Beauty and grit – from Lahore with love

Waqas Ali keeps telling me that he sleeps.  I’m not sure I believe him.

The last time I saw him was in late June in a coffee shop in Lahore.  We sat down at midnight, and it was clear that his day was just getting started. The Ghana-Germany World Cup game was being projected on a 15 foot screen in the background, but there’s no risk in being distracted when Waqas starts talking.  His energy is infectious.

Waqas and I first met two years ago. He was the young, quiet, skinny kid in a group of six applicants that were part of the final selection for the Acumen Pakistan Fellows.

Well, quiet until he started talking…

We asked each applicant to tell their story and share how they’d heard about Acumen and the Fellowship. Waqas, who is from a humble background, and who seemed a bit shy until he got going, told us that he wasn’t doing well in college but he did spend a lot of time in the library. He ended up making his way to a corner of the library where there were old copies of the Harvard Business Review, which he started pouring over every day, and he eventually found his way to Seth Godin’s blog and to Acumen. He told us about his dreams, interspersing bits about bringing dignity and opportunity back to his village and talking about what he felt he had to learn from Mark Zuckerberg. I remember thinking that he was either a crazy dreamer or that he was going to change the world.

Fast forward two years and I know now that Waqas is much much more than a dreamer. I’m one of many people who has had the chance to watch Waqas and his partner Sidra push through barrier after barrier in their crazy, beautiful dream to build a global-quality, ultra-premium shoe company using the skills of local Pakistani craftsmen. I’ve had just a tiny glimpse of the challenges they have had to overcome, and it’s been a long long road just to get to today.

As Waqas has told me many times before, there’s just nothing harder to get right than shoes. Sizes, leather, tanning, fitting, craftsmanship, brand, shipping…..  They’re getting it right, and then some.

Yesterday Waqas and Sidra’s company, Markhor, launched their Kickstarter campaign. In 22 hours they hit their $15,000 goal. I have a feeling the momentum is just starting to build.

I got my hands on a pair of Markor’s new shoes earlier this week. These are some of the most beautiful shoes I’ve ever seen. I don’t have much of a shoe vocabulary but “buttery” comes to mind when describing the quality of the leather and “immaculate” is how the whole shoe feels. They are exactly as beautiful as these pictures.

Markhor shoes

Of course there’s a lot more to this story than beautiful shoes. There are the artisans who Waqas and his team patiently invest in – not just working with them and providing them with the potential for a brighter future but treating them as family, and helping them through personal hardships. There’s a story of bootstrapping entrepreneurship in its truest, most raw farm. There’s a different story coming out of Pakistan. And there’s the chance to get in early on something that’s going to be big – like if you’d bought some of the first pairs of Tom’s shoes before everyone else was doing it.  Unique gifts are hard to find these days, and this is one of them.

Check out the Markhor Kickstarter campaign to get your hands on a pair of very special shoes, and to be part of a very special story.

Markhor shoes_video

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