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A New Pavilion at FFANY Encourages Brands to “Embrace India”

India isn’t just a source for design inspiration. The country that created the Taj Mahal and yoga is also a sourcing alternative to the escalating costs and large minimums occurring in other manufacturing countries.

The Council of Leather Exports (CLE), sponsored by the Ministry of Commerce & Industry, Government of India, will spotlight 11 of India’s finest footwear factories in the “Embracing India” pavilion at FFANY, Aug. 1-3.

Located on the concourse level of the Hilton Midtown New York, the expanded pavilion aims to build on the momentum from the June show, where four companies presented their collections and received a tremendous response, according Thomas Konecki, a footwear sourcing veteran and consultant for the project.

“I’ve sourced footwear in over 18 countries, including India, and some of the factories participating in this group of 11 are the best I’ve seen,” said the former footwear exec, who previously worked for Livie & Luca, RG Barry, Born, among others.

Konecki personally vetted each of the 11 factories to ensure that they not only make and finish good shoes, but that they can also handle U.S. brands’ logistical requirements and social and environmental obligations. “Some of these factories have compliance books that are an inch and half thick. It has been my job to help make sense of it all and inform them what they need to succeed in the U.S.,” he said. “These are incredible factories, but there are no inroads to the U.S.”

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“It is really rewarding to find a factory with just the right skill set for a retailer or brand that has a specific need.”

While India is the second largest global footwear producer behind China, Konecki pointed out that decades old misconceptions about the country’s capabilities continue to linger. “There are executives in the U.S. that still believe you can only get goat hide in India, but that’s not true. India imports leather from all over the world and what they are using is some of the best,” he said. “And then some people think India only makes sandals because in the past they only bought huaraches, but that’s not true either.”

In fact, Konecki said that many of the samples buyers purchase in Europe and take back home to be copied in China, Brazil or Vietnam come from India. “India is ideal for brands that are looking for good workmanship, hand finishing and excellent detailing,” he explained. “Shoe-making is part of India’s heritage.”

All types of companies will be represented at FFANY, from children’s footwear and men’s better footwear, to a broad scope of women’s, including dress shoes and cowboy boots. Konecki urges brands sourcing outside of the U.S. to take some time to walk through the pavilion, ask questions and experience the product firsthand.

“It is really rewarding to find a factory with just the right skill set for a retailer or brand that has a specific need,” Konecki added. “A little bit of magic happens. It makes the process easier for everyone, and in the end, the consumer gets a better product.”