Covid-19 puts brakes on Kolhapuri chappal’s march in the market

Radheshyam Jadhav Pune | Updated on November 10, 2020

This handmade footwear is made of tanned vegetable leather produced using traditional techniques and tools

The Kolhapuri chappal (footwear) industry dating back to the 12th century has been putting all efforts to catch up with the market trends and cater to the international market, but Covid-19 ensued lockdown has posed a major challenge before manufacturers and artisans.

“This is a vibrant industry, which has experimented with its products. Recently, we have been trying to bring Kolhapur shoes in the market. We are confident that the product will find a place in the international market,” said Bhupal Shete, a prominent manufacturer in Kolhapur. He added that the shoe experiment is still on paper due to lack of financial support from the government. Shete added that Kolhapuri chappal has a brand value and needs marketing in the international market. He is not sure how long the industry will take to bounce back from the setback of the last few months, but adds that nothing will deter artisans from working on new designs.

In the past, Kolhapur artisans have introduced various new designs for its chappals, while modifying the traditional chappals. Kolhapuri chappals are renowned for their aesthetic, pleasing looks, and for the decorative, woven pattern fixed over the upper bands of these chappals. This handmade footwear is made of tanned vegetable leather produced using traditional techniques and tools. Though traditional designs have thong-like straps with a toe strap for further strength, the artisans now produce different variants of these designs, while introducing new colours.

Recently, Union Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal said that export of Kolhapuri chappals could fetch ₹7,500 crore. He said there’s a need for “innovative ideas”. For instance, firms that manufacture the Kolhapuri chappals could enter into agreements with five-star hotels whereby these footwear could be kept in the almirah of the guestrooms. Customers could then try these out and buy them, should they like it.

Long road to success

Notwithstanding Goyal’s optimise, exports of Kolhapuri chappals have been negligible. The annual turnover of the industry in Kolhapur (except exports) is about ₹300 crore. But about 200 manufacturers in the district and over 15,000 artisans have suffered heavily during the lockdown.

“In the last nine months, the industry has been completely down. There is no demand for chappals in the market. Kolhapur is a tourist destination and also a pilgrimage place where lakhs of devotees come to visit the Mahalaxmi temple. But since the lockdown, there are no tourists and no business,” says Subhash Satpute, a manufacturer.

Analyst Uday Kulkarni says that tanning units in the city were closed following the ban on slaughter of cows, bulls, and oxen in 2015. Manufacturers are now dependent on hide coming from other States.

The industry was once flourishing and provided employment to lakhs of people and blooming business attracted a new generation. “The picture has changed in the last few years. Now, the Kolhapur chappal industry will survive only if the government comes out with concrete support,” said Kulkarni.

Published on November 10, 2020

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