She studied engineering only to find her passion in juttis. The Telegraph chatted with Akanksha Chhabra, one half of Pastels and Pop -— a six-year-old Bangalore-based “handcrafted and hand-embroidered” jutti brand — that she co-founded with sister Aarti, on how the cool and contemporary brand was born and how to make the most of the versatile footwear. And, of course, she has 34 pairs of juttis, “almost one” Pastel and Pop style each.
Pastels and Pop X Anushree Reddy.
How was Pastels and Pop born?
I started my career at an IT company in Bangalore, but I quickly realised that I wasn’t cut out for a nine-to-five job, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do either. This was back in 2014. Meanwhile, we were also getting ready for our older sister Neha’s wedding. I was having so much fun doing that. We toured Punjab and Delhi and looked for outfits and we found a boutique owner who was ready to work based on the designs we would give her. My mom has always had a boutique (now she is Team Pastels and Pop; dad is an entrepreneur). So, we’ve had a little know-how about silhouettes and stitching, but we wanted someone with karigars who could bring to life what we had in mind. We also wanted to match shoes to it and we didn’t want to wear heels. While flats are the most comfortable footwear you can be in, flats can be really boring. You can’t do much with flats, especially if you are wearing it with lehngas as you can’t imagine it with sliders or loafers. So, a jutti is definitely something we wanted to wear.
Around the same time we were lucky to meet a karigar in Punjab. This happened on our trip during the construction of our family home (Akanksha was born in Punjab and moved to Bangalore when she was five). The contractor told me he was a jutti maker initially, a third-generation jutti-maker who had now turned to construction. He said juttis did not have the same appeal among women any more. So, the business had come down.
This deeply saddened me because I have always adored juttis. Even today juttis are one of the biggest handicrafts of Punjab. That’s when it struck me that I could do something with this. I have always played dress up with my dolls as a kid and often been complimented by people around me for my taste in fashion.
Somehow our instincts told us to go for it and of course we wouldn’t have got anywhere without our karigars.
We’ve had Malaika Arora wear our juttis and she has this bestseller style of ours called Golden Symphony and she pairs it with a lot of her outfits.
Is everything manufactured in Bangalore?
Jutti-making has two major aspects. Considering all of our juttis are handcrafted, from embroidery to the stitching, there are two aspects to it. One is the hand embroidery of the fabric, which happens in our warehouse in Bangalore in Vijayanagar where the karigars work from. These are some of the best karigars from Bengal and Bihar. The jutti construction is made in Punjab, in our home town.
How has the journey been?
It was easy for us to construct the first few juttis that we wore, but when it came to business, it took us extensive research of six months because we knew we had to create a product which was super comfortable and also our designs had to be very different from existing market trends. It took us six months to master the silhouette you currently see in our juttis. The upper part of a jutti is called a panja. If it is a little bigger than what it is currently, it would be uncomfortable and if it is a little smaller, it would show your toe cleavage, which a lot of people wouldn’t like.
We launched with 10 juttis and how we launched is really interesting. We didn’t have a website or a store and started off with a Facebook page. A photographer friend took a few pictures. It was so new back then in the south Indian market. We were the first people to introduce luxury juttis to south India. Within a week, we saw 1,000 followers on our page and orders poured in. This was our incentive to do better. We launched in June and by December we had 25 designs. That’s when we launched our website, in January 2016. We also have a store in Bangalore. Online is where most of our orders come from.
What have you learnt in the process?
As women, we want to look perfect, no matter what. Your footwear completes your look. We have so many customers who wear juttis literally every day. We use very soothing pastels and we also use these bright, happy pops. A lot of women like to bring out the pop through their shoes.
More and more people are moving towards flats and comfortwear…
A lot of people are now moving towards flats. Some people are definitely more comfortable in heels than we would be, but I am sure that nothing beats the comfort of flats. We have given double cushioning to every jutti’s base. So, they are the most comfortable flats you would be wearing.
Initially, I would look after the design aspect and Aarti would look after the customer relation aspect. Now we have a design team. Aarti and I give our inputs and decide on the mood board and after that the designers work on the designs.
Give us some top combinations with juttis….
A lot of brides are wearing juttis with lehnga. They can pair their lehngas, which are usually the pinks, reds and orange with colour-on-colour juttis, so that it seamlessly goes with your outfit or a really bright pop, which is something a lot of brides are doing for their Mehndis, say yellow with pink.
Regarding everyday juttis, we have so many designs, like the prints or the leather juttis with a little bit of embroidery. They look great with a pair of trousers and a white crisp shirt or you can also pair them up with your monochrome dresses. My personal favourite is wearing a white chikan kurta with a pair of pants or white pyjamas and oxidised silver jewellery and then jutti. You can wear juttis with your denims or shorts. I am in juttis even on a beach vacation because they just add colour to the look.
Apart from juttis, I like fancier flip-flops with a little bit of embellishment. I like Madewell and Aldo.
You also collaborated with Anushree Reddy…
We’ve had so much love for the collection because Anushree’s style aesthetics are very similar to Pastels and Pop, in terms of the kind of colours she uses and also all of her work is zardozi, which is the same as what we have always focused on.
What are you coming up with next?
We are expanding to other kinds of flats within the next three months and hope to garner the love we have with juttis.
Sara Ali Khan.
Sara Ali Khan is mostly in whites and she either wears a bright jutti with it or the white juttis with ghungroos called ‘First Love’. She tried Pastels and Pop two years back and she has been wearing it since then. We love her style, such a girl-next-door style.
The first celebrity who wore us was Taapsee Pannu and she is still our favourite. She follows us on social media and likes our posts. She likes prints a lot and will go for juttis that are multicoloured and she has three of our multicoloured juttis. If she is wearing a lehnga or a sari, you will see her in gold.