In 1955, following India’s independence from British rule, three entrepreneurs Dharam Pal Gupta, Purshotam Das Gupta and Rajkumar Bansal embarked on a collaborative venture aimed at reducing India’s reliance on imported footwear and promoting domestic manufacturing through the ‘Make in India’ initiative. Together, they established Pal Boot House, a modest 500 sq.ft. shop in Karnal, Haryana.
At that time, India heavily relied on foreign-made goods and the founders sought to create employment opportunities for the marginalised sections of the society while liberating Indians from the stranglehold of foreign brands. To initiate their vision, they employed local cobblers in the shop to commence shoe production and started off the business by manufacturing four pairs of shoes per day.
In 1983, Liberty Shoes took a significant step forward by establishing its distribution network and exclusive showrooms, partnering with Balbir Singh & Sons. The company was officially incorporated as a public limited company in September 1986.
Today, Liberty Shoes boasts of an impressive daily of over 50,000 pairs of footwear a day through its four state-of-the-art manufacturing units. The shoes are sold through multi-brand outlets and exclusive showrooms and the company has a presence in 25 countries, with 50 showrooms outside India.
Apparel Resources (AR) speaks to Anupam Bansal, Director Retail, Liberty Shoes, to unravel the success story of this iconic Indian brand and gain his expert views on the running of a business in the rapidly evolving 21st century.
PRODUCT ASSORTMENT AND CATEGORY DISTRIBUTION
From formals, casuals, bins, sporty casuals, school, sports to fashion, Liberty Shoes caters to every age group. In the years that followed, the brand launched four major sub-brands, namely – Healer, AHA, Leap 7 and Lucy & Like.
“We recently forayed into the accessories segment, with leather bags (laptop bags, ladies’ bags, wallets); shoe care (shoe smile brand of polishes and cleaners); and foot care (perfumed socks). We have also expanded into the lifestyle retail business with ‘Liberty Lifestyle’ and its range of perfumes,” Anupam Bansal told AR in an exclusive interview.
Priced between Rs.399 and Rs.6999, the brand’s products are categorised with 70 per cent being taken up by Core, 25 per cent being taken up by Fashion and 5 per cent being taken up by Experimental.
“We don’t really release a collection per season. We focus more on certain core categories to increase the volume and to include new variety in those categories,” Anupam explained, adding, “That being said, we witness high demands come in the winter season. Typically in value terms, winters contribute to almost 55-60 per cent and summers contribute to 40-45 per cent since open footwear are priced much lower than closed footwear.”
|MAKE IN INFOGRAPHIC STYLE:
Liberty Shoes manufactures 6.5 lakh to 12 lakh pieces in a season and 600 to 900 styles per season.
MARKET POSITIONING THROUGHOUT INDIA
“Liberty Shoes is largely focused on North India followed closely by South India. Our major focus markets are UP, Bihar, Gujarat, Karnataka, Punjab and Rajasthan. All these markets have demands and Liberty already has a good customer base in these states and it is extensively increasing its presence in these markets,” Anupam stated.
Liberty is a family footwear brand, hence value for money is at the forefront of the company’s ethos. It positions itself as a bridge between local and top brands.
Since both markets are different, the company employs different strategies to capture demand while targeting a varied audience base.
Commenting on the same, Anupam said, “Liberty captures almost 80 per cent of the local market share and we are taking a stepping stone to increase this share. We are creating enticing entry-level price points for retailers, embracing good quality materials, incorporating the latest technology and developing the latest design in sync with the latest trends.”
STRATEGIES TO CAPTURE ONLINE DEMAND
To maximise its online presence and reach a wider audience, Liberty Shoes has implemented various digital marketing strategies. These include SEO Optimisation to improve search engine rankings; Social Media Marketing on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn; Content Marketing through engaging blogs, videos and infographics; Email Campaigns for targeted promotions and updates; Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Advertising to drive traffic and boost conversions; Influencer Marketing to reach its followers; Customer Reviews and Ratings for social proof and Retargeting ads to reconnect with potential customers who visit its website.
These comprehensive digital marketing efforts work together to enhance the brand’s online visibility, attract and retain customers and drive business growth.
The design process followed by Liberty for developing a product involves several sequential steps. It begins with comprehensive research and market analysis to gain insights into consumer needs and market trends. Based on the findings, the brand moves on to Concept Development, where ideas and design concepts are brainstormed and refined. Once the concept is established, the brand proceeds to the Materials Selection phase where it selects suitable materials for the product, considering factors such as functionality, aesthetics and sustainability.
This is then followed by Technical Design, where detailed specifications and engineering considerations are incorporated. The next stage involves Prototype Development, where initial versions of the product are created and tested for functionality, ergonomics and user experience. After evaluating and refining the prototypes, the brand moves forward to the Sample Production stage, manufacturing a small batch to ensure quality and consistency. Design refinement occurs at this stage, incorporating feedback from testing and making necessary improvements.
|“We produce almost 35,000 to 40,000 pairs of footwear every day. Within our plant, almost 80-85 per cent production happens in-house. Rest of the production is evenly distributed between outsourcing. And in that, about 30 per cent comes from imports. However, it is on the reducing trend right now because our dependence on the outsource economy is reducing drastically. Focus is more on ‘Make in India’ and ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’.” – Anupam Bansal, Director Retail, Liberty Shoes|
Liberty then prepares for large-scale manufacturing, ensuring that all production processes and resources are in place. Following this, the actual production commences and once the production is complete, the focus shifts to Marketing and Launch, where promotional strategies and campaigns are developed to create awareness and generate demand.
After the product is launched, a post-launch evaluation is conducted to assess its market performance, customer feedback and any necessary modifications or updates. This comprehensive design process ensures that the brand develops a successful product that meets consumer expectations and achieves market success.
“We produce almost 35,000 to 40,000 pairs of footwear every day. Within our plant, almost 80-85 per cent production happens in-house. Rest of the production is evenly distributed between outsourcing. And in that, about 30 per cent comes from imports. However, it is on the reducing trend right now because our dependence on the outsource economy is reducing drastically. Focus is more on ‘Make in India’ and ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’,” Anupam explained.
The company works on a lead time of 90 days from design process to warehouse shipment.
Liberty also collaborates with both domestic and international exporters for specific categories such as high fashion, bridal collections and select fast fashion styles. For this, the company establishes partnerships with suppliers located in key cities such as Agra, Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Dehradun to source high-quality raw materials.
In such a scenario, Liberty provides its own design development and style sheet to place orders. This ensures that the brand maintains control over the creative direction and unique aesthetic of these particular product lines.
Vendors working with Liberty undergo a stringent qualification process to produce the brand’s in-house label stock. They must adhere to various standards set by Liberty, including quality, material, safety, manufacturing, ethical and compliance standards.
Quality control measures are implemented to ensure materials, workmanship and overall construction meet specified requirements, whilst Material Standards see that the vendors adhere to the types and quality of materials specified to be used in the production of their shoes, which may include regulations on the use of sustainable or eco-friendly materials.
Compliance with Safety Standards is crucial to protect consumers, encompassing guidelines for non-toxic materials and adherence to product safety regulations. Manufacturing Standards cover cleanliness, hygiene and Ethical Standards oversee practices such as compliance with local labour laws, ensuring safe and healthy working conditions for employees.
Vendors must also comply with Local and International Regulations, respect Intellectual Property Rights and demonstrate Social and Environmental Responsibility by implementing sustainable practices and responsible sourcing of materials.
INTEGRATION OF TECHNOLOGY AND AI WITHIN THE BUSINESS
Liberty believes that technology plays a very crucial role in today’s world, especially if a brand or business has to stay in the competition. One of Liberty’s top-performing brands is Healers. The brand is based on enriching the comfort of the consumer by constructing footwear with latest comfort technologies like H, H1, Hm, H4, HA and H8 technology.
“These technologies are primarily designed to provide stimulation to specific nerves and major pressure points. Healers are specially crafted to stimulate these definite points in order to improve the blood circulation of the wearer for specific body parts and increase the flow of the blood to these areas. We are actively planning to extend our efforts, designs, developments and technologies in the same category. Planning to invest in enhancing H-H8 technology of Healers, we are sure to come up with new innovations and expand the brand with flying colours,” Anupam stated.
“Talking about the e-commerce component, footwear is a fashion product where people want to touch and feel the experience of a product before buying the product. Moreover, more than 80 per cent of e-commerce business is based on discounts; people buy from there just because of discounts. As per data, there are hardly any fresh sales (new products) happening online. Furthermore, I don’t see online as a threat, it could be a support model. And, I don’t agree that consumers are completely shifting online, they always want to experience the product first,” he added.
|“People want to touch and feel the experience of a product before buying the product. Moreover, more than 80 per cent of e-commerce business is based on discounts; people buy from there just because of discounts. As per data, there are hardly any fresh sales (new products) happening online. Furthermore, I don’t see online as a threat, it could be a support model. And, I don’t agree that consumers are completely shifting online, they always want to experience the product first.” – Anupam Bansal, Director Retail, Liberty Shoes.|
INDIAN MARKET SCENARIO
“The Indian footwear market is poised for significant growth as consumers are increasingly transitioning from local footwear to branded segments and from unorganised markets to organised retail. This shift reflects changing consumer preferences, where individuals are seeking quality, style and reliability offered by branded footwear,” Anupam explained.
As more people recognise the value and benefits of branded footwear, the market is expected to expand further, presenting opportunities for both domestic and international footwear brands to tap into this growing demand. With organised retail gaining traction, consumers can now enjoy a wider range of choices, enhanced shopping experiences and access reliable customer service. This transition indicates a positive outlook for the Indian footwear industry, with potential for sustained growth in the coming years.
Currently, Liberty Shoes has 450 outlets in India primarily in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand, Haryana, Delhi-NCR, Karnataka.
|AR: What styles have emerged as retail bestsellers in the past two seasons at Liberty Shoes?
AB: Two categories that are doing great at the moment are sports and athleisure contributing to almost 25 per cent sales; school shoes have witnessed a spike in the last quarter and it contributes to around 20-25 per cent of the business. Rest all the categories like formals, womenswear and others have their own market share.
AR: Which are the categories Indian manufacturers are not apt at making and which are the categories that Indian manufacturers can produce in required quantities but are not price-competitive?
AB: Ladies’ stilettos and boots are a few categories that are not suitable for Indian manufacturers.
High-performance, high fashion and high-technology shoes are also not suitable for the Indian market and manufacturers.
AR: What are the sustainability measures taken on by the brand?
AB: Technologies that allow us to promote sustainability have been employed across the Humantech centres to reuse wastewater, creating environment-friendly capacities with extensive green covers with a complete dust-free environment and minimal or no noise pollution.
|ANUPAM BANSAL SHARES HIS VIEWS ON WORKING WITH DOMESTIC AND INTERNATIONAL VENDORS AND SUPPLIERS
Advantages of working with domestic manufacturers
AB: Working with domestic manufacturers offers advantages such as streamlined communication, shared language and cultural norms, ensuring fewer misunderstandings and an overall smoother production processes. It also provides better visibility into operations, allowing for consistent quality control. Additionally, domestic manufacturers can offer faster delivery times, thanks to shorter shipping distances and fewer regulatory hurdles. This reduces the risk of supply chain disruptions or delays caused by geopolitical issues or transportation difficulties, providing a more reliable production process overall.
Disadvantages of working with domestic manufacturers
AB: While working with domestic manufacturers offers benefits, there are some considerations to keep in mind. Domestic manufacturers often have higher labour and raw material costs, which can result in more expensive products.
Additionally, their reach may be limited compared to international exporters, limiting opportunities for market expansion. Furthermore, domestic manufacturers may have limitations in terms of specialisation, lacking expertise in certain specialised areas or product types.
Advantages of working with international exporters
AB: Working with international exporters offers several advantages. Firstly, it provides us with access to new markets and customers that may not be available domestically, allowing for market expansion. Secondly, international exporters can offer cost savings through access to cheaper raw materials or labour. Additionally, partnering with international exporters helps us in diversifying supply chains, reducing the risk of disruptions.
Lastly, international exporters possess expertise in navigating the complexities of international trade, including customs, tariffs and regulations, ensuring smooth operations.
Disadvantages of working with international exporters
AB: Working with international exporters comes with certain challenges. Communication and cultural barriers may arise, leading to misunderstandings and delays. Maintaining consistent quality across international suppliers can be difficult without sufficient visibility into their operations. Additionally, logistics and transportation complexities may increase costs and require expertise to be handled correctly.
Furthermore, businesses must navigate complex legal and regulatory compliance in international trade. These challenges should be carefully considered and managed to ensure successful collaboration with international exporters.