There is something about bespoke wear in gentlemen’s fashion that exudes class and style. It’s a way to make a statement, to let the world know you’re serious about life, that you are truly unique, whether it’s with surgeons cuffs or shoes with a never before seen color palate. Your fashion reflects your philosophy on self-care, which translates to attention to detail and philosophy within the boardroom as well. It’s also not always easily attainable, something that Rafic Daud decided to do something about.
A Portuguese native from Sao Joao da Maderia, Portugal’s shoemaking capital, Rafic took advantage of the desire and demand for bespoke men’s dress shoes without an insane pricetag. Since he launched Undandy, he’s disrupted the high-end shoe market with direct-to-consumer and impeccably handcrafted men’s shoes—in shy of just one year, Undandy has gone from selling 100 shoes a month to over 1,500 in over 100 countries. We sat down with Rafic to discuss everything from the new frontier for luxury goods to the Robert DeNiro quote that he lives each day by.
Jenna Marie Bostock: How did you get started in the shoe industry?
Rafic Daud: I had never actually worked with shoes before I started Undandy—I had a background in fragrances and the cosmetics industry. The brand was co-founded in 2015 by myself and Goncalo Henriques, a childhood friend. The actual concept for Undandy came about so naturally, after questioning why one couldn’t create tailor made shoes in the same way we can customize a car for example.
Being Portuguese natives, we were aware of the incredible expertise in shoemaking here, and we work with a third-generation workshop and cobblers in Sao Joao da Madeira, which is often referred to as Portugal’s shoemaking capital. I believe that companies no longer have a role in society of exclusively being there to make money. Companies have to be a lot more than that. There has to be a purpose to them; how do they actually add value to the society?
Jenna Marie Bostock: What motivated you to launch Undandy?
Rafic Daud: Luxury, as a concept, has always been pillared on exclusivity, but now with the saturation of mass production, we’ve had to search for a new type of exclusivity, in essence—to own something truly unique. Nowadays being unique is having the thing specially made for you. This desire for uniqueness has come at the same time as technology, which has allowed us to offer quality product without a luxury price tag as we are direct to customer. It’s the age old human desire for self-expression. So, although our shoes do not have a luxury price tag, owning a pair of handcrafted, custom designed shoes I believe is the definition of the concept.
Jenna Marie Bostock: Can you tell us more about what it was like to break out on your own and start your own company?
Rafic Daud: I was brought up in an entrepreneurial family, so perhaps it’s in my DNA. One thing I have learnt along the way is that you’re only as good as the other players on your team. At Undandy we’ve built up a team that have specific skills, and it’s my role to oversee from a vantage point to have a total view of what’s happening and where we need to go next. And of course, when you’re working in a start-up you’ve got to be prepared to do anything, from carrying boxes, customer care, taking pictures. That for me is a true entrepreneurial mind set. If something needs to be done, get it done. You have to go all in.
Jenna Marie Bostock: Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Rafic Daud: I’m a bit of a chess geek and there can be so many parallels drawn between the game of chess and the game of business. Chess teaches us strategic thinking and the impact one move can have on the whole game. I’m also inspired by other entrepreneurs, but really inspiration can be found anywhere, it’s about keeping your eyes and ears open.
Jenna Marie Bostock: How do you differentiate yourself in a seemingly oversaturated marketplace?
Rafic Daud: Undandy has a unique proposition, despite there being well established rivals in the men’s shoe market, as our business is leveraged on customizable, handcrafted shoes. We have the ability to offer our clients the freedom to choose every detail imaginable; from the styles, models, choice of leathers, the stitching, laces, even down to engraving on the soles at a unique price for handcrafted shoes as we are direct to customer. So far there are no other brands dominating this particular niche of the market.
To quote Charles Eames, ‘The details are not the details. They make the design’, and that’s exactly why we feel we are in a strong position to make our mark in the shoe industry.
Jenna Marie Bostock: What is the best and/or worst piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Rafic Daud: Well the worst advice is easy, to trust a specialist/consultant. It might be from my own personal experience, but honestly anyone who claims to be a specialist nine times out of ten, isn’t. My best piece of advice received? Ignore advice, be your own advice. It all depends on the context, the person, the people. Find the answer yourself.
Jenna Marie Bostock: What’s on the horizon for Undandy?
Rafic Daud: It’s totally unpredictable where this company can end. Our ultimate vision is to become the reference for direct to customer, customizable brands in men’s footwear as well as expanding our current product offering. We want to revive traditional values and appreciation of craftsmanship through modern technology and ultimately inspire men to walk in the footsteps of great men.
Jenna Marie Bostock: Do you have any parting advice for any of our readers who might be thinking of starting their own business?
Rafic Daud: Robert DeNiro once said, ‘If you don’t go you’ll never know!’