26 April-2 May 2013 #653

Dulla and the shoe factory

From almost dropping out of school to owning his own footwear company, designer Ahmed Dulla is now giving shoe lovers in Nepal a reason to smile
Tsering Dolker Gurung

As a young boy, Ahmed Dulla would spend hours admiring footwear and picking out the most expensive pairs of shoes from shops. However, every trip ended in tears because his parents refused to spend thousands on a 10-year-old’s shoe. In high school, Dulla fell in love with basketball, but more than the game, he was fascinated by the sneakers he saw on court.

“I knew my dream of becoming a NBA star was too far-fetched so I thought I would design shoes for players instead,” chuckles the 25-year-old who launched his line of self-titled shoes in Nepal last month.

While not quite fit for a game of basketball, Dulla’s personally designed, hand-made shoes are elegant, yet comfortable enough for daily use and are giving female shoe lovers in Kathmandu a reason to smile. With over 100 pairs off the shelves and 150 pre-orders in less than a month, Dulla is thrilled with the way business has picked up through word of mouth.

PICS: SANJAY SHRESTHA

“When I told my family and friends that I wanted to study footwear, they were skeptical. They would make fun of me and ask me why I was spending so much money and time training to become a ‘cobbler’?” he recalls. “So it feels amazing to see two long years of hard work finally paying off. My family is also more appreciative now.”

Not the most diligent student in high school, Dulla had thought about dropping out a couple of times. “I hated studying so much that at one point, I wanted to become a taxi driver,” he says. But all that changed when he enrolled at Footwear Design and Development Institute (FDDI) in India. Within a few weeks he knew he had made the right choice and found his courses so interesting that he attended classes religiously during his three years at FDDI and ended up winning an award for best attendance.

After graduation, the aspiring designer started interning at Aldo and Zara in Mumbai. Dulla says those were the toughest three months of his life where he felt he was being constantly exploited and not getting credit for his work. “No matter how hard I worked, at the end of the day others would take credit for my designs. That is when I realised that I couldn’t work under someone else and had to start something on my own,” he admits.

Although the company is based in Delhi, the designer chose Kathmandu for the official launch. “I always wanted to do something in my country and this is just a small effort,” he explains, “I have felt a real demand for good-quality shoes here.” Dulla teamed up with Trendsetters to distribute shoes in the country, but tech savvy shoppers can also order online through Facebook.

The confident shoemaker has now set his sights on outshining cheap Chinese knockoffs that dominate the market and is looking to partner with Nepal’s top shoe brands. He also has long-term plans of establishing the first footwear design institute in Nepal.

Says Dulla: “Footwear technology is such an alien concept here and the profession is still looked down upon. I want to change this and also help young designers. I know it’s an ambitious goal, but I have the passion and determination.”

[email protected]

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