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LCF23: Exploring traditional Indian craft with MA Footwear graduate Sahil Doshi

Side of a tassled boot
  • Written byJ Tilley
  • Published date 31 January 2023
Side of a tassled boot
PUNARJANAM by Sahil Doshi - MA Footwear graduate 2023

LCF Postgraduate Class of 2023 features work from our three world-leading design, communications and business schools to demonstrate how LCF students look beyond the traditional notions of fashion to imagine a new and exciting future. A bustling two-day exhibition will offer a unique perspective into LCF’s postgraduate work by immersing visitors in the future of fashion through displays of design, film, photography, VR and more from LCF’s boundary-breaking students at the infamous Truman Brewery in east London. In light of the celebrations, we're finding out more about work from this year's graduating cohort. We caught up with Sahil Doshi, an MA Footwear graduate who has focused their final collection on traditional Indian craft and has collaborated with women of the Thakkarbappa colony in Mumbai.

Tell us about your final collection and what inspired you to explore traditional Indian designs with a sustainability focus.

I am a third generation shoemaker residing in Mumbai, India. Since India is a tropical country and we face very humid and warm climates throughout the year, spring and summer season footwear sells more in the country. I designed a spring-summer season collection for this very reason since my brand "PUNARJANAM" caters to the Indian market. As part of my project, I studied the dying Indian handicraft industry and started finding ways to revive it. Hailing from the manufacturing industry, I found it my unsaid duty to help revive those skilled workers who are facing heavy competition with growing technologies. The idea behind using traditional Indian designs was to glorify the work of these skilled workers and help them showcase their work to the citizens of our beloved country.

I started this MA to bring a real and sustainable change to the footwear industry. In my year-long tenure working in my family business which deals with manufacturing and exporting leather footwear, I saw the amount of leather wasted at the end of a production season. This got my mind thinking of ideas to reuse this production waste to help reduce losses for the factory. This would be beneficial for the factory and also help sell leather footwear for cheaper rates since the cost of raw materials is zero for this line of footwear.

Can you tell us about your social responsibility work with the community - how did you come to work with the skilled Indian women that have produced the embroidery for your footwear?

The embroidery produced on my pieces of footwear is made by the women of the Thakkarbappa colony in Mumbai. This colony is very famous because it hosts a lot of shoemakers and their families since the Indian partition. A few of the skilled shoemakers from this colony work in our factory and I learned about their hardships after interacting with them. That’s how I got introduced to the colony and I approached the women with the help of our employees. Thereafter, I was able to discuss business opportunities and other methods to build a good working relationship.

With the world modernising with each passing year, it was difficult to witness such talented women sitting unemployed at home and that’s when I decided to find ways to utilise their expertise while respecting their culture. This gave me the idea of trying a “work from technique” which has worked very well in all other industries.

Person embroidering with shells
PUNARJANAM by Sahil Doshi - MA Footwear graduate 2023
Person embroidering with tassels
PUNARJANAM by Sahil Doshi - MA Footwear graduate 2023
Congratulations on the Vivo sponsorship! How did this come about?

Thank you so much! I was introduced to this scholarship by our course leader, Eelko Moorer. It was specifically for those students who had a sustainability themed project. That’s how I came about applying for it and after 2 rounds of selection, I was awarded as the winner.

Tell us about the production process and the structure – how did you create the footwear and what materials have you used and why?

The styles in my collection are all designed to be handmade. Since the collection is made by reusing production waste, I did not have the liberty when it came to material selection. Hence, I decided to design a handmade line of footwear to bring an element of detail. The collection is made using reused buffalo and sheep leather. There were leftover materials from the previous spring summer season which was driven by the current trend and set the colour scheme for the collection. It works out perfectly for the Indian market since fashion in India is largely influenced by the west and a trend in the west comes to India after 6 months. This plays perfectly into our hands as the collection is also made from the same colours.

What are you most looking forward to about life after graduation? What are your plans?

I have already moved back to my home country where I have joined the family business full-time. I wish to introduce a new line of footwear which is heavily influenced by sustainability at its core. This MA project has given me a very realistic solution to what I propose to kick off and I hope to implement this in our factory.
we do have a lot of clients currently who ask us for sustainable solutions to launch for their brands and we usually offer the “greenwashed” vegan leather for them to adopt. But henceforth, I hope to introduce this line of footwear made from reused leather and see how it is received.

Wooden soles of shoes with butterfly inprinted
PUNARJANAM by Sahil Doshi - MA Footwear graduate 2023
Packaging with patterned fabric
PUNARJANAM by Sahil Doshi - MA Footwear graduate 2023
What led you to study MA Footwear at LCF?

I had always wanted to pursue a Master’s degree after I completed my Diploma in Footwear Technical and Design from Arsutoria School of Shoes and Bags in Milan, Italy. Initially, I spent a lot of time thinking about what research proposal I would enter the MA with since I did not want to do it just for the degree. I wanted to find something that I could eventually implement in the factory and bring a positive change. I found a few universities who offered this course but when I saw it being offered by LCF (which is the best fashion school), I decided to apply for the course here. Another reason why I applied to LCF was because I love the fashion industry in London and it would be exciting to work in one of the fashion capitals of the world!

What would be your best words of advice for someone looking to join the MA Footwear course?

After completing the MA 15 months later, I can say with pride that I am content with myself and I am happy with what I produced as the final outcome. I was able to achieve what I sought out to and I am utterly grateful to everyone who supported me along the way. As for advice to the next batch of students coming in – please find a purpose in what you want to achieve as at a Masters level it pushes your thinking and creativity to a whole new level. Do not be afraid to try new things and be open with your faculty. Peer reviews and discussing your project progress and its development with your classmates helps elevate your project since you get different views on the same topic. Enjoy yourself and don’t be shy to explore your limits. Most importantly, plan your finances well since you do not want to end up with a sub-par project.

Side profile of embroidered trainers
PUNARJANAM by Sahil Doshi - MA Footwear graduate 2023
Pair of embroidered sandals
PUNARJANAM by Sahil Doshi - MA Footwear graduate 2023