India – History and Society – for those who wish to think and learn for themselves
Kolhapuri chappals (slippers) are a common sight in India. They were especially the rage in the 1980s and 1990s, where every college student seemed to wish to wear a pair.
Kolhapuri footwear until a few years ago used to have a distinct range of designs as well as a few a few distinct shades of brown, from a light tan to deeper reddish browns. However, with modern demands, more bright shades of a range of colours have appeared. These new colours are perhaps not to the taste of the more traditionally minded.
Although named after the town of Kolhapur (population half a million) towards the southern part of the state of Maharashtra (capital Mumbai), the footwear actually originates in villages a few miles away in the neighbouring state of Karnataka. The villages involved in this handicraft include Athani and Ainapur. It is thought that the footwear has been made by these villages since the mid-eighteenth century. Leather from buffalo, cow and goat hides is typically used for different parts of the footwear. The hides are treated using traditional techniques to ensure durability. This includes the use of acacia and hirada barks. Colours are derived from vegetable dyes.
Unfortunately in recent years, the rising price of leather, the demand for leather from overseas and cheap imitations from other parts of India using non-traditional techniques have made this traditional village industry suffer significantly. Several workshops have closed as economic pressures have mounted. The government of Maharashtra has made some efforts to support the craftsmen but it is still an uphill struggle for survival.
Please use this link on the Indian Ministry’s parampara website to read more:
Image courtesy of Prashant – Wikimedia Commons