Shoes are always on the shopping list for Harkirat Singh. The jaunty 44-year-old managing director of apparel and footwear brand Woodland likes to unwind after a hard day of work looking at shoe styles on overseas trips by searching for, erm, more shoes.
Singh has an enviable collection of over 100 pairs of adventure shoes that he has passionately tracked on his travels around the world. A multi-coloured leather adventure shoe he bought at a high-end boutique in Italy last year, he says, is especially special. “It looks a little weird but it’s extremely comfortable,” Singh laughs self-effacingly, adding that the bespoke fit matches the shape of his soles. “It gives me a feeling that I’m walking barefoot.”
Work is fun for Singh. “I love shoes but at the same time, I also update myself on the latest shoe-making technologies across the world,” he says as he tucks into an enormous cheese pizza at the super-luxury Four Seasons hotel in Mumbai, his love for a king-size life infectious in his obvious enjoyment of everything. Since its inception in the early 1960s in Quebec, Canada, the rugged leather outdoor shoe brand has always been targeted at the adventure lover.
Quite in the spirit of things, Singh himself is an avid golfer and adventure sports enthusiast, and he never misses an opportunity to go mountain hiking or river rafting in the Himalayas. Why, at last month’s off-site in Rishikesh, even Woodland’s distributors got high on white water rafting and mountain biking. Or you could ask him about skydiving in Barrie, Toronto. “The more I connect with nature, the more inspired I feel to preserve it,” Singh says sincerely.
When he’s at home in Delhi, a jog in the evergreen Lodhi Gardens followed by an hour of workout at the gym is sacrosanct for Singh. On weekends, it’s the Delhi Golf Course. “I try to be close to nature whenever I can,” confesses the outdoors addict. He spends hours on the course, teeing off, trying to get just a little better everytime. But it isn’t only golf and shoes that drive him. He is equally sold on eco-conservation — Singh’s long-term agenda is to reduce the carbon footprint of his Rs.700-crore brand. “Woodland’s DNA is adventure, and adventure means connecting with nature,” Singh explains. “Therefore, as a brand, we want to pledge our commitment to the environment.”
Encouraged by Singh, Woodlands organises adventure trips for school and college-going students across Delhi. On a recent “Advenature” programme, 15 young boys and girls went for a three-day adventure camp to Manali, where they went white-water rafting, trekking and para-gliding. The company gained a new audience and the youngsters were exposed to a new form of adventure.
What next? Singh doesn’t hesitate. “Indians only talk about cricket and football,” he says purposefully. “My ambition is to make adventure sports just as popular.” Shoes are the least of such a long haul. We wish him happy feet.