Virola International, an Indian company that has become one of the country's major exporters of high-quality leather shoes, is setting up an office in Germany to better coordinate with major European clients and to service smaller ones. At the same time, the company is developing its own branded collections for the emerging medium segment of the Indian shoe market.

The new German office of Virola, which should become operational in August, is going to be led by Krimhilde Schidlauske, a former buyer with the Otto group who has worked with the Indian company for 21 years. She has gone back to her native country after spending six years in India, where she helped to create the software for a more advanced IT apparatus at Virola.

Schidlauske has been working on this project closely with Ishaan Sachdeva, son of one of the two brothers who run Virola. Ishaan Sachdeva, who is 26 years old, is now leading the roll-out of a three-year-old house brand, Alberto Torresi, in the domestic market and a few others.

Operating out of Agra, Virola reached a total turnover of about 1.8 billion rupees (€23.3m-$31.0m) in the financial year ended last March, with increases of about 40 percent in export markets and more than 50 percent at home.  The company's annual deliveries to foreign customers have nearly doubled to more than two million pairs over the past five to six years, with about 1.5 million pairs going to European clients. Virola counts a total of 185 clients around the world including Dockers, Kaufhof, Scapino or Skechers, but also between 30 and 40 small shops that are looking for high margins.

On the other hand, Virola's sales in India have increased in the last three years from almost zero to an annual level of about 350,000 pairs, in tune with the strong development of the Indian economy. Only a few other Indian OEM producers for foreign customers have developed a domestic business to a similar extent.

More than 100,000 pairs produced by Virola will be sold this year through some 400 Indian stores and some online shops under the Italian-sounding Alberto Torresi brand name. First launched in October 2010, it got an award last year as “best emerging brand” from India in the footwear sector. Two other satellite collections – Stressless by Alberto Torresi and AT Studio – have since been launched and are now sold in about 90 and 50 stores in India, respectively.

Developed with the help of a German technician, Stressless by Alberto Torresi is basically a line of highly comfortable shoes with a fashion twist, and it has been picked up by some retailers, agents and distributors in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, the U.K., Ireland and Hong Kong. It will be shown at a dedicated booth at the Expo Riva Shuh show starting next Saturday, separately from Virola's main booth, which is always heavily attended. AT Studio is a more aggressive line with a younger target. It is competitively priced and sold mostly in India.

Meanwhile, Virola continues to make investments to expand its production and to improve the quality of its leather shoes. It will start importing soles from Italy for some of its lines, for example. Faced with a relative shortage of labor in the Agra region, the company recently started up a new factory to manufacture uppers 40 kilometers away with a daily manufacturing capacity of 17,500 pairs for men's shoes and 11,500 pairs for women's shoes. The investment is expected to speed up delivery times by about three weeks.