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Tuesday, Aug 26, 2003

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Kolhapuri footwear makes big strides in Europe

Sudha Menon

Pune , Aug. 25

INDIAN fashion designers barring a few are still struggling to find a foothold in the European markets but the humble Kolhapuri chappal in a new avatar created by all woman group of entrepreneurs from Karnataka is the reigning fashion statement in this highly discerning market.

Branded ToeHold, this Kolhapuri couture is all about adding style and pizzazz to its traditionally rustic ruggedness. The nouveau Kolhapuri lines being designed by over 200 people under the banner of ToeHold Artisans Collaborative, Athani, a tiny village 600 km from Bangalore, come embellished with raw silk, Swarovski crystals, intricate embroidery, beads, braids, pleats and flounces. And they are being sported by the bold and the beautiful in Italy, Australia, Japan and even the highly-style conscious market of Sweden.

So is this one `Made In India' brand that has proved successful in Europe? The answer seems to be a resounding yes if one considers the fact that the group exported Kolhapuri footwear worth $60,000 to Europe in the fiscal ended March 2003 and has now set its sights on the $100,000-mark for the current fiscal.

ToeHold is the result of a collaborative alliance between the Central Leather Research Institute (CLRI), the National Leather Development Programme (NLDP) and the Asian Centre for Entrepreneurial Initiatives (Ascent), a not-for-profit social enterprise seeking to foster entrepreneurship.

The project began with the three parties developing local self-help groups of women from Athani, a village in which traditional artisans skilled in making this distinctive footwear live. While the making of the footwear is traditionally a family affair with the men doing the outer soles and the women doing the inner soles and embellishments, the women of this village have formed a unique company of their own to sell the product.

"While almost everybody knows of the Kolhapuri chappal, we wanted to give the product a distinct identity which would appeal to the discerning all over the world," says Mr K. Raghu of Ascent, who works with the groups to grow the business. "What keeps us in business in Europe is the fact that every year we innovate and unveil at least 40-50 new products with help from CLRI and also keep a tight grip on quality of this all-natural product," he adds.

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