By Dan Aznoff
It all started with a shopping spree.
The sun was bright and the smells from the market reminded Afshan Abbas why she had crossed an ocean to visit her hometown of Karachi in Pakistan.
Abbas admits that she has always loved shoes, but the brightly-colored sandals known as Kolhapuri had their own special appeal that day in the market.
“After seeing them for the first time, I knew I had to have a pair,” said Abbas. “The shoes are all hand-made. The colorful stitching made them trendy and a little bit funky.”
The thread designs were so unique and attractive that she not only bought several pairs for herself at the market that day, but went back the next afternoon to buy multiple pairs for her friends and co-workers.
The khussa, she said, attracted attention when she wore them to work in Seattle, when she was shopping near her home in Bellevue or just taking a stroll along the waterfront in Kirkland.
More than vibrant
“They looked perfect with everything I wore, whether it was a casual outfit with jeans, dressed-up with a skirt or to accessorize a pair of slacks,” she said with a sly smile. “The amazing thing is that I was bombarded with compliments every time I wore them. That’s when I knew I had to share my discovery with women across America.”
The young professional understands how to write code and is confident enough to accessorize virtually any outfit, but needed help with the logistics of imports. Like any enterprising entrepreneur, she reached out to friends with her concepts for the new business. They all loved the idea and together they created Fuchsia Shoes.
“The name of our company did not come just from the vibrant color, but because every woman is unique with her own personality and specific taste in design,” she said. “The shoes are all hand-made, so no two shoes are identical.
“In fact, when they’re new there is no left shoe or right shoe. The soft leather actually forms around each foot to create the ‘right shoe’ for each person.”
In addition to her duties as the official “fashionista” for Fuchsia Shoes, Abbas has taken responsibility for sharing updates about the shoes on social media. Redmond resident Hamad Khawaja handles operations and logistics for the start-up.
The third partner is Bothell resident Rameez Sajwani. He is accountable for maintaining the supply chain plus taking care of the software essentials for FuchsiaShoes.com.
True to their discipline as software engineers, the Fuchsia partners began with a Beta test that consisted of a small collection of hand-made khussas from artisans in the small village of Sangla. The first shipment received rave reviews from friends and co-workers.
The second shipment was larger. The partners posted the shoes on a website that featured trendy foot ware. The entire shipment of 300 pairs sold out in less than one day.
That’s when the partners knew they were on to something special.
On a mission
Fuchsia Shoes is more than a business opportunity. The trio also considers the business a chance to give back to land of their birth. Abbas would eventually like to use profits from the sale of the leather shoes to promote artisans in Pakistan and empower women with more opportunities in the male-dominated society. According to Sajwani, that begins with schools in the rural villages.
“Our long term plan is to run independent programs,” said Abbas. “But that will happen organically as we grow and get into a position where we can invest towards women empowerment programs that provide training and create employment opportunities for mothers and daughters.”
To support their long-term vision, the partners have teamed up with Faces of Pakistan, a non-governmental agency that already has programs in place that focus on quality of life issues in the Asian subcontinent.
The history of the soft leather shoes that resemble ornate ballet slippers dates back to ancient China when the first khussa shoes were made of wood. Chinese women quickly discovered that wooden shoes were not very comfortable and shoe-makers experimented with other materials. It was during the reign of Mughal King Jahangir that leather was first used. Gems and colorful stitching were added by cobblers for the royalty, but the basic design has become a mainstay for women in every economic level.
The actual process of making khussa style shoes today still begins with vegetable tanning and curing of the leather before the pieces are cut separately and sewn to make the insole, outsole, sole and vamp. The upper part and sole are joined together by paste and then stitched by hand using white cotton threads.
Khawaja has secured reliable sources for the finest leather in the region that is cured with salts that can only be found in Pakistan. Design for the embroidery handcrafted separately on specialized materials that are then sewn into the leather shoes. Abbas smiled again when she visualized the future for Fuchsia Shoes.
“Beautiful shoes that empower women. What could be better than that?”
Pre-orders for the spring shipment of shoes are available online at www.FuchsiaShoes.com.