the people involved at various stages of the shoe making industry in Pakistan. He found that the rural workers didn’t have a consistent source of income, settling on a ‘dahari’ and working at select seasons. The craftspeople worked at seasonal intervals, weaving shoes one season and farming during the next, just to make ends meet.
For Afshan, this state of affairs wouldn’t do, and therefore, Fuchsia decided to hire a dedicated team of Sangla-based rural artisans full-time, with medical and benefits covered. And once Fuchsia grows, they have plans to add more personnel from the cotton industry at Sangla and other cities.
This move took care of the social aspect. But there was one huge issue that the Fuchsia team still had to address. The quality of the products themselves.
To take care of the quality issues, Rameez stepped in. And in true Jeff Bezos fashion, the first thing he insisted on was on not cutting corners when it came to making the shoes. Rameez pushed the craftsmen into how they approached shoe-making, getting them to make changes such as:
- Using only the highest quality leather, instead of cardboard and junk materials.
- Pulling off the finishing of final product flawlessly with no pen marks or stains, consistent stitching of threads and embroidery.
- focusing on shoe sizing and comfort by added paddings and more room.
- Keeping Durability and Flexibility in mind, with leather outsoles.
Fuchsia’s Craftsmenship at Work
Sure these measures contributed towards additional time and costs. But as they say, there’s no substitute for quality. Fuchsia wanted to get exotic Pakistani footwear to become a superstar cultural phenomenon in the US, and Afshan wanted her company’s offerings to stand head-and-shoulders with similar high-end brands such as Nordstrom and Anthropology.
So getting the quality right, and having them custom-tailored for American and other Western markets was a priority for the startup. And with the time spent training their artisans, it seems they’ve got the quality aspect covered.
Fuchsia’s Kickstarter is Still Ongoing
Fuchsia Handmade Shoes has been backed by 341 backers so far at Kickstarter. It has surpassed its goal of $10,000. Currently at $31,000, you can check out their Kickstarter page to view its whole product catalog and even contribute more towards the stretch goals here.
It’s heartening to hear of such ventures undertaken by foreign-based Pakistani entrepreneurs that not only empower the local community back home, but also highlight Pakistan’s cultural strengths to an unaware Western audience. We wish Fuchsia all the best and hope many startups are inspired by such success stories.
Image Credits: Fuchsia Press Shots