For Arveena Ahluwalia, CEO and co-founder of Paul Drish, the idea for her brand all started when she fractured her foot. After being on bed rest, she spoke with her uncle designer Paul Drish about finding comfortable, fashionable footwear. “He made me the most beautiful pair of shoes,” Ahluwalia said. “Beautiful, but I could walk properly in them.”
Then she thought: Who else could benefit from shoes that successfully combine high fashion and comfort? “I worked in banking, and a lot of men complained about their shoe issues, so they asked me to make shoes for them,” she recalled. So with the idea of creating comfortable, stylish shoes for men, paired with all the benefits of her uncle’s expertise in the shoe industry, Paul Drish was born.
“I did a lot of research on the American foot this past year, and a lot of shoes are very broad,” Ahluwalia explains. “A narrow shoe is super-comfortable and can still fit a EE-size foot.” Ahluwalia combined this sizing guide with padded arch support, breathable insoles, enough toe-flexing room and lightness. “There’s a large amount of stress when shoes are heavy, so we wanted to change that whole [idea],” she added. The Paul Drish shoes weigh approximately 20 to 30 grams or less. “It’s a huge achievement.”
The leather the brand uses is dyed chemically at its own tanneries and made to be very soft, which ensures it’s comfortable on the customer’s feet. The raw hide is sourced from Italy and northern India. “The raw hide from India is that of young calves that are unable to sustain cold climates and die naturally,” Ahluwalia noted. “We help sustain the communities and the local farmers by acquiring the raw hides of these animals.”
The next important detail of Paul Drish was the look. Ahluwalia wanted styles that would work for her target customers: males in their mid-20s to early 40s, who work anywhere from Wall Street to a more creative environment. “He’s someone who is fashion conscious, likes good quality, but knows how important it is to be comfortable,” she described.
The brand’s footwear, which averages a retail price of $250, is currently divided into categories: Business Moguls, Dapper Dan, Play & Unwind, and Formal Affairs—all perfect for the businessman at work or at play. Paul Drish offers a variety of bags as well, ranging from a briefcase to a weekender.
For Spring/Summer 2015, Paul Drish is delving into more street styles. “It’s very inspired by the beach, the water, the Hamptons and very warm weather. We want our styles to reflect the streets of New York meshed with a beach aesthetic,” Ahluwalia said. Drivers are big in the collection as well as unique, street style takes on the brogue and plays on blue and white. The brand’s signature—a touch of purple—is also expanding. “I’m listening to my customers and that’s what they love—they want to see more purple!” she said.
And as for their retail plans, that’s something else that makes the line unique. Paul Drish recently opened a showroom in New York where customers can make an appointment to get fitted——a practice that has fallen by the wayside of many retailers and brands. “We want to curate the experience for you,” Ahluwalia said. “We want you to come here, have a glass of scotch and talk to us so we can understand your profession and your lifestyle. That way, we can cater the shoes to you.” Each shoe comes packaged in a jute box and with a leather-covered shoehorn and an additional padded leather insole for extra comfort.
And while Ahluwalia sees the brand going into wholesale and retail in the future, and having showrooms in various U.S. cities, for now she says it’s all about exclusivity and ensuring that her customers’ needs are fulfilled.
“One customer messaged me to let me know he went out dancing in his [Paul Drish] shoes. He said: ‘Where have you guys been? My feet don’t hurt and I danced all night!’ ” Ahluwalia said. “The best thing for me is when I see my customers slip into a pair of shoes; their faces light up when they see how comfortable they are, and then they keep coming back to us.”