If you are a shoe enthusiast, finding the right footwear can sometimes be a tedious process, even though there are seemingly plenty of options available in the local market. Identifying the need for quality and style, quite a few local entrepreneurs have launched their own brands online, and Gabriella is an online platform which attracts [...]


On the right footing

Two young entrepreneurs have found the perfect fit for their footwear brands online

If you are a shoe enthusiast, finding the right footwear can sometimes be a tedious process, even though there are seemingly plenty of options available in the local market. Identifying the need for quality and style, quite a few local entrepreneurs have launched their own brands online, and Gabriella is an online platform which attracts attention with its innovative designs.

In operation since 2014, Gabriella is named after the daughter of its founder and creative director Hashani Perera. Right now Hashani is in charge of designing shoes for her brand, while her mother-in-law Shanika handles the sales and marketing end of the business.

Hashani  launched Gabriella after pairing her love for shoes and designing, with the need to start her own business that would allow her to work from home and take care of her young daughter. “Since we launched our business online before the pandemic, we were able to be ahead of our competitors. As many people prefer to shop online nowadays, we have had an advantage. Many big local brands launched their websites and online platforms only recently, after the pandemic situation broke about,” Hashani told the Sunday Times Magazine.

Though having no background or qualification in design, Hashani says she used her life experience – her father had worked as IT Manager at Bata and she would often visit their shops and factory.

Now with her experienced and qualified staff at the factory and her quality assurance personnel Hashani feels they have a firm foundation. It’s a small team each with their specific role. Three members handle the online platform while six work at a factory owned by Hashani and her family in Bandaragama. They have established an efficient supply and distribution network across the country, and have also branched out into the international market.

“We used to import shoes from countries like China and Thailand, and we initially invested almost Rs. 100,000 for the imports. But there were issues with shoe sizes and delays in shipping and delivery so we opened up our factory later on. We source many local materials, except for certain materials which cannot be found here. We spent a lot of time initially, tracking down dealers and suppliers in areas like the Fort and Pettah, and we built a good relationship with many of them over the past few years. They have been kind to us and are helpful; now we can call them and ask for materials we need,” Hashani said.

Gabriella also has handbags, tote bags and other leather products and Hashani has also launched a parallel clothing line. Having just completed a degree in digital marketing, around a month ago, she hopes it will help her to run her business and make her brand the number one Sri Lankan online fashion marketplace.

Customers can access Gabriella’s website (www.gabriellaspick.com), their Instagram page (gabriellas_pick) and their Facebook page (Gabriella)  and orders through their website. A step-by-step guide for the process is available on their Instagram page. Gabriella’s footwear is also available at the Tribe Store at One Galle Face and also the Warehouse at Independence Arcade.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Sole Print, an up-and-coming brand and small online business begun last September by Nethmie Wickremasinghe, with the support of her mum and sister.

Nethmie decided to take the plunge and start her own online business, after completing a BA (Hons) in International Business Management last June, when jobs were hard to come by due to the COVID situation.

Over the past eight months Nethmie has built up a loyal customer base with quite a few regular customers, and believes her degree has helped her immensely to understand and process and the operational aspects of her business.

“From my young days I have been fascinated by sandals and shoes. I believe that whatever outfit you wear, a good pair of sandals or shoes not only adds value to your fashion appeal, it helps you create the perfect look and complement your fashion accessories. I also believe that shoes let you express yourself and help you stand out which is why I wanted to start my own shoe line. We want to expand our line to include heels, boots and platform heels soon,” Nethmie said.

While finding a good manufacturer was a challenge initially right now promoting Sole Print as a brand online and bringing in more customers is an uphill task with many new startups emerging last year and the boom in e-commerce.

Sole Print currently operates online mainly on Instagram and Facebook, but Nethmie plans to launch a website soon. Once the business grows she may consider opening a physical store, but for now she is looking to make their brand of footwear available at other stores.

Though she too does not have a qualification in design, she spends time researching new trends, which inspire her. Her mother and sister meanwhile handle orders and sales. The manufacturing process is outsourced to a factory in Moratuwa.

“We take orders for customised products as well, and most of the sandals that I design are simple and elegant; basically sandals that I would like to wear. Nothing too flashy or bulky,” Nethmie said.

“High quality and durable materials are used, but we try to provide our customers value for money by maintaining affordable prices. For now, our price range is between Rs. 1500 – 2000. Once we finalise a design, along with our manufacturer, we handpick the colour and the material suitable to develop the sample. If and when the sample is satisfactory, our manufacturer starts production, making sure that equal time and care is given to each pair of sandals. Each pair of sandals goes through a quality check before being delivered,” she said.

Sole Print has its own size guide, which Nethmie said is direct and easy to use, necessary only for the first purchase so customers can get “a perfect fit.”Browsing through Sole Print’s Instagram page, allows customers and potential customers the option of choosing a design, where after they can send a direct message through the app confirming their order. Then they need to provide the required details such as the product code, size and colour. Once an order is placed, products are delivered to clients within a week but with the current lockdowns could take upto ten days, Nethmie said.

The pandemic has brought with it other considerations. “Since we started our business during the pandemic, I have realised that most customers prefer to shop online. So we have taken all necessary precautions to ensure the safety of our customers,” she says.


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