ZEESH: The New ‘Super Leather Sneaker’ Brand

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“Shoes transform your body language and attitude. They lift you physically and emotionally.”

Christian Louboutin

The founders of the leather sneaker brand Zeesh, Zeeshan Avoor and Umar Farook, exude limitless ambition. Zeeshan is a design visionary, while Umar excels in business strategy. Together, they represent a new wave of entrepreneurs aiming to distinguish their contemporary brand through passion and innovation.

Upon meeting Zeeshan Avoor, founder and creative director, and Umar Farook, co-founder and marketing director, it is evident that they have a clear vision and strategy. This is perhaps why their unrestricted, dynamic approach contributes to Zeesh’s appeal, with retro-forward, classy designs resonating with Gen Z and Millennials. The contemporary price point works in their favour, allowing customers to purchase quality leather sneakers at a fraction of the cost compared to luxury brands.

Zeesh places the utmost priority on quality and standards. They offer an extensive and exclusive collection of luxurious leather sneakers, seamlessly blending elegance with a retro-futuristic aesthetic. Their sneakers are not only comfortable and easy to wear, but they also add a touch of class and sophistication to one’s personal style.

TheGlitz engages with the duo in an in-depth interaction to find out exactly how they managed to build their brand from the ground up and how they see it evolving.

ZEESH Collection

Zeesh collection
Zeesh collection

Interview excerpt:

Rajeev: I’d love to hear a bit about your fascination for shoes? How did it start and how has it developed?

Zeeshan: My journey in the shoe industry began around four to five years ago after completing a shoe design course at FDDI in Chennai and coming from a family with a rich history in shoe manufacturing. For almost 30 years, our company has produced private-label shoes for renowned European brands. With a passion for footwear design, I established my own venture in September 2019, just before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite facing challenges during the two years of lockdowns, we persevered. Our breakthrough came when we secured a space at Phoenix Market City Mall in Bangalore, becoming the first homegrown Indian brand to do so. Despite initial hurdles, our launch was highly successful.

Rajeev: What were the first steps you took in setting up? How did you come up with the name?

Zeeshan: From a young age, I’ve been drawn to design and art, feeling a unique connection to my name, Zeeshan. My school days were filled with sketches and doodles, even tattoo designs on my hands. This creative flair found its outlet when I began designing shoes. Experimenting with incorporating my sketches into a logo, I discovered a special connection. This moment sparked the idea for my brand’s identity, rooted in my lifelong passion for art and design.

Rajeev: Umar, since you lead the marketing efforts, can you tell me how you sold your first shoe?

My association with Zeesh is recent, spanning just a couple of months. Initially, I was a customer of the brand and was captivated by the brand’s quality. I saw immense potential in Zeesh and shared Zeeshan’s vision for the brand. His creative brilliance resonated with me, which led us to join forces through a business merger.

With a background in the retail industry and extensive experience scaling retail brands, I saw great potential in Zeesh. The strong product line and robust manufacturing foundation, combined with my expertise in retail operations, convinced me we could elevate the brand. This motivated me to join the Zeesh team and drive its growth and success.

To answer your question, I sold my first Zeesh shoe just three months ago, and it’s been a positive journey since. We’ve built new teams and developed a comprehensive 5-year marketing strategy. Zeeshan has perfected creating high-quality, stylish products.

My role focuses on driving sales and marketing, with exciting collaborations and product launches ahead. We’re emphasising influencer marketing and events, notably a racing series targeting the luxury niche and supercar community. With our strong product foundation and strategic marketing, we’re confident in Zeesh’s growth.

Rajeev: Can you share details about your physical stores and online presence?

Umar: We currently have our first and only brick-and-mortar store in Phoenix, which serves as an experience centre for our brand. We plan to establish more such centres in key urban cities across India through collaborations with luxury mall operators. While our online presence is strong, we aim to have a significant footprint in major cities like Mumbai and Delhi, where leather products are popular, especially in colder climates.

By offering both brick-and-mortar experience centres and a robust online platform, we enable consumers to physically interact with our products while expanding our e-commerce reach. Initially, we are focused on growing our presence in India, with plans to enter the European and Middle Eastern markets online in the next phase. As a direct-to-consumer brand, we leverage our cost advantage to provide high-quality products at more affordable prices than our competitors.

Rajeev: And where is your manufacturing unit?

Zeeshan: Our fully integrated operations are based in Gudiyatham, near Chennai, where we have our factory outlet and manufacturing facilities. We manage the entire supply chain in-house, from leather production to the manufacturing of complete shoes and boots. This control allows us to maintain stringent quality standards without relying on external manufacturers.

Rajeev: What sets Zeesh apart from other shoe brands?

Zeeshan: Zeesh is defined by quality and craftsmanship, filling the gap between European and Indian products by maintaining European standards. Our commitment to quality and design is unwavering, supported by quality control experts from the brands we manufacture for.

Zeesh sneakers are crafted using premium materials on par with luxury brands. The soles are imported from Germany and match the quality used by high-end labels. Additionally, the manufacturing setup and skilled artisans producing Zeesh sneakers are the same hands who craft footwear for renowned global brands like Prada and Dolce & Gabbana.

Rajeev: So you claim to be on par with the majority of the top labels in India?

Zeeshan: Absolutely. And not only in India, but globally.

Rajeev: What are your favorite Zeesh shoes in the entire collection?

Umar: He wears everything.

Zeeshan: Yeah. I personally test everything I design. After creating a prototype, I include it in the collection and wear the shoe for one or two months to assess its comfort and feel. Since it’s leather, it shouldn’t get too warm in regular conditions. Given the heat in Chennai, we’ve ensured the materials inside are breathable by adding ventilation holes that enhance aerodynamics, making the shoes both comfortable and cool.

Zeeshan Avoor, Founder and Creative Director, Zeesh
Zeeshan Avoor, Founder and Creative Director, Zeesh

Rajeev: In terms of design, how and who is responsible for it?

Zeeshan: Before each season, we research upcoming colour and trend forecasts through industry resources and insights from our international brand partners. Using this information, I design products that align with projected trends for the next six months, ensuring our offerings are fashionable and current. This proactive approach keeps us ahead of the curve.

Umar Farook, Co-founder and Marketing Director, Zeesh
Umar Farook, Co-founder and Marketing Director, Zeesh

Rajeev: What is the timeline from design to test to production?

Zeeshan: Designing a shoe takes me minutes, but the entire process spans one to two months. After designing, I coordinate the colours, create a few prototypes, and conduct tests. Once everything meets our standards, we proceed with production.

Rajeev: Coming to you, Umar, what are the marketing plans lined up for Zeesh?

Umar: We are currently planning several exciting collaborations. We’re in talks with a well-known supercar club to host a pop-up event, and we’re also working with an F2 racer to co-design a racing-inspired product. Additionally, we’re exploring a partnership with an MMA fighter to create a unique item. Our goal is to ensure our products are known for comfort, performance, and trendiness, similar to brands like Porsche Design. We’re actively seeking collaborations and activities that align with this vision.

Rajeev: Are there any intiatives in the pipeline to expand your product offerings into the formal or dress shoe category?

Zeeshan: Currently, we are focusing on leather sneakers and plan to specialise in this area. In the future, we may expand to driving loafers, which also align with racing. For now, our emphasis is on leather sneakers. This choice is driven by the trend we’ve observed, where sneakers are worn everywhere—from malls and airports to boardrooms and weddings, even by grooms with kurtas.

Rajeev: How would you describe the Zeesh man?

Zeeshan: Sure thing! Picture this: He goes for the less-is-more vibe, choosing quality over quantity every time. His style probably screams classy—the Zeesh man makes a plain white tea and a pair of well-fitted jeans look like a million bucks.

Rajeev: Let’s discuss Zeesh accessories.

Zeeshan: Yeah. We’re expanding our accessory line, focusing on carbon fibre materials to complement our racing culture theme. These accessories hold equal importance to our leather sneakers, as leather is our brand’s unique selling point with versatile applications, including belts, wallets, and travel gear. We’re emphasising innovation not only in sneakers but also in leather goods and accessories, considering them essential parts of our product range.

Rajeev: Could you explain your pricing approach for your leather accessories line and how it differs from competitors’ offerings?

Zeeshan: In simple terms, making a bag requires a lot more leather compared to making a shoe, which impacts the price. We don’t base our prices solely on the size of the product, but rather on the amount of leather and materials used. For instance, brands like Da Milano and Napa Dori sell similar backpacks at higher prices, while we offer ours at a lower price point of ₹10k, using the same quality Napa leather. Additionally, our bags feature a luxurious velvet lining, adding to their appeal. Overall, compared to competitors both locally and globally, we offer a significant price advantage.

Rajeev What are your thoughts on expanding into apparel, perhaps with leather jackets?

Umar: Just to put it in context, Zeeshan wears clothes that are designed by Zeeshan. As in, you know, it has Zeeshan labeling. There are some leather patches on the shoulders. So, apparently, in the R&D phase, I would say, like Zeeshan mentioned, any product he creates, he tries it on himself first, gives it a trial run, and then it goes into launch. So apparel is something that’s in the pipeline.

Rajeev: Any final thoughts on future aspirations.

Zeeshan: We aim to establish our new venture, known as House of Zeesh, as a comprehensive luxury brand in India. This entity will encompass multiple product categories across footwear, apparel, accessories, and travel gear. With ample resources and being entirely self-funded by Zeesh and my family, who have extensive experience in the export trade for the past 25–30 years, we intend to cater to diverse market segments without limiting ourselves.

Umar: I’d like to emphasise the significance of legacy in the luxury market. Despite being a start-up, Zeesh boasts a three-decade heritage of craftsmanship and tradition. This legacy is integral to our brand’s identity and contributes to our standing in the luxury sector.

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