If there’s anyone who knows the importance of the right footwear for the right occasion, it’s designer Shirin Mann. Founder of Needledust, a homegrown footwear label that has singlehandedly revived interest in traditional juttis, Mann is unsurprisingly a great believer in being discerning about footwear choices, especially for festive or occasion wear.
“There’s a saying that goes something like ‘You first meet the shoes and then your eyes meet’. Your shoes make the first impression,” she said, as we chatted a few days after the release of Needledust Man, a project that finally came into being after brewing for years in her mind.
“I have a habit of writing down whatever’s going on in my head and in 2018 I had scribbled ‘Needledust Man’ in my diary for the first time. When Needledust gained popularity, we had a lot of men come up to us and say ‘Why only juttis for women?’ and complained about how ethnic footwear for men is boring and uncomfortable.” she revealed, “I tried sampling men’s juttis back in 2018 and experimented with various techniques and designs to get it right but it took me so many years to launch because I wanted to nail the balance between design and comfort for Needledust Man. I didn’t want to do anything that’s too experimental, nor did I want it to be very basic.”
In her own words, Needledust Man has brought back the quintessential jutti along with some “contemporary designs with modern aesthetics, and crossover styles between contemporary and traditional so that men can enjoy wearing juttis with their traditional wear.”
Mann has had a lifelong relationship with traditional handicrafts and juttis.
“My mom wore juttis all her life and she was very particular about it. When my mom and my dad were seeing each other, as gifts he would present her with juttis. So I think it stayed in my head and when I was getting married, I wanted to wear juttis on my wedding day,” she said, “But when I went out to look for the ones that I had in mind I couldn’t find them because there had been a huge decline in their popularity. Everyone was getting fashion-conscious and juttis were just plain boring for the urban Indian woman. That’s how the idea to reinvent juttis and present them in a cool way for the world to appreciate and buy them began forming.”
Ever since its conception in 2014, Needledust has bloomed into much more than just a project to revive interest in a traditional craft form. Mann now wants to change men’s attitude towards traditional footwear, especially juttis.
“Men are particular about footwear when it comes to formal wear. But when it comes to ethnic wear, it’s that same tan Kohlapuri chappal everywhere,” she said, adding that she is slowly seeing firsthand how more and more men are discovering how juttis can be both comfortable yet a viable option to pair with festive wear.
Since she is at the forefront of the revolution, it’s only natural that we turned to her to impart some advice for men on how they can pick the right footwear for the festive and wedding season.
Go for tone on tone
If you’re not someone who likes to experiment or be edgy with their fashion choices, Mann recommends matching your footwear with the colour of the outfit you’re wearing. “If you’re doing an all-black outfit, then make sure your shoes match. It’s always on trend and you can’t go wrong with it. It’s safe but beautiful.”
Contrast if you’re feeling experimental
Pairing your outfit with contrasting coloured footwear is a great way to make a subtle statement and stand out from the crowd. “If you’re wearing a navy kurta, then pair it with tan shoes. If you’re doing a dark beige or brown kurta, then go for an ivory or gold jutti. If you’re doing a pastel kurta, then wear footwear of a contrasting pastel colour. This makes a statement and grabs eyeballs easily.”
Throw out your trusty, worn-out chappals
If there’s a big no-no in Mann’s guidebook for men’s footwear, it’s wearing worn out chappals or sandals while dressing up for a traditional occasion. “Men usually don’t get pedicures and if you’re wearing old chappals, the attention will go to your feet no matter what you’re wearing on top. It just looks nasty!”
Comfort is paramount
According to Mann, picking whatever Indian-style footwear you can find, because you think comfort doesn’t matter as you would only be wearing it for one occasion, is a big mistake. “A festival or wedding ceremonies can mean long nights so do look out for comfort.”
Think beyond versatility
One of the best and worst things about footwear for men is that one style of shoe can work for most occasions. This is why most men do not venture out of their comfort zone, especially while shopping for footwear during the festive season. “Versatility is great but don’t just buy something thinking that it will go with 20 outfits. Get something that’s different and something that you don’t own already. If you’re spending money then you should at least spend it on something that will help you stand out.”