You quit banking to become a shoe-designer – how and why did that happen?
I discovered my love for shoes while studying at university in London. I always knew I wanted to one day start my own luxury footwear line for men. I travelled to Spain, the UK and Milan, and underwent training for materials and processes and learnt all about the footwear industry before I decided to leave the banking industry and start Czar in 2016. I am still not detached from corporate banking; it is a family business, and being a corporate banker taught me how businesses work and understand things like margins, balance sheets and turnovers. I am a huge believer that one needs a good few years of solid work experience before starting something of their own.
What drew you to shoes specifically and not any other accessories? What’s their allure?
Shoes know no age – whether you’re a child or an adult, all of us needs shoes, they’re necessity; a great pair of shoes are a necessary staple for every man’s closet. Shoes don’t just make you look good but also feel good. They can become a statement accessory if you have the confidence to carry out a [radical] pair that probably most of the world around you won’t understand. Unfortunately, men don’t pay too much attention to the type of design of the way the shoes looks, especially with formalwear [functionality takes precedence]. I feel that has to change.
What are the benefits of handmade shoes over factory-made ones?
I think you can recognise a handcrafted shoe with your naked eye – the shoes fit the feet’s natural shape in a manner that mass-produced shoes can’t. Aesthetically, they have an edge because they are intricately embroidered, cut, needled and designed from scratch. It gives customers a deep sense of personal satisfaction to own a pair of bespoke designer shoes that have been custom-made for them catering to the asymmetry in the feet such as flat feet or low arches while not compromising on style.
Why did you handover the production of your designs to a family-run factory in India? What kind of craftsmanship and skill do they bring to the table?
Although it’s Dubai-based, Czar is a very global brand. We import the finest quality of leather soles from Portugal and India, Italian velvet and embroidery by a factory that have been specialising in the craft for almost a century. All of this is then assembled by a 75-year-old family-owned factory in India. It’s how we honour the tradition of artisanal shoemaking and my creativity and designs are entrusted in the hands of skilled workers.
What does it feel like to see celebrities walk in your creations?
We worked with Pakistani actor Fawad Khan when we started and soon after Indian actor Varun Dhawan wore our shoes at an event, followed by Iranian actor Sajjad Dellafrooz making an appearance in our footwear. The fact that they’re all from various countries makes me feel like I have the ability to make them feel luxurious yet comfortable in what they’re wearing, no matter where they’re from.
What made you decided to branch out into a women’s line? How is it similar to or different from your existing men’s collection?
Just like with my menswear collection, I noticed a gap in the market for a luxury footwear brand for women that’s affordable and comfortable. Women’s footwear is very different not just in terms of the style, they take much longer to produce than a pair of handmade men’s shoes – a women’s pair of heels take around eight days to make. Our biggest challenge was also figuring out what women want.
Women have always wanted a comfortable pair of heels. Are they a myth?
Not at Czar. I’ve found a way to make women run safely in their stylish heels without complaining. Our block heels, stilettos and loafers are all handmade to ensure it fits the dimensions of the wearer’s feet; our block heels use lightweight wood and all the heels have quilted fillings and gel insoles. Plus, you can personalise the colour and embellishments.
What according to you are the most iconic pair of shoes ever made and why?
As a brand, I’d say Berluti is iconic because of the [benchmark they’ve set] with the details on their classic range – the drawings, the art and the leather they use. Hopefully Czar gets there soon! I am a huge fan of the Sabyasachi X Christian Louboutin capsule collection – it has unbelievable embroidery and embellishments. And how can one forget the influence of Gucci’s two-in-one horsebit loafers whose foldable heels turn them into mules?
The footwear industry is a huge consumer of leather, cotton and materials that have a heavy carbon foot print. Do you see that change in the near future? Does Czar incorporate any eco-friendly measures into its production process?
We have started making custom vegan shoes (for both men and women) for our eco-friendly customers. We use sustainable and cruelty-free materials such as velvet made from cotton instead of silk and rexine soles instead of leather. However, it will take time for [entire industry and production process] to change as eco-friendly materials aren’t easily available like high-end leather and neither are they long-lasting.