Kohlapuri chappals are handcrafted leather sandals that get their name from the place of their origin, the district of Kohlapur in the state of Maharashtra. Specific dates and details about the origin of this craft are unknown, but the cobblers of this district have succeeded in creating a globally recognised product. These chappals, which were probably worn only by the inhabitants of Kohlapur, are now worn all over India and abroad. They are especially popular among college- going students and tourists, who buy these chappals – which keep their feet cool during the hot summer months of India – at nominal rates.
The chappals can be light or dark in colour and are available in natural tan or a polished version in which colours like terracotta pink, mustard yellow and dark brown are added on to it. Prices range from Rs 70 for the simplest design to Rs 400 for the more complex and detailed patterns. The variation in price is determined by the price at which the leather is purchased and the design of the product.
Inferior and imitation quality Kolhapuri chappals are being produced in Karnataka, Mumbai and in other districts of Maharashtra. Nails are now being used instead of hand stitching, and cardboard is being inserted for additional thickness between inferior quality top and bottom leather soles. This is affecting the reputation of the original Kolhapuri chappal and its artisans.
The making of Kohlapuri chappals is a hereditary craft. In recent years, however, the children of the artisans have started to move to bigger towns and cities in search of different jobs and more money. The women of the families are also taught the craft, and even daughters-in-laws help make the sandals. The families involved in the business sit together and make the chappals. Sometimes other people are hired to help. The more successful artisans have showrooms for their products.
Artisans travel to places around the country and abroad to participate in craft exhibitions being held. This products are also sold to shoe-shop owners mainly in Maharashtra and in the main cities of India. Changing consumer tastes, preference for labelled products over the traditional sandals, and imitation products have contributed to the decline in sales.
Many famous people have contributed to the popularity of Kohlapuri chappals-Ringo Starr, drummer of the British pop band, the Beatles, wore them on his trip to the Maharishi’s ashram in the 1960’s, while our very own Crorepati hero, Amitabh Bacchan threatened to beat someone up with a Kohlapuri chappal in a film made years ago!