Miami Design Meets Italian Manufacturing: The Next Wave of Dress Shoes
From his Miami design studio, Kabaccha Shoes founder Kabeer Arora is redefining the footwear industry.
In February 2015, his first Kickstarter raised more than $400,000 to produce and distribute a line of handmade, lightweight, Italian leather dress shoes. Following that momentum, he’s back with an updated array in a variety of colorways and a new women’s line.
We caught up with Arora as he was coming off another sleepless night of answering Kickstarter backer questions. Oh, and his new campaign? It raised $82,000 in four days.
Where does the name “Kabaccha” come from?
The word doesn’t necessarily have a meaning or definition, but it comes from a combination of my travels and experiences. I couldn’t think of any other brands that share that same name/meaning and I wanted to have my initials in there somewhere. I firmly believe it’s an extension of me as a designer, thinker, creator and human being.
It feels like there’s a bit of Floridian influence in the design and vibe of the brand. How does that relate to the design of the shoes?
Since I’m the lead designer of all of our shoes, each style derives influence from different cities I’ve lived in – I call it “Mumbai, Milan, Miami.” I was raised in Mumbai, and in Hindu culture red is a sacred color, so you’ll see a lot of that in our designs. Miami has influenced our design to be effortless and less serious, while we wanted to make the shoes in the best shoemaking area in the world, which happens to be Milan.
How did you find and develop the relationship with the Milanese designers? When did you know it was going to be a mutually beneficial relationship?
It wasn’t easy. Italian factories are hesitant on working with newcomers, but I studied there and built relationships with them. We vetted three different factories. The one we picked had the best price, quality and was motivated by our ideas. It’s an artisan factory run by good friends in the same area where Tod’s makes their shoes. We wanted the strength of small-scale, handmade production where we could control the quality of every shoe. Each piece is individually looked after, sought after and sealed with the maximum quality control.
How do you value the shoe at “$500?” Is that based on labor? Materials? Otherwise?
The ethos of “Handmade in Italy” is premium even before the costs of materials, labor and shipping. We’re using 100% Italian leather from Italian tanneries with colors that you don’t find in other dress shoe brands. We don’t use the typical construction method of making our shoes – we’re working with families that have whole lineages dedicated to one skill. For example, if a guy is a stitcher, his son will be a stitcher, then pass that trade down the line. I should be selling them for $499-$599, but I wanted to make the brand affordable. People shouldn’t have to spend half their paycheck on it.
Who has been your main buyer demographic so far?
The beauty of Kickstarter is that we can see the profiles of all our backers – and they’re diverse. Everyone from college kids to creatives to professionals that walk a lot like lawyers and doctors. We had an order from a law firm for 30 pairs and now everyone in that office wears them. 60-65 percent of our orders are from the USA, 15-20 percent Europe, 10 percent Middle East/Asia, with a surprising concentration of orders in Singapore.
Have any stores or retail sites approached you?
Yeah, we’ve had interest from a few boutiques and overseas online aggregators. We didn’t want to go too far commercial, but rather become that “cool Italian brand.” We’re working on plans for pop-up stores in Los Angeles and New York, too. Above all, we’re not ready to have that kind of increased overhead that comes with retail.
You were quoted as saying, “My whole idea is for the brand to be for the people, by the people and there’s no [better] way of showing that. The people fund the brand, the concepts, the colors.” How do you plan on keeping that ethos as the brand grows? Will you continue to crowd source with each new release?
You can’t start a company the way the big brands started back in the day. Kickstarter is the best way for you to get a perfect concept and test the relevance of the brand quickly. If the idea is truly something great, it will get you in 30 days what other routes take a year to do. Plenty of extremely large companies are coming to Kickstarter for smaller projects. I didn’t want to be a small time vendor; I wanted to start a company and raise a large amount of capital.
Adding to that, we want to build first-level relationships with our customers. We can talk to each of them through Kickstarter. It helps maintain loyalty and they become a part of our family. 3,000 of our customers are repeat buyers and some have bought 4-5 pairs each. We’d love to do more crowdfunding as we grow.
How will the development of the women’s line work into the growth of the brand?
We’ve had a lot of women hit us up for shoe designs. I’ve never seen a beautiful pair of wingtips or brogues for women, so we designed a line and the reception has been great – this is the focus of our current Kickstarter. I want Kabaccha to be the go-to brand for dress shoes specifically – to be known for a little burst of color here and there. Feminine, but at the same time, playful.