Athani To Duesseldorf: Kolhapuris Go Global

Chennai, Sept 21: | Updated: Sep 22 2003, 05:30am hrs
In the GDS international shoe fair in Duesseldorf, Germany the most important footwear fair in the world there has been a new addition since 1999. It is the humble Kolhapuri chappals handcrafted by the rural artisans of Athani, in Belgaum, Karnataka.

The journey of unorganised and commercially-exploited artisans from Athani to Duesseldorf has been made possible by the synergistic efforts of the Central Leather Research Institute (CLRI), the financial backing of the National Leather Development Programme (NLDP) and the organisational skill of ASCENT (Asian Centre for Entrepreneurial Initiatives), a non-governmental organisations. In 1999, the Kolhapuris had attracted the attention of the Germans, the Japanese and the Americans. They found these footwear to be the best for indoor use.

Now the Kolhapuris have become a major item of export. In 2002, exports fetched $27,000. We expect a minimum of 25 per cent annual growth, Mr BN Das, from the Shoe Design Centre of CLRI, told FE.

He said that the Japanese and the Australians have been supplying new designs. They have even suggested new materials like fabrics for the embellishment in different colours. Piloted by ASCENT, the ethnic Kolhapuri Couture is on show along with 44 major Indian companies at GDS which began on September 19.

According to ASCENT, Kolhapuri Couture the nouveau adaptation of the Kolhapuri, the traditional handcrafted footwear, emphasising ethnicity and the natural finish is the product of labour of an entire family. Four such families spent a week in August in CLRI where new design collections were developed for the Spring/Summer 2004 season. These designs are being showcased at GDS.

The attraction of the latest collections is the use of sporty, metallic colours. The traditional kapsi designs are given a touch of metal. For indoors, slides using fabrics have been developed. Velvet and cotton are used as upper materials. Some have woven mat uppers.

The Athani artisans operate under Toehold self help groups. Each of the SHG, a saving and credit affinity group of 15-20 women, is considered to be a tiny company. The plan is to promote a big company to take care of the marketing and development activities.

The company will operate on a profit sharing formula: 40 per cent of the net profit will go the company, another 40 per cent of the artisan family which made the chappals and the balance 20 per cent to the SHGs.