How Nappa Dori wows Naomi Watts and Eva Longoria

Gautam Sinha is taking Indian craftsmanship to a global audience while building a loyal domestic clientele with Nappa Dori

Published: May 28, 2016 06:03:25 AM IST
Updated: May 30, 2016 05:47:33 PM IST
How Nappa Dori wows Naomi Watts and Eva Longoria
Image: Madhu Kapparath
Gautam Sinha, proprietor of Nappa Dori, is a purist at heart

Tucked into one of the narrow bylanes of the historic Hauz Khas Village in New Delhi stands a store that many mistake to be Italian, or Japanese. It exudes an ambience of nostalgia and fine craftsmanship—leather goods and accessories with vintage black-and-white prints and contemporary designs—while muted detailing lines its walls and shelves.

Six years ago, Gautam Sinha, 36, set up his store, Nappa Dori, in this bylane to create an identity for himself, instead of continuing to hand over his designs to someone else. ‘Nappa’ is a word for soft leather that has Spanish and Native American roots while ‘dori’ means thread in Hindi, the two essential components of Sinha’s products. With these, not only has he stitched together a brand that is comparable with big names such as Hidesign and Fossil where quality is concerned, but has also brought Indian aesthetics to a global product range.

Today, Sinha can boast two more outlets (at Mehar Chand Market and Select Citywalk mall in New Delhi), exports to the US, France, the UK, Japan, Finland, Germany and Singapore, and provides in-room leather accessories for hotels such as The Westin Gurgaon and Fairmont, Hilton and Burj-Al Arab (all in Dubai). His famous clients include filmmaker Mira Nair, actors Sonam Kapoor, Jacqueline Fernandez and Nimrat Kaur, and Hollywood biggies Naomi Watts and Eva Longoria.

Sinha’s journey into the global market for fine leather goods began in Delhi, where he was brought up by a single mother, and where, as an aspiring designer, he did not have the money to apply to either the Rhode Island School of Design, or the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York; so he settled for what he could—studying fashion designing at the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) in New Delhi.

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Nappa Dori’s flagship store in Select Citywalk mall, New Delhi, offers a wide range of products, including bags and accessories

After “going through the motions” at NIFT, Sinha discovered his love for working with materials and manipulating them to his will in his first job with an exporter, making Christmas ornaments of glass beads and copper wires. This was also where he learnt the ropes of running a business, and designing goods with the objective of selling them.  

“Leather came to me,” he says, remembering a chance order he bagged to replicate designs of leather belts for a Scandinavian buyer in 2004. Having never worked with leather before, he didn’t have the slightest idea about the material. But not wanting to let go off the opportunity, he travelled to Kanpur, a hub of leather tanning and manufacture, roped in the master craftsman of a prominent leather exporter, and executed the order. The process of discovering this new material made him create a few designs of his own, and soon he was also designing for the same Scandinavian client.

This marked the beginning of his love affair with leather, and the establishment of his first formal enterprise, Definite Design. “Leather is a fabulously versatile material to work with. It is one of the oldest materials used by man and has withstood the test of time in terms of its usability in different forms through generations,” he says. The lack of any kind of guidance proved to be a blessing in disguise; it was all about sitting down with the craftsmen and learning together. “The fact that there was no one to teach me made me fearless,” he says.

How Nappa Dori wows Naomi Watts and Eva Longoria
A DSLR camera case made of genuine leather