In an effort to revive the dying legacy of traditional Kolhapuri chappal makers, the state government will now conduct a research on the industry and also start the process of obtaining a patent. The Maharashtra state Khadi and Village Industries board is also planning to explore the online market to take Maharashtra’s most iconic brand — the handcrafted Kolhapuri chappals — to global buyers.
The state conducted a workshop for artisans and those producing Kolhapuri chappals for the first time on May 5 to understand the problems faced by them. State minister for industries Subhash Desai told The Indian Express that getting a patent will elevate the brand value of the industry. “It is time the chappal makers and artisans need to adopt new technology. There is a need to take this art to the next level, need to make the chappals more soft to attract more buyers. It is sad to see that the chappal makers have been struggling to keep the industry alive for the past few years. We would do anything and everything to help them and the first move would be to get a patent. A research, on chappal making and how it can be taken ahead, would be conducted by Shivaji University Kolhapur,” he said.
The idea to hold a workshop was mooted by Maharashtra state Khadi and Village Industries board chairman Vishal Chordia. “The state government is looking at reviving local and home- based businesses, and we decided to start with Kolhapuri chappals. This was the first time where artisans could directly interact with industry representatives. In this manner, we got to know problems faced by the artisans and they, in turn, found out about customers’ expectations from the product and demand,” he said.
Kolhapuri chappals, a home-based cottage industry, worth around Rs 9 crore according to local manufacturers, has been on the decline for years, due to the colourful copy from the North and Karnataka, the closure of local leather tanneries violating green norms and lack of interest in the product among the younger generation of buyers.
The tradition of making Kolhapuri chappals is passed down through generations. Since the state government banned the slaughter of cow progeny extending to bulls and bullocks in 2015, the traditional industry has seen a dip by 50-60 per cent, owing to the decline in the supply of good leather. “As we are racing against time, facing shortage of leather, we also face another problem — the fake Kolhapuri market. It is a much bigger problem. We are the last generation of Kolhapuri chappal makers. Our sons do not want to join us. They feel that Kolhapuri chappals are out of fashion and nobody wants to buy them. Hence, there is no future,” said Prakash Lokare (52), one of the artisans.
The bulk of the leather used for the slippers comes from tanneries in Tamil Nadu, following the closure of local tanneries. Still, until 2015, hides sourced from Kolhapur formed around 15% to 20% of the market, manufacturers claim.
The beef ban led to the reduction in supply, which in turn, pushed up prices. “We have had almost 50-60 per cent drop in business since 2015. With no bullock hides in the market, the price of buffalo leather has shot up from Rs 110 a kg last year to almost Rs 280 to Rs 300,” said Lokare “We were able to make between 3,000-4,000 pairs of chappals every month till 2014-15. The number dropped to 2,000 pairs in 2016 and is reducing even further this year,” said Arun Satpute, one of the major manufacturers in Kolhapur.
There are close to 10,000 artisans in Kolhapur working at 100 odd units. Around 3,500 families are involved in the chappal-making business.
The profit margins for Lokare and Satpute’s workshop have shrunk from 40 per cent and 35 per cent a month to just 10-15 per cent, the two claim. Besides running his own outfit, Satpute is also a member of the Kolhapur Charmadyog Audyogik Samooh.
Recently, MP Dhananjay Mahadik raised the patent issue in the Parliament when the Footwear Design and Development Institute Bill 2017 was under discussion in April. The chappal makers claim that patenting will help in brand placement across the globe, especially since the makers provide good quality leather at a nominal cost.
Another chappal manufacturer, Raghunath Satpute, confesses that they are confronting a dying a legacy. He said, “The leather supplied to us is chemically processed and of poor quality. The neighbouring Karnataka, which also traditionally makes chappals, is far ahead. Our businesses would shut down soon. Getting the Kolhapuri chappal design patented might bail us out and also attract the new generation to join us again.”