V Sajeev Kumar

The Kozhikode-based footwear manufacturer, VKC Group, is stepping up on its ambitions. And, in step with it is the Big B of Bollywood, Amitabh Bachchan, whom it has roped in as brand ambassador. The ₹2,000 crore company, which is one of India’s largest polyurethane (PU) footwear maker, believes that Bachchan will inspire both young and old customers alike, and help change people’s perception of footwear.

VKC Razak, Managing Director, VKC Group, says that it is the first time Bachchan is endorsing a footwear brand, and the association will help promote VKC — which carries the slogan “celebrate hard work” in its campaign — resting on the pillars of “long-lasting, honest pricing and affordability”. Also, he believes it will give a fillip to the overall development of the Indian footwear industry — creating a global mass brand in the economy segment to take on Chinese products.

Expanding footprint

“We expect that VKC brand campaigns featuring Amithabh Bachchan will positively influence the markets in the north, where the per capita consumption of footwear is lower,” says Razak. Bachchan’s endorsement comes on the heels of VKC’s big plans, which include launching new products such as super soft polyurethane (PU) footwear and ramping up its youth-focussed products under the brand Debongo from next fiscal.

After Debongo, VKC plans to launch another brand called Jay.May.Ka, which is a fun-wear unisex concept, being pushed with the messaging — “Age no bar, fun no bar”. Started in 1984, the company has 24 manufacturing units in different States and three in Sri Lanka, Sudan and Bangladesh. In 2007, VKC started production of PU footwear at price points that were 50 per cent less than prevailing market rates.

The company believes this helped increase the per capita consumption of footwear in India. In India, per capita consumption of footwear is below two pairs, while in developed countries it is six to seven.

India’s footwear production is six billion pairs with a total value of $15 billion, which is expected to touch $38 billion by 2030. India is the second largest player in the footwear industry. But there is a huge gap between China, which currently commands 60-65 per cent of the world’s footwear business, while India’s share is hardly 10-12 per cent. Razak believes India can close the gap considering the labour cost and availability. Though there are around 40,000 players in the footwear industry, he points out that 75 per cent of them are in the unorganised segment. There is a need to strengthen the sector to compete with China. Razak also cites the emergence of Vietnam in the footwear market, with its share reaching 10 per cent. Razak says that 85 per cent of the footwear manufactured in India is non leather, but the government is hardly extending any priority to the sector. The export market caters mainly to the leather segment and high-end products.

Changing trends

Footwear has moved well beyond functional roles and is a fashion statement now, asserts Razak. With time, more attributes like comfort and adventure are getting added to it. Footwear fashion trends are evolving fast and to keep pace, the sector needs technological advancement, he says. China is fast adapting to changes, whereas India is lagging behind.

However, Razak says India’s footwear industry has come a long way from Methiyadi (traditional wooden footwear) to a wide range of offerings including flip-flops, shoes (formal and sports) and Roman (half shoes). But these are common — to step forward, we need to embrace 3D technology, he says. While 3D printed footwear is on the anvil, VKC is also experimenting with virtual reality based products. Customers can use an app to get footwear in the right measurements.

VKC hopes to put its best foot forward with the aid of technology.