Loud, colourful, quirky printed silhouettes and embellished bridalwear—this is what Shubhika Sharma’s Papa Don’t Preach is best known for. However, in lieu of her accessories, it’s her vegan stilettos that have made it big. The designer received recognition by PETA India’s Vegan Fashion Awards 2020 for Best Vegan Shoes for Women and in her words, “This is a very big deal.” And why shouldn’t it be? As a designer who has believed in expanding her label and designing cruelty-free stilettos, this is something to be celebrated. We caught up with Shubhika to know more about how she feels, why she chose to design stilettos, what’s next for her label, and more.
ELLE: How does it feel to receive an award from PETA?
Shubhika Sharma: Saying that we are excited and thrilled is underplaying it because we are beyond. It feels like one of our visions is recognised. So, at the start of the year when the whole team sat together, we knew that there was gold in the accessories or the shoes we were making. We knew that there was no one or very few designers in India who were even attempting the kind of shoes that we have, that is, embellished vegan stilettoes. If we stuck to our values even if it did not make commercial sense, we knew that we would find people, and connect and relate to the Millenials this year who have become so conscious of the environment. It was like our vision fulfilling itself at the end of the year. It felt fantastic; we weren’t even in the office. We had just come back from a shoot where we were out of network for five days and then when the team was just at home recovering we got a call, and the next day it was online, we had won, and it feels amazing.
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SS: Currently, we are using satin, PU, PVC, manmade silks, velvets and suede because these are the fabrics that can hold the embroidery and the embellishments that we put on it, and that poses a lot of challenges because it doesn’t have the natural stretch that leather does which is important when you try to mould stilettoes in a certain way. After all, it’s extremely clean, and it tapers to a very slim point at the toes so to get that it’s nice and neat, and gives you that kind of leeway that leather beautifully allows you to.
ELLE: What made you opt for stilettoes?
SS: When I reached a point where I had a nice team in place for my bridal wear and western pret, I was getting anxious because I don’t like to sit and keep doing more of what’s already happening and what’s set. I need a challenger; I need something to keep pushing boundaries with. A friend of mine said she has a roommate who studied footwear design and would love to intern with me. Back then, I did not have a shoe department, but I love shoes and always wanted to make them, so I asked her to come over. That’s when Tanu and I started searching for vendors, and I was clear it had to be stilettoes. I knew the kind of embroideries we wanted to do and the kind of luxury we wanted to be able to give to women in India. We wanted to give the brides a 100 per cent made in India brand that they could wear to weddings, parties and stand out. Comfort in luxury with embellishments that could compliment Indian clothes was the goal. I wanted them to look very sleek and finished, beautifully handcrafted pieces of art, scientifically made if I may say so. That is why stilettoes because I couldn’t imagine our embroidery on anything else, it’s a breathtaking sight. Also, nobody in India was doing it at that time, when I had to look for myself, I was always challenged and had to make do with something or the other.
SS: There is a lot of data available to us nowadays. If you are a conscious and well-educated shopper, there are many ways to find out if it is authentic. There’s a lot of research that goes through it, and the company must provide it on their website. And having a stamp now from PETA, which they have provided, will now go on all our accessories and packaging so that people know it’s authentic. One of the easiest ways to know the authenticity is by checking if PETA recognises the company. Otherwise, you can straight up ask the company to provide you with details of their manufacturing processes – who is making it, where are they making, where are they sourcing their material from.
I think the easiest way to know is, you can always smell leather, and it’s easy to recognise the difference between leather and fur leather. Most companies on their packaging should have a cruelty free or animal friendly sticker. And if you have the PETA bunny on your products, it means that the brand is 100 per cent vegan and cruelty-free. If you are very conscious and have done your research and homework, it’s easy.
ELLE: What is the scope of vegan fashion in India?
SS: The beauty of India is that there are just so many of us right now, so there’s a group for everything. There are buyers and shoppers for every product, which is why I never get competitive with my colleagues or my contemporaries. There is somebody for everybody, hence the scope for vegan fashion is huge. I feel it’s such a beautiful time to be alive, be a young brand that can move, change and shape with time. The millennials keep you on your feet and Instagram as a community always keeps you in check, questioning and pushing you. The scope is huge and one beautiful thing this year has done, and of course, it was happening before too, but now people are more conscious and are seeking brands that are catering to environmentally friendly products. I only see it becoming bigger and better and am quite excited about that.
ELLE: Papa Don’t Preach is known for its quirky prints. What is one style tip to ace print-on-print?
SS: If you’re doing print-on-print clothes and accessories like your boots or bag are printed, and clothes are printed, then your makeup and hair have to be minimal with just glowing skin. The style tip I would give here is keeping your hair and makeup clean and minimal and let your clothes and accessories do the talking. But I love it when people go wild, and you should do it if you wish to.
ELLE: What will we see next from Papa Don’t Preach?
SS: One of my favourite questions. It’s coming so soon! It’s launching on December 16. Our collection is called Zsa Zsa Zsu. We’ve made a beautiful film with our hearts and soul, and it’s the first time that we’ve done something like this. It’s diverse, inclusive in its casting and it has a beautiful soul to it. The collection itself is an ambitious one because never have we ever made 30 couture pieces and shot them in peak Covid times with a great team and a crew size of about 70 people. It’s going to have shoes, bags, of course, all vegan, and extremely colourful hand-embroidered garments. Its’s got the Papa Don’t preach stamp all over it. Talking about the coming year is too early to say anything because anything can happen, but we are consciously moving towards becoming more diverse, inclusive, vibrant, young, vegan and sustainable. Sustainability is a journey, and we are taking our steps towards it. These are big promises to keep, and we are excited about fulfilling them.