A few years ago, Arveena Ahluwalia walked away from her career in the corporate banking world to launch a men's shoes company. Leaving a trail of big-name companies like Google, Trump and Citibank behind her, she left that life after suffering an ankle injury and discovering the wonders of comfortable shoes in her recovery. She launched the luxury men's shoe company Paul Drish, named after her uncle who owns the Indian shoe staple Drish, in December 2014. So how is the female banking whiz faring in the world of men's shoes? We chatted with Ahluwalia, who is 36 and lives in TriBeCa, to find out.
Why the shoe biz?
The main reason I left [finance] in 2014, I had fractured my foot in 2012, I was bedridden for two months, I couldn't walk, and during those two months ... I spoke to my uncle who's the owner of Drish and he told me he would make me the most beautiful pair of shoes that will help me get back on my feet. Sure enough my uncle made me a pair of the most beautiful shoes that got me walking again and I went back to "Corporate America."
Why did you decide to pursue men's shoes, rather than women's?
I was surrounded by males in banking and when they saw that I could start wlking again they said, "Hey can you make us a pair of shoes that are comfortable? Because our feet kill." I made a few shoes for them, they loved it. We will launch a bespoke women's line in time but it just so happened that I got into the men's market and I wanted to pursue that for a while before I got into the women's.
What's it like being a woman in a men's market?
It has its challenges but at the same time I've been very fortunate to come across really supportive people in the industry. So they don't look at me as a woman, they look at me as a business person, which is something I really appreciate about this industry.
What's Drish's role in your company?
Drish shoes was started by my uncle 25 years ago and Drish has cultivated an entire community of artisans who are adept in leather work. So the quality of leather coming from Drish is very high. And the way my company is related to Drish, Paul Drish is funded by Drish. In addition to that, Drish owns its own tanneries and production facilities.
Why did you decide to be only e-commerce?
Being a startup, I wanted to keep the costs low so that I could pass on the savings to my customers, and we do have a by-appointment show room in TriBeCa for customers to try on our products.
Do you attract any famous customers?
One of the specialties [in our bespoke service] is we run right up to size 16 so that's why we attracted a lot of athletes and players with big feet because that's a really underserved market for high-quality dress shoes that are actually comfortable. We had the New York Giants running back Rashad Jennings here the other day because he's a size 14.
Any advice for readers considering a career 180?
I would say it's a mindset to be an entrepreneur because corporate for me was way more cushy, and clearly taking the chance and leaving everything to the world of the unknown it is scary and it is challenging. But that's what makes this world so exciting.