Shazia Qaiser runs the state’s first shoe laundry service.
Sufi Parween | TwoCircles.net
PATNA (BIHAR) — A black and green board reading “Revival: Service Centre for footwear and leather goods” stands out among residential buildings in a narrow, quiet lane off the hustle and bustle of Boring Canal Road, Patna’s business street. The board leads the way to an apartment full of shoes. Shoes, boots, and flip-flops are neatly lined in rows upon rows. A Puma sneaker sits next to a Woodland leather shoe, a Sparx pair jostles for space with an unbranded chappal. All are neatly packed in transparent bags as if they’ve arrived straight from the factory. Except that they did not.
Shazia Qaiser, who runs Revival, Bihar’s “first” footwear laundry service, received the shoes in a worn-out state; either discoloured, torn from the edges, or the sole completely detached. The 39-year-old’s enterprise specializes in “reviving” such shoes, by cleaning, polishing and dyeing them, as well as repairing or replacing the soles. “We give back old shoes as if they were as new as new,” Qaiser explains the motto of her business.
Since the time she set it up in 2014, the service now has four centres across the city and provides “refurbishing” i.e. laundry services for jackets and bags too. Customers include not just individuals but also showrooms and stores where unsold shoes gather dust or become damaged and need repairing. Relying on social media marketing, orders are booked from as far as Mumbai, Delhi and Kashmir.
Like most novel ideas, though, it was a rough start for Qaiser, who previously worked as a physiotherapist with WHO and UNICEF. To begin with, most people did not want to pay Rs 150 to get their shoes repaired, when the cobbler would do it for Rs 50. To win people’s confidence, Qaiser offered free service but “when people saw the shoes in a brand new condition”, they began paying up. Now, the minimum rate at Revival is Rs 500 for dyeing the shoe fabric and goes up to Rs 700 for replacing the sole.
Looking back at her entrepreneurial journey, of which the first two years were loss-making, Qaiser says, “There is no fixed formula of business. You will understand how to go about it by experimenting.”
Why did she choose the idea of a shoe laundry service? “When I was in school, I used to think of doing something of my own but was never serious about it,” says Qaiser who took the “safer” route of working a job as a physiotherapist. She got married in the first year of college, and juggling between work and children, she had forgotten about her “non-serious entrepreneurial wish.” But when work along with parenting took a toll, she quit her job and decided to “research” what business she can do. “I did not have any business background, so I searched around the markets in Patna and Googled for ideas. And then I realized that there is no shoe laundry service in the city,” she says.
Though her family supported her decision, some in society questioned her choice of “running shoe clinics” when she “could’ve run a chain of physiotherapy clinics”.
“But I paid them no heed. I am just happy my family stands by me,” she says.
With an initial fund of Rs 3 lakh from her savings, Qaiser rented a room for her first centre, bought a washing machine, tools, and chemicals used in repairing, cleaning, and refurbishing the shoes, and hired three workers from Patna. Today, she has 17 employees working across four centres, with Qaiser taking the lead in dealing with customers.
Employees include labourers who returned from different parts of the country to Bihar during the national lockdown at the time of the Covid pandemic in 2020. Like Ram Sagar and Bachchu Ram, two men in their 50s, who were working in a factory that supplies footwear for the Taj hotel’s staff in Mumbai. In a room at Revival’s Boring Canal Road centre, they can be seen repairing the soles of formal leather shoes and polishing them. They do not plan to return to Mumbai. “We were paid about Rs 10,000 a month there. Here, we are paid about Rs 15,000 a month and live with our families,” says Sagar.
Talking about her plans for the future, Qaiser says, “I want Revival to become the service partner of the biggest shoe brands. We want to leave our footprint in every part of the country” she says.
Sufi Parween is a fellow at the TCN-SEED mentorship program.