Mumbai-based Aprajita Toor’s journey has been all about “finding her feet” and “tiptoeing ahead” to achieve success. The reputed footwear designer is the brain behind the label ‘Aprajita Toor’ that is a hot favourite amongst Bollywood actors like Kajol, Shraddha Kapoor, Alia Bhatt and Deepika Padukone, among others.
Interestingly, the label is all about kolhapuri chappals that can be traced back to the 12th century, and are characteristic of both Kolhapur in Maharashtra and some villages in Karnataka. Aprajita (35) has always loved the traditional toe loop design, both for its style and comfort.
“It’s so airy, and the best part is that it goes with everything. Also, I always wanted to pursue something that has an element of Indian-ness,” she adds.
Inclusivity in footwear
Aprajita’s journey began on a sultry evening in 2010, when she went to one of her favourite shoe shops at the Phoenix Mall in Mumbai. Aprajita ended up buying a pair that was much smaller than her actual size, only because she fell in love with its design.
“I picked up a kolhapuri which was a size 39 when my actual foot size is 43. If you are a woman with large feet, you are always directed to the gent’s section (also called unisex shoes). So I compromised on the size because of the design,” recollects Aprajita, in a chat with MAKERS India.
Women with small feet have epitomised femininity across various cultures, while those with big feet are subjected to cultural stigma. They are not considered as successful, strong and attractive as women with small feet. Rather, it pressures women to believe that they must alter themselves to have a social standing, which is why they often try and “fit” into smaller shoes.
This is exactly what Aprajita wanted to change through her eponymous label, by bringing in size inclusivity to footwear.
An unlucky beginning
In 2012, Aprajita started out with a small batch of pencil-heel kolhapuris that were created out of her savings.
“At that point, I got hold of a karigar who manufactured shoes in south Bombay. I remember telling him to make a batch and promised to come back to him if these did well. I had requested him not to leak the design. Unfortunately, he did, and my designs were everywhere,” she shares.
But having dreamt of being a designer since her childhood, Aprajita was not ready to give up.
Channelling her creativity
As a child, Aprajita was never inclined to academics. Her hobbies were sketching in a notebook that she would hide under her school books out of fear, as her parents wanted her to focus on education. Although her parents wanted her to follow a more conventional career path, Aprajita’s heart was in design and she wanted to pursue a creative career.
“My parents showed me things that were of their interest; but my focus was on designing,” adds Aprajita, who studied jewellery design, before venturing into footwear.
She studied jewellery design from the Indian Institute of Jewellery, and later MBA in Marketing from the Guru Nanak Institute of Management Studies (GNIMS) in Mumbai.
“My mother was of the view that every other person has a boutique in the neighbourhood. So even though I got through NIFT, she discouraged me from taking up fashion designing. That’s when I did jewellery design, where we actually made jewellery with our own hands. And in hindsight, I think that experience gave me a lot of perspective on what I wanted to do in the future,” says Aprajita.
Traditional Art meets Contemporary Design
The designs created by Aprajita bring traditional styles and contemporary trends together. Even her latest collection, Prism, is inspired from Lippan Kaam, a form of clay art which is characteristic of the villages in Kutch district of Gujarat. The subtle colour palette of earthy and nude tones enhances the detailed mirror embroidery in white.
“I have a huge love for the traditional art and craft of India; but I like to blend in contemporary elements for a high street fashion appeal. That’s also why I didn’t want my kolhapuris to be restricted to just box heels or flats. By making it available in pencil heels or wedges, we are widening the design arm so much. We have infused a kolhapuri toe loop style in almost everything,” says Aprajita.
Experimentation runs in Aprajita’s veins and she loves to showcase that quality in her styles. The label has created boots and added toe loops in the front, something that has never been seen before.
Each of her designs has a distinct style element, but comfort is what makes them stand out. According to her, the moment comfort is in place, quality is in place.
“For me, style comes only after comfort. We use a memory foam cushion (used in mattresses) in all the footwear, so that the wearer is comfortable. I think the biggest compliment has been that people don’t want to take these off,” Aprajita tells MAKERS India.
In fact, nothing is more important to Aprajita than educating her customers about the importance of comfortable footwear. Recounting several instances, Aprajita says that a bunch of her clients have faced posture issues in the past, because of wearing the wrong shoe size.
Her muse is the modern Indian woman, not just modern in her attire, but also in her thoughts, who understands her needs, and is willing to experiment and go beyond the unconventional. Also, what sets them apart is their ability to offer customised designs. Aprajita claims that the label even has a shoe size with width of Size 36 (European) and length of Size 43.
“Also, if someone likes a design in flat footwear, but wants it in pencil heels, we will do it. We don’t want to restrict ourselves,” she adds.
Today, Aprajita has the support of 40 artisans who make every piece by hand by taking in measurements of their customers. But she is very selective when it comes to picking stores. “We do not want to crowd around. Our website gets a great response, and then there are other prominent online and offline stores,” she says.
Aprajita’s collections are available on e-commerce sites like Tata Cliq Luxury, Jaypore, and Pernia’s Pop-up Shop. Offline, the label is available in prominent stores like Aza and Ogaan (both in Mumbai and Delhi), Anantam (Delhi), Paperboat (Goa), and Amethyst (Chennai), amongst others.
Aprajita’s dream has given a new lease of life to broad-footed women - finally, they have the world at their feet.
(Edited by Athira Nair)