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A cobbler for the modern age

Portuguese entrepreneur and co-founder of handcrafted shoe brand Undandy, Rafic Daud shares his story

Rafic Daud, co-founder of Undandy
Rafic Daud, co-founder of Undandy

Since launching in 2015, Undandy has made its mark as a leader in customisable, handcrafted men’s dress shoes. Disrupting the high-end shoe market with direct-to-consumer and impeccably handcrafted men’s dress shoes,Undandy’s co-founder and Portuguese entrepreneur Rafic Daud shares his story...

“One of the main reason I started Undandy was because, as a man, it is very hard to find the exact shoe one wants. The brand was co-founded by myself and Gonçalo Henriques, after questioning why we couldn’t create our own shoes in the same way we customise a car, for instance.

“I usually challenge my friends to show me a pair of shoes that we cannot design in our platform and I’ve won most of those bets thus far, not to say all. The customising element of Undandy allows every man to create their own shoe, to unleash their creative genius, to express themselves through their footwear, which is an integral part of a gentleman’s wardrobe. Or at least it should be!

’15 by Powell
’15 by Powell

“At Undandy we are extremely proud that our shoes are made in Portugal and support Portuguese craftsmanship and artisan work. As Undandy has a direct-to-consumer business model, we are able to give a fair price to all, our cobblers and our clients. I believe that companies no longer have a role in society of exclusively being there to make money. Of course that’s what companies are for, but 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?

“My style icon is Gianni Agnelli. In the men’s style arena, he’s an obvious choice, often regarded as one of the best-dressed men of his era. For me personally, he left an indelible mark in men’s styling, managing to combine beautifully tailored suits with accessory choices and touches of flair that could often have been misconstrued as mistakes, but in fact, worked perfectly. This sprezzatura attitude is something that I feel Undandy really plays on, like those unexpected touches of contrasting coloured stitching on a traditional clack calf-leather Oxford.

“Our first client wanted to create his wedding shoes and he made a point of having the shoes even before having the suit done, because he wanted the suit to match the shoes, based on the Irish flag. His story behind the shoe design was amazing and the fact that we were able to craft them the way he desired for the most important day of his life allowed us to share some of this ‘specialness’.

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“My favourite pair of shoes created by one of our customers is the ’15 by Powell, an Oxford with a patina finish that is now part of our ready-to-wear collection of classic styles. The patina process of applying painstakingly by hand gradual layers of paint adds an aged and charmingly weathered feel to the leather and creates an utterly unique finish to each pair of shoes. The result breathes individuality and can never be exactly replicated. I’m also particularly fond of our new soles that we launched in April for spring/summer. Before, we had only black soles, but customers can now choose tan and sand-coloured soles, which are perfect for the summer months.

“There is definitely a burgeoning start-up scene in Lisbon, where Undandy is based. The city actually has the ideal conditions for a start-up to settle, and that’s before we even get started on the beautiful weather. We are beginning to see more and more of the risk culture inherent to start-ups. In all fairness, this was already instilled in the Portuguese culture: we sailed from Praça do Comércio and went all the way to the Americas and Brazil without a GPS; we hardly even had a compass.

“When starting a brand, you don’t know the path until you’ve walked it, so it’s really hard to strategise and anticipate what the challenges for the company will be. It is also hard to forecast trends because you don’t have a past history. One of my favourite quotes is actually from Erin Hanson: “What if I fall? Oh, but darling, what if you fly?” In fact, one of the challenges we are facing currently is that we have exhausted our production capabilities and cannot fulfil as many orders as we are now receiving due to high demand. We are in the process of coming up with our own production line that will resolve this, but it’s a difficult challenge as we now face scalability.

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“I actually don’t believe in work-life balance, I believe in work-life integration. I see things as a whole: it’s not my personal or my professional life, it’s just my life. One of the crucial elements for success, in any business is definitely self-awareness, being through meditation, which I do often, or through escapism like doing sports, or even hypnotherapy. Practising self-scrutiny is by far the best tool you can have. Seeing things from a holistic or an outside view is quite crucial. It is what really allows you to integrate your work and personal life – it becomes one. I have a huge passion for chess, it is by far one of my biggest passions, not because of the playing itself but because of the way I see chess. The analogies between chess and business are infinite. From anticipating the moves, understanding that every action has a consequence, because you can’t move your pieces backwards and one move will result in a billion more combinations possible, it’s the never-ending paths that can arise from small actions every day and that is a very important lesson in the business arena.”

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