As an animal lover and a PETA volunteer, I decided to give up leather a few years back. How leather is made, simply aches my heart. Even though it’s illegal to kill healthy young cattle in India, they are beaten, deprived of food and water, dehorned, transported in appalling conditions and tortured with iron rods. As statistics go, India produces around one billion pairs of leather shoes every year for consumption and export, and the hide from one cow produces 18 pairs of shoes. Which means 50 million cows are slaughtered for shoes!
With this knowledge, I pledged to never wear leather again but consequently, had a tough time finding good non-leather shoes that were stylish, of good quality and affordable. You could say that it was almost a light-bulb moment when I thought, “What the heck, I should start my own brand!” And that’s how ‘KANABIS‘ was born – a brand for fashionable, affordable, high quality and PETA-approved vegan footwear. The name is a play on the word cannabis (a.k.a. marijuana) since we use a lot of canvas instead of leather in our shoes, and canvas was historically made from hemp, which came from cannabis.
All our shoes are made of high-quality canvas, fabric and other leather substitutes keeping compassion for animals as a core value of the business but style is as important to us, which is why our shoes are tastefully crafted, with a careful mix of fabrics for the right look and comfort, thanks to our creative head, Anshul Tyagi, who does a fantastic job with the product design!
The challenges, you ask? Phew, plenty and counting! We started off from the drawing room of my house and have only recently shifted to a new office in our warehouse. I didn’t ever imagine that I would have to worry about which air conditioner, fridge or printer to install but setting up something from scratch especially when expenses are on a shoestring (in our case quite literally, ha!) teaches you all this and more. Also, I don’t come from a fashion or footwear background. I am a chartered accountant and started my career at a Big Four accounting firm in London, and quit that to sell shoes! So, that was a big learning curve in itself.
One of the things that has really worked for us, is that every shoe we sell has a quirky name with a story. Our white lacy wedges got its name from a picture we posted on Instagram, of when I first tried the sample shoe and captioned it, “having a Cinderella moment!” Instantly, we got hundreds of likes and inquiries for that ‘Cinderella shoe’. And aloha, Cinderellas came to be! Occasionally we also do giveaway contests and recently partnered with PETA to run one that asked for people’s views on animal-friendly fashion. In a sense, the role of social media has been instrumental. Starting out, our crowdfunding campaign raised over $4000, and was solely promoted via social media. In a brief span, we have crossed 17,000 followers on Facebook, and have a fast-growing Instagram following that keeps us actively engaged with our target audience. Bloggers, fans and friends have also willingly helped spread the word about us.
In April this year, we turned one. We have done 35 exhibitions and trunk shows, till date and have received a phenomenal response at these events. Perhaps, because we are (almost always) the only brand in the ‘cool western casual’ and vegan shoe category. Once ladies try the shoe, and the size and fit works, they are more likely to visit us online and shop. Our shoes also retail offline at multi-brand stores across the country, as well other e-marketplaces, and though currently we’re only focusing on the domestic market, we plan to start global deliveries at some point.
On a more personal note, we foresee a rising consciousness against animal cruelty and as more brands and celebrities start promoting animal-friendly fashion, awareness and demand are bound to go up. We are excited to ride that high wave!