Kolhapuri chappal is one of the well-known examples of Indian handicrafts famous world-wide. Kolhapuri chappal, according to historic records, were first worn as early as the 13th century and are still very popular (source : wikipedia). So, for a thing to survive so long, amongst all the competitors with advanced tools and added features like comfort, compatibility, etc. it should have some speciality or connection with its users. In this blog I will try to talk about this speciality from my perspective, the history and some interesting things about the kolhapuri chappals.
Kolhapuri chappals are handmade in kolhapur in the state of Maharashtra, hence the name kolhapuri. They are thin, lightweight and are made from processed leather. Mainly buffalo, goat or bull hides are used in the manufacturing of these chappals. This leather is processed and grazed. The grazing makes the chappals more sturdy and durable for daily use that it can withstand the wear and tear. As only natural colours are used for dyeing these chappals, it can be worn without fear of allergies. Another important feature of Kolhapuri chappals is that there is no iron nails used in them. Hand-stitched leather cords are used for straps and toe rings adding extra durability and support to the handicraft.
With time these chappals have evolved, taking into consideration the change in human needs and desires, the change in culture, the change in business model, etc. The designs
of these chappals have moved from the ethnic to ones with more utilitarian value and materials from primal hard materials to softer and more comfortable to wear materials. The designs are modified to suit the aesthetics and functionality demanded by today’s people. Also, earlier the artisans themselves designed ethnic patterns and sold, but today the traders and businessmen with demand for cheap products drive the requirement of minimalist designs.
So now, how did these tough locally produced footwear travel from the Maharashtrian villages to the rest of the country and the world? Official government documents award that distinction to the Saudagar family. It is known that in 1920, the Saudagars developed an indigenous design of the Kolhapuri chappal, which was thinner than the original design. This new design came with two-side flaps, which gave it the name “Kanwali” (the one with ears). The upper portion of the Kanwalis was also much elaborately decorated. The Saudagar family sent their new design to Bombay, where they were noticed by the prominent footwear retailer, J J and Sons. 20 pairs of the Kanwalis were ordered and soon sold off. J J and Sons also got an order from Calcutta, where the Kolhapuris became much more popular. This increase in demand for their new version of the humble Kolhapuri chappal prompted the Saudagars to teach the skill to others as well. And, that’s how the Kolhapuris story took off to a better start. With the Hippie movement in the 70s, the Kolhapuris travelled to the USA as well. Their popularity faded out in time, but similar designs are slowly making a comeback now as toe-ringed or t-strap sandals.
So, that’s all the big history behind Kolhapuri footwear.