A lot of us might remember the controversy around Paul Smith’s high-priced (in the $600 range) leather sandals clearly inspired by the commonly worn Peshawari Chappal from Pakistan. Local stores sell this same product for anywhere between 2 and 50 dollars, but the real issue was that of giving credit where it was due. Paul Smith Shoes finally gave in and added a few words to the product’s description that mentioned the source of the inspiration: Peshawari Chappals.
Link with Tradition
Markhor (themarkhor.com) is an online custom footwear and accessories store based out of Pakistan that is, in many ways but not all, the opposite of the Paul Smith story. It targets international customers but it doesn’t charge ridiculous amounts for a quality product. This is a store that capitalizes on the pride and heritage of artisan craftsmen’s skills and their millenniums old traditions. It tries to woo international customers by offering them an alternative to name brands with a collection of custom designs that are all about the connection to tradition and art. The craftsmanship of their products is not their back story or distant inspiration, it is their sales pitch.
Markhor has a beautiful start-up story of how the internet has enabled the connection between the old and the new. Mix this with the youth of the entrepreneurs behind this venture, their rebellion from traditional jobs and social pressures and a simple dream with brilliant execution, and we get Markhor where it is today. It is also a story of how tech incubators, the government and other support institutions for startups are creating a visible impact in Pakistan.
Markhor was supported by Pasha Social Innovation Fund, Punjab Government, Google and Plan9 at different stages of their development.
It is a unique proposition for an international market with a price range that matches usual mid-ranged leather shoes. They seem to have their bases covered to be competitive in an international shoe retailer market with their distinct designs, brand identity and convenient customer policies like a 100-day return policy and a non-exorbitant $10 international shipment fee (at least to the United States). A printable measuring guide and readily available conversion chart of all international size systems makes the custom fit easier to implement. The whole process has been well thought out and should be a breeze for any interested customers.
Website Design and Art
The website is done so beautifully, from the design to the photographs and words, that it is an art piece in itself. Browsing through the different pages on the website and reading about Markhor, their policies, story and product descriptions was an experience on its own. The professionalism of the business’ online portal can be seen by the fact that they have extensive identity guidelines available on their website to ensure the correct usage of their logo in the press.
A scroll down to the last page of those identity guidelines revealed Mr.Asim Janjua (one of the named founders) as the source of all the art. He’s an extremely talented photographer and currently an Acumen Global Fellow serving in Bahawalpur in Pakistan.
“I used to have my own startup that did this from South Africa, a long while back. More recently I have been a Technical Designer at Google. I’m currently doing my Acumen Global Fellowship. I essentially took time away from Google to do this one year program. Whilst being placed in Pakistan by Acumen we founded Markhor.” – Asim Janjua
I feel that beyond the backend and the idea and execution (all of which is central to the business), the website really sets up Markhor to be the premium concept that it appears to be.
Using the power of internet to their benefit again, Markhor is starting a Kickstarter campaign later in August to launch a signature men shoes collection. This upcoming crowdfunding campaign is a sign of innovative thinking and leveraging ideas for financing. Kickstarter has been a great way for start-up ideas to raise decent amounts of funds for their projects, and given the right publicity, there is little doubt that Markhor wouldn’t be able to exceed its funding goal.
More to come
Markhor is still pretty small, especially considering that one can count the number of their chappal and shoe designs on their fingers (if they so wished). Just browsing the website and looking at the business idea (for this blog post) has convinced me to come back and buy one of their shoes (as soon as I have the money to). With the Kickstarter campaign coming up, and general organic growth, sky is the limit for this one.