Community Over Competition : DesiHangover
DesiHangover is the India-based parent company of MyDesis, the brand of our spring + summer capsule shoe. We've had a couple of meetings with Abha, one of the founders of Desi Hangover, and have gotten to know her and the brand quite well over the last few months. While our collaboration is coming to an end with the month of June, our relationship is most definitely not, so we wanted to share some of the inspiring background behind DesiHangover and encourage you all to keep supporting their journey.
Abha Agrawal is one of three partners who own DesiHangover. We've been lucky enough to meet with her a few times because of her recent move to Seattle where her husband works as an engineer for Amazon. We thought what better space to sit down and chat, plus take a few snapshots, than near the newly built Amazon Spheres. They're truly a sight to see, and while they're not open to the public, you can view the Understory (which is a museum type display space with information on the Spheres) or if you're lucky, you can snag a spot on one of the weekend tours. Definitely check them out when you're in the Seattle area!
how desihangover started
DesiHangover was established in 2013, stemmed from an unexpected opportunity two colleagues discovered during an internship. Hitesh Kenjale and Lakshya Arora were working together in Egypt when they decided they wanted to build a business around the style of shoes Hitesh commonly wore, a traditional Indian leather sandal popularly known as Kolhapuri sandals. They returned to India and teamed up with Abha, friend and former engineering professor to Hitesh. All three poured their passion into learning the handmade shoe industry and researched communities and villages crafting this style until they came across a small village called the Chambar community. The real story began there.
they do it for the kids
When we first discovered MyDesis, it was clear from their website that they played a part in improving the education for the young people within the community of their artisans. But there wasn't a whole lot of information on the topic so this was something we really wanted to hear more about from Abha. And what is now clear from our chat is that DesiHangover is driven by their passion for bettering the Chambar community and hopefully more villages like it as DesiHangover grows. The majority of their profits go towards improving the community's educational system, which was basically nonexistent prior to 2013.
The team spent about two years in India researching the product, building their business structure, and learning about the artisans who create such intricate shoes that don't even earn them a living. The question, "Why hasn't anyone discovered this art and saturated the shoe industry with this idea yet?" was at the root of their research. What it really came down to was the fact that the artisans had no way of understanding the way modern shoes are made nor had any sense of business direction. They were simply continuing a centuries-old art craft passed down generation to generation and the sad truth was that the craft was dying with the artisans because their children could see no value in the hard work of their elders who faced such daily struggles to just get by. What the Desi Hangover team set out to do was improve the lifestyle of the villagers, starting with the kids.
During their primary visits, they discovered there was actually no school or classrooms for the kids. There was only a temple that served part time as a schoolhouse led only by volunteers. There were about 150 students of various ages who went to study, but with no real structure and with very limited resources. One of the first efforts DesiHangover took was what they called a Giving Drive; all sales and donations went towards providing school supplies and they immediately saw an improvement in the kids and educators. They wanted to learn and they wanted to teach, they just did not have the means to. In 2015, the team was able to provide actual classrooms in a separate building and they are seeing direct results from these actions. The younger generation is becoming more and more interested in learning how to grow and improve their community, they want to learn how to provide and work on the craft that has sustained their village for many years. When DesiHangover first began the production of their shoes in the Chambar community, the artisans were of the average age of 50 plus and now the average age is 25. In just a few years, it is incredible and inspiring to see the positive impact their brand is making on the livelihood of these hardworking artisans.
community over competition
A quote that really stuck out from our conversation with Abha is " The shoes are a story that starts with the artisans and ends with the artisans." While they are excited to move forward and build their brand, they are holding true to their roots and providing this traditional handmade Indian style to primarily share the story of the artisans behind the production. Sometimes the thought of competition crosses their minds as they see fast fashion brands produce trendy interpretations, but they always remember that their shoes are about a story; they don't need to try and compete with new styles or fabrications, they just need to show the world how talented these artists are by providing high quality, handmade shoes.
a bit more on Abha...
Aside from learning more about the background of DesiHangover, we wanted to get to know Abha a bit better, so we asked her a few miscellaneous questions. Keep reading to find more on Abha and her role within the company.
What is your role within DesiHangover?
I have been servicing customer orders and queries for DesiHangover. Talking to the customers in order to know what they think about our product, their suggestions on improvement or modification was the area I was really passionate about and I still am. I have also been looking after our B2B management with our distributions partner in India. And currently, I am working on establishing DesiHangover in the US.
What is one of your personal proudest moments with DesiHangover so far?
At our very first exhibition, we were set up at a flea market in India, we sold 95 pairs of shoes in 12 hours. I was blown away and we've never been able to beat that record.
Where and how do you envision the company in 5 years?
We're really working towards building the brand in a way we can be internationally recognized. I'm really inspired by brands like Toms and Allbirds who have captured the lifestyle aspect, but also heavily focus on and share their humanitarian backgrounds. I hope to build exposure in the US to help attain that goal.
How do you like living in the Seattle area so far?
I like it! I'm comfortable here. I lived in New York prior to this move and in comparison, it feels quiet and relaxing to be in the PNW, but still noisy and busy at times too. The people are so friendly.
Let's clear up the definition and meaning behind DesiHangover. What does it mean?
Desi translates to "local" or "Indian" and Hangover means the same thing in India as it does in the US, but in this sense we mean it more of a "state of mind" with not so much of a negative connotation. We were playing with the idea of changing the branding for the US market which is where MyDesis came about, but we've decided to stick with DesiHangover with that hope of building an international brand image.
Thank you all for reading along and learning about this inspiring company! If this spoke to you, please think about ordering a pair of our MyDesis shoes before our collaboration ends on June 30!
Link to shop below!