If you are looking for exclusive shoes for any occasion, she is your go-to person. Be it weddings, social events or just plain everyday use. Top-notch footwear and accessories designer, Rina Shah, strives hard to combine her passion with her profession and come up with unique designer lines. No wonder she has won several prestigious awards for being India’s premier designer for shoes, bags and belts. A successful woman entrepreneur from a very young age, it has always been Rina’s endeavour to come up with inimitable designs and out-of-the-usual products for her clients. There is one thing she does compromise on, however. Whatever the style and look, her footwear will always be comfortable. She chats with Youth Inc about her early days, and the passion that drives her to new creations every day.
What prompted you to look at a career in design? How old were you when you made the decision?
I finished my finance degree from Sydenham College and went to summer school at Harvard. I studied computers there, but always wanted to do something in design. Even in design, I wanted to do something different as everyone around then was doing clothing. I found a niche in footwear design and went to Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), New York, to study accessory design. I was 21 then. No one at that time was exclusively designing footwear, I was the first one to introduce high-end designer footwear in the Indian market.
How long was your programme at FIT? Do you think that training is enough or a large part of the job is ‘yourself’ and your own vision?
I pursued a one-and-a-halfyear degree in accessory design in FIT, New York. That training was important and went a long way in shaping me as a designer. Without that training, it would have been impossible to understand the technical part of manufacturing. That said, training is not the only thing that can make you successful.
Apart from training, what qualities should a person have to reach your kind of success level at a young age?
You have to have a vision, good business sense, and willingness to work hard. You also need to have leadership qualities to manage 50 skilled but possibly uneducated workers in the factory. Being the first woman in a male dominated business, I had to learn how to do this the hard way.
What are the hardships you went through to reach where you are? How did you overcome them?
The toughest thing was to start the factory and get it running. I was very young and new to the industry and no workers in the shoe industry had ever worked for a woman leader. It was very tough for them to take me seriously, and even tougher for me to get them to listen. However, it was not impossible, although very challenging. I think they just needed to know that I was serious. They learnt the new techniques and after a while, started to enjoy working with me. Everyone who joined me then is still with me aft er 12 years.
You bowled everyone over with your stylish designs at Lakme Fashion Week. How did it strike you to you marry both your passions – polo and design?
After 10 years of designing, I felt passionate about a new theme and wanted to take this passion into my work. Again, this segment for equestrian fashion was a huge niche. It was untouched and I saw that this was my chance to make the most of it. I love horses, and enjoy training to play polo. Hopefully, I can take this line all over the world. I am taking my first show to London on July 17 to the Gold Cup finals.
Otherwise, where do you draw the inspiration for your designs from?
What’s the funkiest design you have made? What inspired you to make it?
All the inspiration does not come from only one source. It can happen anytime and anywhere; it just depends on your mind-frame at that point of time. It also depends on how you look at things. There are many funky designs that I have created, but this one lantern-shaped kundan jewelled bag came to be my favourite. The other was the new wooden platform carved sandal. The upper portion I took from the necklace, and the wooden heel was from the equestrian carving.
It’s been widely said that your signature style is embellishments. Is that by choice or chance? I mean was it your conscious decision to make it your style or did it just happen because you liked embellishments?
When I started, I never did embellishments. However, in due time, I started seeing the demand for bridal wear and then it became the rage. Being in India, embellishments were easy to use and gaining popularity. In fact, even today, I do a lot of work without embellishments.
You are a strong PETA supporter and have a collection that features shoes for every occasion and don’t use leather! That is commendable. Is it difficult to design without something as basic as that?
It was difficult at the beginning, but I was so decided about not using leather, that I had to innovate to find alternatives. I must say that the saying ‘where there is a will there is always a way’ has been proven right for me, time and again for me.
How did Natalie Portman react to the pair of shoes you gifted her on her birthday?
I think she really liked them, and I am always happy to gift a pair of my shoes to animal lovers as they will always appreciate them.
What’s your advice to youngsters aspiring to become designers? How important is it for them to test their creativity before going ahead?
More than the creativity, it is important to know the business aspect and have clear ideas on how to take your creativity forward. There are many who are creative, but only few have the ability to make it big.
Volume 1 Issue 2