Kolhapur is a town in Maharashtra, India known for its textiles, saris, jewellery and fancy footwear called the Kolhapuri chappal. Made from the hide of cows, goats and buffaloes, the Kolhapuri Chappal or slippers made its way all through the country and is now gaining attention worldwide. What makes the Kolhapuri chappal so popular?
Several families residing in and around Kolhapur have been involved in making these traditional leather chappals handing down their expertise from one generation to the other. Each of these chappals is hand crafted by these skilled cobblers who decorate the completed footwear with ethnic Indian zaris, pompoms and other trimmings. This art form has stood strong over the passage of time and altering fashion trends, making the Kolhapuri chappal an integral part of Indian dressing and culture.
Kolhapuri chappals are open slippers with single or more straps, made for both men and women. It is the ideal combination for not just Indian attire but also matches well with western outfits like jeans. Kolhapuri chappals were once made mostly in tan or maroon shades. Now however these slippers are available in plenty of colours, sizes and patterns. Traditional artisans have learnt to incorporate more colours and designs into the trade and this is one factor which has also helped them stay afloat despite the availability of branded footwear.
The leather used to make Kolhapuri chappals is first grazed to make it suitable for use. Once this process is complete, the leather is cut using templates to make the footwear. The sole for the slipper is made by pasting together one or more cut leather bits. The upper strip of the chappal is made as per the design requirement and sewed onto the sole of the footwear with leather string.
Each pair of Kolhapuri chappals has a minimum of 125 stitches on it. One unique feature of the kolhapuri chappal is that no nails are used to make them. Finished chappals are soaked in curd or ghee (clarified butter) and allowed to dry. They are then immersed in mustard oil and dried. This is believed to make the footwear soft and ready for use.
Kolhapuri chappals have stood the test of time and have survived varying fashion trends to remain one of India’s few undying art forms. Small model Kolhapuri chappals are often sold in pairs as a curio or made into key chains. This has opened up further opportunities to keep the trade alive and flourishing.