Aiming to revive the legacy of the iconic Kolhapuri chappal, the Maharashtra State Khadi and Village Industries (MSKVI) Board is all set to give it an international makeover. The board has roped in Paris-based design professor and footwear designer Neona Skane to conduct workshops and train local artisans and chappal-makers.
The board is also taking the help of current and former businessmen and experts from other footwear giants such as Bata to conduct these workshops. The MSKVI Board is also planning to explore ways to take Maharashtra’s popular handcrafted Kolhapuri chappals to the international market.
“Observing that the Kolhapuri chappal market has been on a decline, we decided hold a workshop to identify the factors behind this. This was the first time we were successful in getting footwear industry representatives and chappal-makers face to face. There was an interaction where people gave their suggestions and it was decided that Kolhapuri chappal needs a facelift. We felt there was an urgent need to improve their aesthetics, comfort and aligning these products keeping in with the market trends. The aim through these workshops is to make Kolhapuris contemporary and receptive to Indian and international markets without losing their traditional and heritage value,” said Richa Bagla, CEO, MSKVI Board.
To start with, the board has got together traditional Kolhapuri chappal-makers and artisans and has tagged them under one brand name Kalatmak Kolhapuri to help consumers identify genuine heritage products. As part of these workshops, Skane is visiting houses of local artisans in the villages of Kolhapur and interacting with them, teaching them modern techniques and understanding factors behind the deceleration of their growth.
“Artisans who had lost hope are now showing interest in chappal-making once again. We were told that we are not just artisans, but artists and designers of India’s most iconic footwear under the brand name Kalatmak Kolhapuri,” said Prakash Satpute, a local artisan. The Kolhapuri chappals trade, a home-based cottage industry worth around Rs 9 crore according to local manufacturers, has been on the decline for many years now, mainly due to availability of the more colourful and cheaper copies of the leather slippers from northern parts of the country and neighbouring Karnataka. The closure of local leather tanneries violating green norms and the disinterested new generation further took a toll on the industry.
The Kolhapuri chappals are handmade and the tradition of making it has been passed on to the younger generation for long. “Better tools, techniques and raw material will boost production and quality, while an international standard of branding will attract youngsters,” R A Buchade, District Gramodyog Officer, Kolhapur.
There are around 10,000 artisans in Kolhapur working at 100-odd units. Around 3,500 families are involved in chappal-making. Bagla added: “We are trying to upgrade the skills of these traditional artisans so that they can come up with designs to be launched in open market in India as well as internationally. For this, we are involving resource persons, including Skane, the former sourcing head of an international footwear giant and Paris-based shoe design professor.”
Under its first workshop conducted in August-September, the board trained 35 artisans and is planning to rope in more during the next series of workshops to be held in December. “By improvement in traditional Kolhapuri, we mean better and comfortable soles, finesse. These chappals which are mostly flat-soled can have pencil heels, wedges for women, colours for youth, different variety for men and even for children. The artisans will be trained in new techniques, patterns, and industry trend.” said Bagla. The MSKVI is focusing on the project with an aim to tap international markets including the European countries where handcrafted products are in demand.
‘Nakshatra’ Collection Soon
If everything works as planned, the new and improved range of traditional Kolhapuri chappals — the ‘Nakshatra’ collection — will hit the footwear stores and malls across the state soon. The MSKVI Board is looking at various marketing channels like e-marketing, malls, exhibitions and even exports. The board officials are already in talks with footwear showrooms to display Kolhapuri chappals at their outlets. “The idea is to get authentic, original Kolhapuri to people. Earlier, we did not have an organised market for Kolhapuri chappals outside Kolhapur. However, we are now exploring different marketing channels to make Kolhapuri easily available to consumers, with variety of designs and improved quality under Kalatmak Kolhapuri initiative,” said Richa Bagla, CEO, MSKVI Board.