Launched in 2015, The CAI Store is a vegan footwear brand that offers a vast product range of open and closed flats, heels, and wedges summing up to over 190 varieties.
Founded by the entrepreneurial couple from Mumbai, Aradhana Minawala and Dhanraj Minawala, 7 years back, The CAI Store has come a long way. It offers a trendy and stylish range of comfortable footwear and has a loyal customer base of thousands. It has also collaborated with many known faces in the industry, including Aashna Shroff, Masoom Minawala, Rhea Kapoor, and various other creators and celebrities.
Abhishansa Mathur was in a candid conversation with Aradhana Minawala about her journey of starting The CAI store, challenges, and much more.
1. Where did it all begin for you? Please share the What, When, & How of starting your brand The CAI Store?
The CAI Store was started in 2015 when we saw a gap in the footwear market for well-priced, fashionable footwear. We launched with the sole purpose of providing fashionable and modest footwear that is manufactured without the use of leather. We always had an urge to do something creative and environmentally conscious. So, we followed a no inventory model for 2 years, wherein we sold shoes solely to one Fashion Portal, which did very well for us.
Seeing the response, we decided to start our own website as we got a lot of appreciation on social media. We stepped up our progressive journey by setting up a stall at a Flea in 2018 when I was 7 months pregnant. We had initially hoped to use our funds to travel the world together, but the exhibition was a huge success wherein we saw a great response and kick-started our website, and we have grown 20 folds since then.
2. Can you tell us something about yourself?
I completed my M.sc in Marketing and Strategy from the esteemed Warwick University, United Kingdom, and my partner Dhanraj is a Gemologist from GIA, London. I quit my corporate job in branding and wanted to start something of my own. So, we started ‘The CAI Store’, a ‘Made in India’ brand for fashionable and vegan footwear.
The CAI Store is a product of years of learning and strategizing, which stands out for its 100 percent vegan and PETA-approved collection made with PU leather and Polyester fabrication.
3. What’s in the name?
CAI means happiness in Welsh, and colourful in a Chinese dialect. We wanted to spread happiness through our footwear, and that’s how the name came into being.
4. Can you walk us through your journey so far? What are some challenges that you faced while running The CAI Store?
Challenges are part and parcel of a business. With every start-up challenges always follow.
Having to do everything on our own was one of the biggest challenges, along with understanding market trends, dealing with vendors, and most importantly, making our own space in the industry. Whether it’s from forming the right team that helps us achieve our targets and grow together, or the supply chain, being new to the footwear industry back in the day, we took time finding the right suppliers and still are always eager to work with new people, who understand our vision for the brand and the quality we want to deliver.
5. What according to you makes The CAI Store stand out amongst other brands?
Design along with comfort is what we are known for as a brand, and we continue to stand out from our competitors in these aspects.
6. Footwear trends you foresee?
We are constantly seeing new fabrics and prints being used, along with lots of pop colors this season. The footwear trends seem to be more comfortable and innovative insoles. Boots are one of the most trending footwear we are seeing, and we at CAI launched out whole new category last year in November 2021 during our collaboration collection with Rhea Kapoor.
7. Your learnings running The CAI Store?
Trust your gut and follow your passion.
8. How are you using Social Media to promote your homegrown brand?
Social media helped CAI to reach where it is now. It has changed the course of business completely. We not only use social media for promotions but also to connect with our customers and audience personally. We have a community of millions on just Instagram, and we are hoping to keep growing.
9. How do you break the clutter in the social media space?
To be honest, we were one of the few new players in our space, which gave us the lead in the social space.
10. What is your 5-year plan for The CAI Store?
We plan to conquer the footwear market in our space and be active in all categories there too. We also plan to add new categories and be prevalent in the retail space
11. Can you share your business model with us?
We plan to dominate the online market and be prevalent too. In retail, we want to expand both to store-in-store or CAI stores. We look forward to selling internationally.
12. One advice/suggestion you’d like to give aspiring entrepreneurs out there
One principle I’ve learned through my journey is that nothing comes easy; you have to work hard and be consistent. Be the best version of yourself, and nothing can stop you.