When my eye first caught these beautifully woven flats on The Reed, two thoughts came to my mind: 1) where can I get these? and 2) what is the story behind these hand woven beauties? An email inquiry lead to a great conversation with founder and shoe peddler Michael Paratore and on Thanksgiving Day, a pair of mohinders Women’s Flats found their way from India to California to Phnom Penh. Since then, I’ve found a favourite pair of high quality, ethically sourced, hand made leather flats, which have moulded themselves to my feet. They are now my go-to-every-day-shoe and pair with any outfit among my uniforms of shorts and shirt dresses. This morning, I decided to take the shoes out for a little shoe-t (flexing my pun muscles there) to help share the story behind mohinders and Michael Paratore’s efforts to bring together sustainability, style and comfort for our feet.
Michael Paratore’s departure from the corporate world and pivot to the sustainable fashion scene was a sound investment. Based on a curiosity behind a phenomenally designed shoe he bought in Mumbai, India, Paratore left his career as a corporate lawyer in Silicon Valley. From 2012, he would find the source of that original shoe, and help to improve its design with the assistance of friends and family. Hearing murmurs from the artisan cooperative scene, he even wound up hopping on a 16-hour train ride to Bangalore, India to locate an NGO to help him support the ethical and sustainable production of these shoes. One thing ties together Paratore’s journey from discovering the original shoe’s producer, the partnership with artisan cooperatives in Karnataka, to the meteoric rise of his new brand across social media: word of mouth. And this all culminated with the realization that this journey would be more fun and exciting than his daily lawyering.
What initially attracted Paratore to the original shoe was its ease of wear. Slip-on, slip-off. And on top of that, multiple people were complimenting him about them every day. One more thing: the shoes didn’t smell after daily wear. With all those positives in line, he added a natural crepe rubber sole and cushioned foot-bed with insole lining leather to make it more comfortable and durable. The finishing touch of turquoise and red stripes are Paratore’s own too. This was a product that mohinders could use as their flagship.
The partnership with a well established, decade-old, artisans cooperative in Karnataka, India, has also made the work rewarding. While Paratore is unsure to what extent mohinders has played in improvements that have taken place in the village, he is aware that the cooperative itself has improved the standard of living among artisans in the community, reduced their reliance on money-lending and has altogether improved the perception and social standing of highly skilled artisans making top quality products.
These durable and beautifully designed products have caught on fast in mohinders’ markets in North America. Mentions by strategic and potent individuals on social media (Brit+Co and Huffington Post to name a couple) and a successful Kickstarter campaign have helped to propel the mohinders brand across coasts and in our case, continents. As a result, mohinders’ list of stockists was able to grow organically, starting with friends of friends, outside interests, and stores that were good fits for the shoes.
Building on the competitive advantage that mohinders’ offers compared to his previous line of work, Paratore intends to keep making decisions based on what sounds fun in order to open more amazing opportunities for mohinders. This might even include some colour play on their City Slippers.
Oh and the name? Paratore thinks its a little embarrassing, but I think it’s absolutely charming. He first heard the name on NBC’s Heroes. Specifically on the super hero defender, Dr. Mohinder Suresh. It turns out that the name was particularly sticky, because when he quit his job and needed to name his new venture, it was an easy choice: mohinders.
Thanks so much to Michael Paratore for the interview and shipping these incredible flats all the way to Cambodia! If you’re interested in getting a pair for yourself, you can order them online, or check them out in person at any of their stockists.
All photos by Cait+Tiff. Thanks to friends who helped shoot my feet when I couldn’t do it myself, and to Corbett Hix for lending me the 28mm lens!