The Plight of Kolhapuri Chappal Artists

Maruti Powar, a footwear artist from Senapati Kapashi village talks about the plight of chappal makers who are fighting to preserve the traditional art and competing with the modern footwear industry simultaneously. 

May 10, 2017 | Sanket Jain

“Are you from Charmakar (leather worker) samaj?” asked Maruti Powar, 47 years old Chambar (leather footwear artist). Senapati Kapashi village of Kolhapur district is one of the villages which contributes to the authentic traditional Kolhapuri footwear famously known as Kolhapuri Chappal.


Maruti talks about the plight of chappal makers who are fighting to preserve the traditional art and competing with the modern footwear industry simultaneously.


In the Kapashi village, only six artisans who make chappals are left. Kolhapuri Chappal costs between 3000 and 5000 rupees.  His son who is an amateur footwear artist works in a bank on a temporary basis.  “The biggest question in front of me is whether I should take him in this business or let him continue at the bank.  It’s not a permanent job and neither does this business help earn a lot, I am confused,” says Maruti.


Artists work for more than 12 hours daily. After carving out the required shape from the leather, it takes almost 3 to 5 hours to increase its strength.


“We have skills, but we aren’t acknowledged, also many people don’t buy these chappals now,” says Maruti.


While many chambars have changed the practice of making chappals, Maruti is one amongst the handful who still sticks to the traditional form. In the traditional form, the foot size was first traced on a piece of paper and then the chappal was designed. Now, chambars focus on making chappals with a random 7 or 8 size in their mind. Maruti cites, “I follow this practice because fitting is one of the most important parameters. This helps in getting permanent customers as well.”


Kolhapuri chappal today has undergone several changes. Initially it was more about the strength, but now the focus has shifted to design and its attraction.


It takes almost 4 to 6 days, to make a good chappal. He said, “The design is visible but nobody acknowledges the hard work behind the same. It just fetches me Rs 150 per day for all the hardwork and skill set.”


Artists are continuously looking for ways to keep this art form alive and pass on the skill sets to next generation. Maruti in his free time makes miniatures of animals, birds, musical instruments, agricultural tools, masks, caps, key-chains, several designs, etc  from the same leather used for chappal.


These artists have also started making chappals from jute as there is a special demand for them.


“I am an artist and I want to continue the legacy of this art-form. One thing that we need is acknowledgment from the Government and people,” pleaded Maruti.


Photos: Sanket Jain


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