Mohinders, How One Trip To India Turned Into Shoes Changing The World
Michael, Founder of Mohinders
Mill Valley, CA
I grew up in Davis, California. My first job after college (I went to UCLA, studied International Economics) was as a marketing intern for Ducati Motor Holdings in Italy. I didn’t know much about the company or motorcycles before I started, but I was committed to living somewhere in Europe. After a successful stint at Ducati, I carried on to work for a start-up car company and then as a videographer for a production company. But while I was doing this everyone I knew, back in the States was working a real job. I thought it was time I got serious and grow up. “Serious” meant leaving behind the wild days of off-the-wall jobs and bouncing around Europe to learn a hard skill in the States, enroll in law school, followed by a position at a Silicon Valley law firm.
Today, I’m living in Mill Valley, California (just across the Golden Gate Bridge) with my wife, two-year-old, and four-year-old. Mohinders has a studio in San Francisco, out by the beach on Taraval Street, and two other people working with me—Kristen, Creative Director, and Cameron, in Operations.
Mohinders are made by hand by third- and fourth-generation master shoemakers in Athani Village, India. We’re a small team in San Francisco, and feel fortunate to work with this group of craftspeople. These shoes are perfect for day-to-day exploration, travel, and everything in between.
This shoe design was already amazing (generations of craftsmanship got it right.) We add a few details, like a crepe rubber sole for durability and extra comfort. Over time we release new styles, always in collaboration with the shoemakers’ process and techniques.
An age-old way of making leather Mohinders are made of water buffalo leather that is tanned by hand in small-scale family operations. This plant-based method uses acacia tree bark, water, limestone, and the myrobalan nut (no synthetic chemicals or softeners). With time and wear, the color deepens and patinas — and your Mohinders will mold to your feet.
A year or so into working as a lawyer, I accompanied my wife’s business school class on a trip to India. On a particularly rambling, solo stroll through Mumbai, I bought a pair of shoes from a street vendor on the Colaba Causeway, and brought them home with me to the Bay Area. So many people asked about my shoes—where they could get them, what brand they were—that an idea started to grow, and I was curious myself, as they’d quickly become my favorite pair to easily slip on.
Long story short, the daydreams led to quitting my job, a one-way ticket to India in search of the original makers of these shoes, and a meandering journey to find them. Then, a Kickstarter and year of setting up a business that felt equitable, respectful, environmentally friendly, and in line with the kind of quality and product experience I wanted to offer customers.
There were a lot of reasons why this souvenir pair of shoes, bought on the Colaba Causeway in Mumbai, eventually turned into Mohinders. First, I was compelled to learn that each pair is handmade in people’s homes, not factory-made or a creation of the modern fashion industry. I’d also never seen shoes quite like this before, and certainly not in the U.S.
The long-standing shoemaking tradition that created this intricate, functional, beautiful shoe design goes back generations; and centuries, probably. It represents a group of shoemakers, a place, and a unique material—hand-tanned water buffalo leather, also made in small batches—that just can’t be replicated somewhere else.
Ultimately, there’s just something about this shoe. When I brought a pair home, I couldn’t stop wearing them; since then, it’s become a way to engage with a longer story and larger conversation about quality goods we use and wear, how they’re made, and who’s making them.