Covid presents opportunity to work on digital platform: Sreeleathers director Rochita Dey

Although the market has been heavily hit due to the Covid-related disruptions, it has given footwear maker Sreeleathers an opportunity to work on its digital platform for sales growth, says director Rochita Dey. In an interview with FE’s Mithun Dasgupta, Dey said by diversifying its product mix, the company has curated a sustainable product line for consumers who look for vegan raw materials. Excerpts:

How has the organised footwear market been impacted due to the Covid-related disruptions?
Even before the countrywide lockdown, the market was dwindling. And post the rise in Covid-19 cases, domestic retail footwear market has been hit pretty hard. I think even for the rest of the year we are still going to experience some shrinking in markets, not just footwear, as general consumption has come down. Need has disappeared. But, I think this is temporary. It is very hard to say how long this situation would last, but at least for another year all organisations and brands will have to pivot their business models accordingly to survive.

After the countrywide lockdown was lifted, is the company witnessing some demand growth?
We have not seen growth as compared to last year, but if you are asking since March, yes we have seen growth. But that is because we have made some changes in the organisation. We have had to make some strategic changes in terms of the products and services offerings. We were primarily a footwear and accessories brand, but now we have also started offering certified personal protective equipment (PPE), N95 masks as well as washable and reusable masks. Earlier, we had always focussed on our offline stores. But now as the market has been heavily hit, it has given us an opportunity to work on our digital platform for growth. Now, we are seeing a rise in our online sales through our website. I do think that convenience is the way to go forward. Now, it is all about home deliveries — whether it’s food or apparel. For any sort of consumption, people are going to be a lot mindful because most people have educated themselves about the current situation.

Going forward, are you looking at more diversifed product mix?
We have already launched a sustainable product line, using polyurethane (PU) as raw materials. Sreeleathers has always been a synonymous for leather products, and we already have access to consumers who are loyal to the brand. By launching this new product line, we want to spread awareness that there are other alternatives because nobody comes to buy one shoe. With the trend of fashion, everybody has separate shoes for different purposes. But, with the rise in population, it is most important for us to be conscious about what would be the impacts of our consumption on the environment. We are not discontinuing our original product offerings of genuine leather products, because there is a market.

And, there are people who are looking for the extra luxury and they want that breathable raw material. I cannot eliminate that. But, we also cater to those consumers who are really conscious about their consumption, who are looking for sustainable productions, who are looking to support local artisans, and who are looking for vegan raw materials. For them especially we have curated this product line.

Also, in the process we hope that we educate some new consumers as well about the importance and significance, especially now, of lowering every individual’s carbon footprint.

How is the production cost of PU made products comparable to that of the genuine leather made products?
Definitely PU is cheaper, because sourcing leather is not only expensive but you are also wasting a lot of water to feed the cattle and process the leather. As the PU is man made, not only it is cheaper but also it is a lot more sustainable as you are not wasting water. Some states are already struggling with ground water reduction.

Are prices of the newly-launched products cheaper compared to the genuine leather products?
Yes, prices of PU made shoes actually depend on the make of the shoes. Our motive have always been as reasonable as the prices can be without compromising the quality. However, pricing has never been our primary objective. Our objective has always been focussing on quality. We always have price-efficient products.

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