Several Bollywood actors sport Kolhapuri chappals. (Image: DC)
The entire world took note of India’s finest craftsmanship that goes into the making of the famous Kolhapuri Chappal at the recent G-20 Summit in Delhi. The legendary handcrafted Kolhapuri chappal was the star attraction at the Crafts Bazaar. So much so that many world leaders and foreign ambassadors found their perfect ‘sole mate’ in them. Little wonder that big steps are being taken by the government to turn this legendary footwear into a global fashion icon.
For those who are unaware, India is the world’s second-largest producer and consumer of footwear. We are also one of the fifth largest exporters of leather goods in the world. India accounts for approximately 13% of global leather production of hides and skins. The leather industry in India provides employment to approximately 4.80 million people. Nearly half of the workforce are women. Hence, India’s leather industry has great potential and a big role to play on the world stage.
From actor Nana Patekar to Gen-Z heartthrob Alia Bhat and Deepika Padukone, from Rahul Gandhi to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, not to forget super sexy Naomi Campbell and Milind Soman, the rugged Kolhapuri chappal has been their ‘perfect sole mate’ in good times and in bad times! The enduring appeal of Kolhapuri chappal has earned them the prestigious Geographical Indication (GI) tag, officially recognised by the Controller General of Patents, Designs, and Trademarks. This GI tag signifies their unique connection to a vast region that spans Maharashtra and Karnataka, covering four districts in each state.
However, the pandemic and dwindling workforce of skilled Kolhapuri chappal makers have been a big challenge. Anurag Kokitkar, who has been at the helm of Akirn Global Private Limited (aka Paytaan) for 13 years underscores the difference between authentic Kolhapuri chappals and those available in the market. Anurag blames industrialization for the influx of subpar Kolhapuris in the market. "The lack of awareness among consumers regarding genuine leather used in these chappals since their inception leads consumers to opt for cheaper alternatives," he says. Anurag stresses the importance of using high-quality leather and time for the tanning process. "Shortcuts compromise the chappal’s quality," he says. His handcrafted chappals are exported to the US, Australia, and the Middle East.
Annually nearly six million Kolhapuri chappals are manufactured in Kolhapur region. Out of these, only 5% to 8% chappals are handcrafted and authentic. Anurag’s company manufactures 12,000 to 15,000 pairs annually and exports approximately 25% of it to 17 different countries.
Rajesh Kshirsagar, a Shiv Sena MLA from the Eknath Shinde faction says, "There are several initiatives in the pipeline, sponsoring start-ups dealing in Kolhapuri chappal manufacturing. We are also planning to ink partnerships between Kolhapuri chappal makers and international brands to keep up with the changing trends and styles, Kshirsagar feels there is a need to rope in international designers to give the chappals a modern look and feel. "The aim is to help aspiring entrepreneurs and artisans and expand the market for Kolhapuri chappal and leather products," he adds.
Bhushan Kamble, who runs Vahaan, a company specializing in Kolhapuri Chappals in Mumbai says a lot of footwear artisans lost their livelihoods during the pandemic. "Many switched to alternative livelihoods," he says. He also emphasizes the need for promotion to boost global demand for Kolhapuri chappals. It is imperative to ensure that artisans receive fair compensation for their work, and their exceptional skills are valued. "This is vital to preserve the essence and significance of Kolhapuri chappals in both the national and international markets," he says.
Piyush Goyal, Minister of Commerce & Industry, Consumer Affairs & Food & Public Distribution and Textiles also recently stressed the need to make the Kolhapuris go global. "If we can get Kolhapuri chappals into the branded ecosystem, sky is the limit for the potential that it holds," Goyal tweeted on his official Twitter (now X) account. The much-needed fillip can be given by promoting these handcrafted chappals at hotels and other locations.
The Kolhapuri chappal is renowned for its rugged style and beauty to blend with modern fashion trends. Originally, they were worn by the kings of Kolhapur in the 12th century. Apparently, King Bijjala and his prime minister Basavanna encouraged its manufacturing to support and enhance the skills of local cobblers. The intricate craftsmanship begins with the careful selection of fine leather, tanning, curing, colouring, cutting, and design punching, and then the famous braids and tassels. It takes approximately four to six weeks to make a handcrafted pair of Kolhapuri chappals. The chappals are primarily manufactured in Kolhapur, but because of migrating labour, they are also made in Kagal, Satara, Sangli, Miraj, Hatkangale, Nippani, Belgavi and villages along the Karnataka border.
Crazy for Kolhapuris
Several celebs and politicians swear by the comfort and style statement of the Kolhapuri chappal – Nana Patekar, Jakie Shroff, Alia Bhat, Deepika Padukone, Kareena Kapoor, Rahul Gandhi, Nitin Gadkari, Sharad Pawar, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Naomi Campbell, Milind Soman, Janhvi Kapoor, Kiara Advani to name a few.
India’s Leather OUTLook
The Indian leather industry employs approx. 4.80 million people
40% of the workforce in the leather industry are women
India is one of the 5th largest exporters of leather goods
India is the world’s 2nd largest producer and consumer of footwear
India accounts for 14% of global leather production of hides & skins.
"If we can get Kolhapuri chappals into the branded ecosystem, then the sky is the limit for the potential that it holds." — Piyush Goyal, Minister of Commerce & Industry, Consumer Affairs & Food & Public Distribution and Textiles.
The lack of awareness among consumers regarding genuine leather used in these chappals since their inception leads consumers to opt for cheaper alternatives. Shortcuts compromise the chappal’s quality." — Anurag Kokitkar, owner Paytaan.
6 million Kolhapuri chappals are annually manufactured in Kolhapur 05%-08%
Kolhapuri chappals are genuine and handcrafted Kolhapuris have the prestigious Geographical Indication (GI) tag , They are mainly made in Kolhapur, Satara, Sangli, Miraj, Hatkangale, Nippani, Belgavi, and villages along the Karnataka border