“When you realize that nothing is ever certain in life, you should take a leap of faith and try things that you always wanted to do” – Mingma Sherpa, Founder of Paila Shoes
Before the devastating earthquake that actually shook the entire nation, Ms. Mingma Sherpa had just registered her company under the Department of Cottage and Small Industries in 2015. Despite the distress that fell upon every Nepali after the massive earthquake, she had an epiphany that she already took the first step towards her dream and she will not stop without giving it a chance. Now, five years later, she is just as determined to explore more creative possibilities with her Paila Shoes.
A week back we connected with the Founder and Creative Director of Paila Shoes, Ms. Mingma Sherpa who took us down memory lane to reflect on her five years of entrepreneurial journey. And, it was like a roller coaster ride to say the least.
Read on to find out more!
How did this dream to become an entrepreneur start for you?
I always wanted to do something on my own, especially in the fashion industry, be it designing clothes or shoes. Personally, I liked the idea of testing and challenging my own capabilities by becoming an entrepreneur.
How did the concept of Paila Shoes come about?
My initial idea for Paila Shoes came because of my numerous shopping experiences when I could not find anything interesting that represented my personality. The designs would all be similar and I often faced difficulty in finding something different in the market. This market gap helped me realize that I should try to introduce something new. So, the concept started in order to challenge myself and work in an area of my interest, which is designing.
What are the different products that Paila Shoes is offering?
Paila Shoes is currently offering multiple variants of shoes made mainly with “Allo”. We also use other materials such as “Dhaka” to create different styles and patterns in the shoes. We have now extended our product line by manufacturing Paila bags.
What makes your product unique?
Paila Shoes stems from the Nepali word “paila” which means “step”. It represents a step towards creative endeavors. Through Paila Shoes, I wanted to represent Nepali heritage and culture by using locally sourced materials as well as local artisans. It is a 100% Made in Nepal shoes brand.
Paila Shoes is a for profit business which creates a social impact by supporting locally available material and skillset. Paila Shoes are made mostly from locally sourced organic material called “Allo” which can be found naturally in forests at higher altitudes. Additionally, we also recycle plastics and rubbers thrown by people and use them to make soles for our shoes.
Who are your allies in running the business?
Five years ago, I started this business on my own. Indirectly, my family and friends supported me in marketing, photography, planning, etc. Right now, I have three full time workers who directly make the product while there are other people who weave the material. In terms of distribution, I am currently associated with Timro Concept Store (Lalitpur) and Urban Yeti Clothing (Pokhara) to make my products available to a wider market.
How has COVID crisis affected the operation of your venture?
My focus in the initial three years of opening my venture was to design multiple styles of shoes, get visibility in the market and build consumer trust and loyalty. It also took some time to systematize my operation. I was highly motivated to see this next phase in my venture when we were more stable and gained considerable market visibility. Unfortunately, it is when COVID crisis started.
The biggest expense for any small businesses is their rent which is usually paid in advance. I was in a difficult situation when I had to continue paying rent while the shop remained closed throughout the lockdown period. Finally, I planned to shut down my workshop and store to prioritize my time for my family as well as for the safety of my production team.
I am also disappointed by the lack of initiative from the government as well as numerous small business associations. During COVID crisis, there was no support provided to small businesses. However, I am more determined to find creative ways to support my team and continue with our business.
What is the main strength of your company?
As an entrepreneur who has witnessed a massive earthquake in 2015 and a global pandemic in 2020, I now believe that the most crucial aspect for any business is financial security. It allows you to innovate, rebuild teams and find creative ways to survive in difficult situations. People must be mindful that there is no fixed period of return in any venture. It takes a lot of time to grow, reinvest and later, slowly make profit. Additionally, a strong team has also been one of the main strengths for my company.
Who is your target market?
I wanted Nepali consumers to feel more connected to their roots and heritage. Since it is 100% Made in Nepal product, I initially targeted it for people who go abroad. They get to wear a Nepali product in a modern and fashionable way. We target a niche market from an artistic standpoint while valuing quality over quantity. That is also a reason why the price is higher than other shoe brands in the market.
How do you deal with high competition in the shoe industry?
The main competition that small businesses like Paila Shoes face is in terms of pricing. The competition comes from Indian and Chinese shoes which are much cheaper. We can never compete with those companies since they have higher investment and mass production. However, I believe that competition is good to keep moving forward and doing better. Paila Shoes has a different niche market which does not have direct competition. I am content to have targeted an untapped market where all my raw materials come locally and the final product also adds aesthetic value to the consumer.
Where can customers find your products?
Currently, we are online based so you can order your Paila Shoes from our Instagram and Facebook page. However, we are also available in Timro Concept Store in Lalitpur and Urban Yeti Clothing in Pokhara
How has this entrepreneurial journey been so far for you?
Having worked professionally for about ten years, it was not an easy decision to leave a stable job and start from scratch. When I started this venture, all I had in my mind was to enjoy myself while doing things that I love. In reality, it was not as fun as I expected it to be. From my five years of experience, I learnt that an entrepreneur is involved in a constant process of learning and struggling. However, this journey has made me more confident and decisive. As an entrepreneur, you need to dive into many different responsibilities that you become a different person.
I still remember the difficult experiences to search and find the right suppliers for my raw materials. This is not an easy task in Nepal where such information is not commonly found in Google. It is mostly based on word on mouth to find the right person and resource. Thus, it was a roller coaster ride for me.
Is there any additional suggestion you would like to give to other emerging entrepreneurs?
It is useful to hear other’s experiences, but it is nowhere similar to actually experiencing it yourself. It is all about trying and exploring. One crucial aspect that most emerging entrepreneurs do not realize is about investing time. For me, entrepreneurship was a journey to understand myself and my capabilities. The beauty of the entrepreneurship process itself is to explore yourself and realize what your interest is and what isn’t.
Given the present context, I would like to add that entrepreneurs also should have the ability to take a step back when needed. It must not be considered as a failure, but a strategic move to focus on your business needs in difficult scenarios. Like everything else in life, being a successful entrepreneur takes time, patience and persistence.
Check out the stylish shoes and bags from this venture here:
Facebook: @Paila Shoes
Instagram: @Paila Shoes
Interviewed and article by Shreeya Bhattarai