BANGALORE, JUNE 12: The Kolhapuri chappal, a much-favoured accessory of the khadi-kurta clad intellectual and the sartorially conscious, is going places. Japan, France and Bangladesh have shown interest in importing Kolhapuris through the Karnataka Leather Industries Development Corporation Ltd (LIDKAR). If Dhaka and Paris, where samples have been sent, place orders, production should begin in three months.
LIDKAR has also signed an MoU with the Assam State Marketing Corporation to supply Kolhapuris to all the six north-eastern states against a promised order of Rs 20 lakh a month, said Jaya A Shetty, Deputy Chief Manager (Commercial), LIDKAR.
Export orders are not new for a chappal once patronised by the erstwhile Maharaja of Kolhapur, from where it derives its name. Mainly produced in Athani and Nippani in Karnataka and Miraj in Maharashtra, Kolhapuris were once a favoured export item.
Between 1974 and 1979, several consignments of Kolhapuris were exported to the US during summer for 60 and 70 cents a pair. Once private companies entered the fray, both the quality and export sales to that country dropped drastically. They now sell in the US at $3 to $4 a pair and in the Indian market for up to Rs 250 a pair.
For this chappal made of pure hand-sewn leather, LIDKAR's unit at Athani has always used dhor
leather, (made of buffalo skin) specially treated in traditional tanneries. Each pair is sewn together with laces of leather and without using nails.
Though there has never been a market in the colder European countries, Russia and the United Kingdom have been placing orders with private companies in Mumbai.
"We are now making an effort to let the world know that these chapppals come from Athani, rather than Kolhapur as is traditionally believed. But since they are already known the world over as Kolhapuris, it is difficult to introduce a new name. People would suspect us of selling duplicates,'' says Shetty.
Having come up with 20 new designs for men, seven for women and five for children -- all have been posted on the internet -- LIDKAR is now in a position to make one million pairs a year. "Earlier, elders bought these chappals because they were flat-soled. Now we have introduced heels in the women's range. Among overseas buyers, we have found that more women buy Kolhapuris, because they look good with jeans and shorts,'' says Shetty.