DUBAI: Equality and symmetry find a firm footing in the design ethos of ONE432, a sustainable shoe brand based in the US, Pakistan and the UAE. The brand sells hand-sewn juttis — a traditional footwear style from Pakistan and India that dates back more than 400 years — and empowers its artisans by giving them a share of profits from each product sold on top of their wages.
Founded by Ammar Belal, a professor at the prestigious Parsons School of Design in New York, ONE432 follows an ‘equal share design’ philosophy that makes local craftsmen shareholders in the product’s success. A part of the brand’s earnings also contribute to sponsoring children's education in Pakistan.
“Most craftspeople in Pakistan have little or no formal education, which is a barrier to their social and financial mobility. They have valuable skills but very little influence in the global fashion industry,” Belal tells Arab News. “This is exactly what we are trying to dismantle by choosing a different business model that ensures that the makers are uplifted in a meaningful way along with the success of the company they work with. We keep only 50 percent of our profit and share the remaining with our artisans and the schools that we support.”
ONE432 was born out of Belal’s graduate thesis collection at Parsons’ MFA Fashion programme. The brand’s debut collection was presented at New York Fashion Week in 2014, after which Belal was immediately recruited to teach at the school.
The designer spent three years refashioning the jutti — ornate footwear once popular among royals during the Mughal Empire — to give it a contemporary, comfortable and sustainable look. Each pair of shoes is hand-crafted and takes at least eight hours to make. During the COVID-19 pandemic, as shoe sales dipped, the company has diversified and trained its artisans to stitch hoodies and T-shirts.
Besides its online store, the brand has a presence in several US retail outlets, and Belal says he is in discussions with a number of other American stores and “a few” in Dubai.
The brand is currently supporting three schools in rural areas in Pakistan, enrolling underprivileged children. “Each product is linked to a specific education-related goal, from sponsoring tuition fees to building new classrooms. We try to meet the most pressing needs of the school,” says Belal. “To date we have shared over $16,000 from our profits with our schools and artisans.”
Belal hopes ONE432 might prove a blueprint for more equality and sustainability in the fashion industry. “The brand was born from a place of empathy,” he says. “My graduate programme gave me an opportunity to pause and reflect on what it meant for me to be an artist and what my contribution would be. I did not want to make another set of really pretty clothes just for the sake of it. I wanted to explore and confront this behemoth of a machine that is the fashion industry and how it incorporates or disenfranchises different stakeholders based on who they are.”
In keeping with the brand’s goals, it sources its material responsibly. “Our denim is upcycled from panels that are thrown away after the colour testing process from factories. The cotton is recycled and woven on a handloom, then coloured with vegetable dyes. The embroidery is all done by hand,” says Belal.
The juttis are crafted by a team of seven artisans based in Pakistan. The fourth-generation master craftsmen also mentor young apprentices, including women, to keep the traditional shoemaking method alive.
“Traditionally, women were excluded from cobbling, but we are changing that paradigm by employing women in managerial positions who help create a working environment in which other women also feel comfortable and safe,” says Belal.