Handcrafted shoemaking loses shine to machine substitutes - China Leather Web
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Handcrafted shoemaking loses shine to machine substitutes
2018/1/10 16:42:41 Source: thenews.com.pk Author: 点击率:

Famous for housing a large population of scions of Indian migrants, three centuries old Pakka Qila in Hyderabad is gradually losing its lustre as a country’s hub of handmade shoemaking on influx of low-cost, machine-made Chinese and other footwear.

Once having swarmed with over 500 shoemaking units, the historical place has now 200 small-scale factories housed in shabby and odd buildings.

“We have big names like Iqbal Ladlay, Tashee, Naeem Choice and Kashkar and many of them either wrapped up or were relocated to other areas,” a shoe artisan-turn-driver said while leading this scribe through a narrow street lane to seasoned footwear makers.

“I quit after 10 years spending in the profession or so as I couldn’t earn enough to make both ends meet,” he said in a plain tone.

Various estimates said 60 to 70 units have been closed in the recent past.

“Now, consumers have cheap and good-looking alternatives churned out in bulk with machine assistance,” a veteran worker Muhammad Akram at a longstanding shoemaker Kashkar said, while dexterously moving hands on a sewing machine.

Kashkar still depends on humans to perform much of the craftsmanship. Ironically, it is not out of realisation that handmade global shoe market is worth billions of dollars, but because they don’t have means to deploy machinery.

“We have to compete with new arrivals,” Akram quipped. “Nobody is going to pay more cost when he has cheap substitutes.”

Kashkar produces up to 1,200 shoes in a month with up to 15 workers to meet peak demand in winter. An average six to eight hours of power outage is not affecting the production, manifesting their heavy reliance on handiwork. A pair costs Rs800 to Rs900, which is easily sold on double the cost or more in retail.

Hundreds of women in the vicinity are involved in the occupation, manually sewing upper portion of a pair.

An average daily wage is between Rs500 to Rs1,000 for eight working hours, while some workers earn up to Rs2,000 in a day.

Usually, they use leather as well as rexine to manufacture shoes. To cut cost, they use scrapped leather of BMW, Ferrari and other high-end passenger vehicles, imported from Italy and other countries.

“Some cut-pieces bear stickers to reflect their belongings to foreign brands,” a leather cutter Saleem Sheikh said, showing one sticker and while finely cutting a piece on motif.

Other popular leathers include Burnish, Aniline leather and leather from Morocco, Italy and Japan.

“But, we can’t afford them or Pakistani leather as they are expensive” Sheikh said.

Besides leather or rexine, there is a number of accessories and chemical used in shoemaking and most of them are brought from Punjab, which has a thriving shoemaking industry in Pakistan.

Industry officials said the footwear is supplied to interior Sindh and Karachi and nobody is directly involved in exports.

The officials said the government should give subsidies to the industry or at least contain cost of inputs, including glues, to increase footwear exports from the existing $95 million – 0.5 percent of the country’s total $20 billion exports a year. Between early and mid 90’s, there was a huge demand of Pakistani handcrafted shoes in central Asians states.

“If government keeps us neglected this industry will collapse much like carpet and chori (bangle) making industries of Hyderabad,” the leather connoisseur with 20 years of working experience said.

There is no industry’s association to get their issues resolved and build up their weak marketing links.

Mukhtiar Baig, a senior industry official said small-scale shoemakers don’t have voice from a platform of their own.

“Things were moving on right track a couple of years ago when SMEDA (Small and Medium Enterprises Development Authority) set up a training centre to upgrade skills of artisans in line with modern technology,” Baig said, harking back to a much-touted opening of Hyderabad Leather Footwear Centre five years ago. “But, there is now nothing on ground,” he added.

In Hyderabad, shoemakers are concentrated in Latifabad No. 2, Panjarpol and Pakka Qila. People originating from Agra of India still hold the industry’s fort to save the dying craft in the city of 2.2 million people.

Pakka Qila, built in early 18th century (1768), has a population of 35,000 and around 5,000 housing units, according to Shakir Qureshi, who was a charge superintendent in a recently-held census. “The fort used to be a resident society in pre-partition days too, but migrants from India are now the major populations,” Qureshi said.

Qila has an estimated 200 shops, while its circumference is dotted with shops in dilapidated conditions. Below the stoned walls of the fort located are shops of iron wares, machinery repairing, kitchen utensils, and others.They are busy dealing with consumers under the fast-decaying bulwark’s walls. Around 37 shopkeepers along the walls, however, feel secured as they were assured of compensatory places if their shops were razed.

Hindu community has been holding ownership titles of these shops for the past many decades dating back to the time when Hindustan was undivided.

Ashok Lala says he has been working on his shop since the unmemorable days, sewing tattered clothes to resale them to labourers. Lala is not Qila’s occupant and he lives in a nearby town.

Rundown fort equally poses threat, perhaps more in gravity, to its in-house occupants living on the periphery. Around 250 houses are declared located on the danger zone – most of them shoemakers. “We have no other places to live,” bewailed a resident.

Lawmaker Rashid Khilji said the provincial government arranged lands to relocate the affected residents in Gulistan-e-Sarmast and Kohsar extension.

“But, people have valid argument to return to their old places as there are no water, sewage and other basic utilities in the new settlements,” Khilji, who is a member of provincial assembly, added. “Sometime houses which are left empty when households are relocated to some other area are reoccupied as the government has no plan to utilise the idle homes.”Khilji said some people have already paid more than five billion rupees in installments for plots in Gulistan-e-Sarmast, but the government is still to provide basic amnesties in the area.

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