From the life of a successful lawyer at a respected law firm to that of a shoe peddler.
This is not the premise of a work of fiction, it’s been the path of Davis-born Michael Paratore. This is also not a twist on a rags-to-riches story; it’s the tale of a man embracing a lifelong passion.
Paratore, 32, who grew up in Davis and graduated from Davis High in 1999, abandoned his position as a corporate lawyer about two years ago to launch mohinders, a company that sells shoes sourced straight from India.
“It has been pretty amazing, but sort of like a roller-coaster at times,” he said. “I’ve been working on this by myself, for the most part. And when you’re by yourself in a field that you have no experience in, there’s certainly going to be ups and downs.”
Still, he considers it an upgrade from his previous life as a lawyer, wherein he had little opportunity to get outside his stuffy office and explore different places and cultures. This has been a passion of his for years.
“My first trip out of the country was with one of my best friends, who was also from Davis,” Paratore said. “His father was Scottish, so they traveled to a little town outside London. I stayed there for two or three weeks.
“I think it was ever since that trip that I’ve had this obsessed with traveling, going abroad and seeing different cultures.”
This early interest led him to living and working in Italy after he completed his undergrad education at UCLA in 2004. There, he journeyed across Europe on a Ducati Motorcycle to promote the bike as part of a marketing gig.
But he decided to return America for a more situated job two years later, and enrolled in law school at UC Berkeley. Upon graduating, the international law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe offered him a position in its San Francisco office, which he took.
During his time as a lawyer, he presented burgeoning startups with legal and business advice relating to incorporation, note and equity financing and day-to-day operations.
“But I had a history of doing more creative stuff,” admitted Paratore, who had also in an earlier occupation filmed travel-themed videos that were sold to Current TV. “Being a lawyer was a big change for me.
“I mean, having an office at the law firm was great, but there wasn’t a whole lot of human interaction. I would talk to my legal secretary a lot, just because there was no one else around.”
The impetus for another career change was a pair of leather slip-ons that he purchased from a street-side shop on a trip with his wife to Mumbai, India. Paratore was inspired by the craftsmanship, and wanted to find a way of introducing it to more people.
An advance notice to his boss and a flight ticket later, Paratore was back in Mumbai, on a search for where the shoes were produced. He said he stumbled across a shoe-crafting cooperative in a village in northwestern Karnataka, which he believed he could source the hand-crafted and woven leather in sufficient quantities to start a business.
The company that emerged, mohinders, advertises shoes of hand-made leather. The entrepreneur buys the material from Indian craftsmen and women who have been tanning leather for several generations.
Many have converted their front yards into mini-tanneries, Paratore explained, replete with stone pits in which the artisans dip buffalo hides as part of their 40-day tanning process.
“I have a lot of contact with the artisans, as I’ve visited them three or four times,” he added. “Nobody speaks English very well, so I can’t have extensive conversations, but I do sit down, watch and communicate with them as well as I can.”
All the shoes are made abroad, but Paratore said he hopes to learn the trade to some degree himself. However, it has been a learning experience enough just planning out the venture and its associated crowdsourcing inception.
Paratore has launched a Kickstarter campaign to finance the infrastructure required to bring these shoes to customers in America. He’s offering rewards for contributions. More information can be found at http://bit.ly/mohinders.
Within three days of the fundraising effort beginning, the $15,000 benchmark Paratore set had already been surpassed by donors. The achievement is validation for this former lawyer, and the risk he took for an inspiring pair of shoes.
“Most important about it is that it’s a great product,” Paratore said. “That should be a drive for a lot of people. When you look beneath the surface, you also see a company that is good — that sources right.”
— Reach Brett Johnson at [email protected] or 530-747-8052. Follow him on Twitter at @ReporterBrett