the story behind Meher Kakalia
There is a story behind every brand. In our category ‘Behind the Brand’ the designers share their candid insight about their inspiration, the production process, and the people behind the brand. We sat down with Meher Kakalia, the founder of Meher Kakalia.
What was the initial idea behind Meher Kakalia? How did it all begin?
I wanted to introduce the beauty of handmade craft into fashion. Fascinated by the Moghul kings and queens who built the Taj Mahal and became patrons of the arts, I was naturally intrigued by their beautiful footwear. Each shoe was unique and defined by the favorite style of the ruling royalty.
When I discovered the women who were still embroidering those same shoes today, passing their tradition from mother to daughter, I knew I couldn’t walk away from it. The brand started with ballet pumps which mixed this historic art of embroidery with a modern woman’s staple footwear. Since then we have launched collections with boots, bags and sandals, embroidered by these same women who use their art and skills, bringing out individualism and beauty in every pair.
By using authentic materials and fusing them with modern elements, the shoes and bags invite the wearer to incorporate these ancient traditions into their wardrobe and personal style.
“By using authentic materials and fusing them with modern elements, Meher Kakalia invites the wearer to incorporate these ancient traditions into their wardrobe and personal style.”
How would you describe the aesthetic identity of Meher Kakalia?
Soft lines, muted sophisticated tones with different textures and a sense of playfulness. Effortless and easy-to-wear styles in a distinct bohemian vibe with tassels and fringes. Native prints mixed with precise embroidery to create footwear as a true accessory.
Meher Kakalia is known for a fresh collection of handcrafted shoes using color in the most unexpected way. Where do you find inspiration for the designs and colors?
I love discovering color with a brush and paint box. I adore traveling and visiting tribes like the Miao in China or the site of the Indus Valley Civilization in Sindh, which conjure up images that are magical, deep and beautiful. I find the inspiration in these places to design shoes that embodies the modern girl, with her sense of individuality, freedom and love for the world.
How did you get into the world of fashion? Is it something you were always interested in?
Yes, even though I was totally unaware of this calling, as I got a degree in finance. I grew up without a high street in my home town and as an 18-year-old you had to make your own clothes to express your sense of fashion. My grandmother was a real inspiration – she just loved shoes and hand bags and I’m still never tired of digging into her treasures, finding the coolest shoes to wear to parties.
What does a day at the Meher Kakalia workshop look like? What is your daily routine?
In our workshop, based in Karachi, Pakistan, it is noisy. The day starts late and then creeps into the late hours of the night. The craftspeople are true artists and work best in the evening, so they say.
In the morning, the workers arrive with their piles of work and start making shoe uppers, while the bottom craftsmen are lasting them. I love working in the studio – it is a massive creative space despite the crazy traffic outside. Anything you want is possible there. I develop drawings and styles, review the leathers and materials we are going to use in the season. As the uppers are being embroidered in-house or in villages nearby, the factory is in full swing by 2PM; from making uppers and finishing shoes to bringing them onto quality control. I keep working on designs and new models, while using lasts from Italy (a last is a mechanical form shaped like a human foot, which is used by shoemakers, red.).
“My grandmother was a real inspiration – she just loved shoes and hand bags and I’m still never tired of digging into her treasures, finding the coolest shoes to wear to parties.”
What is your favorite part about being a designer?
I love form and color – to work around the Meher Kakalia woman who wears the collection. Designing a shoe is a lot like sculpturing and this bit, where the shoe takes its actual form, is very exciting. To prepare the shape, we work with factories in Italy and France that make the lasts. After this we work on embellishments and details - the core part of the brand.
The signature coil embroidery is more about texture and color – combining the different materials in order to create a tapestry for the shoe.
Who is your ultimate style icon of all time?
This is such a difficult question! I am not sure, but I adore Marlene Dietrich for stepping out of her mould and even her own comfort zone: dressing in elegant and yet striking ways throughout her time. I adore her confidence and belief in values, her beautiful voice and the American folk songs she sang in German and English. Why I picked her as a style icon? I think it is her sense of independence and professionalism that really strikes me as genuine and enjoyable.
How do you want women to feel when they wear Meher Kakalia?
Strong and feminine. The Meher Kakalia shoe is easy and relaxed, mixed with detailed embroidery.
What is your favorite pair of Meher Kakalia shoes at the moment?
I love the Dora Boot Volcano in deep red and Tinka Boots in black.
What does Meher Kakalia contribute to sustainability?
We consider our brand sustainable in terms of human trust, the environment and honesty. As a brand, we work with men and women in the field of craftsmanship. Everything is made by hand with the utmost respect for the craftspeople and their work. By organising embroidery in the field, we don’t uproot people but let them work within their own surroundings. At the studio we have a tight team who has been working with Meher Kakalia since our inception, creating pride in their work and love for their job.
The virtue of handwork comes with a minimal use of electricity and power. The workshop is positioned very central in the city and the staff lives close by, using minimal energy for travel and transporting goods. Within the office we recycle as much as possible. The shoes are airfreighted as they get produced in small installments, but by producing only for customers we avoid over-production and waste. When we are sourcing for materials, we focus on low impact leathers like vegetable tanned leather for soles, azo-free dyes and natural materials wherever possible.
What is your greatest accomplishment with Meher Kakalia? What are you most proud of?
Seeing the shoes we make on the feet of our clients!
What did you recently learn from having your own business?
Be creative and look beyond what others are doing.
Any future plans you would like to share with us?
We are working on a capsule men’s collection.
Discover the Meher Kakalia collection at Pauw here.