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In a dusty workshop in Gawalmandi, four cobblers huddle around making handmade shoes.
Aged between 60 and 68, they make shoes with their hands and do not use any machines. They are the last generation in their families who know how to make shoes by hand.
There are many shops for handmade shoes in the garrison city where some bring their own leather to fashion into shoes or bring designs by brands that are not available in the country.
Almost all cities in the country have special shoe-making bazaars, referred to as mochi bazaars and small towns have a cluster of such shops.
However, shoe-making is a long process and requires four people to transform leather into a pair of shoes.
Most local workers still use traditional methods of making shoes and many shops are able to make two pairs a day.
Cobblers first take customers’ measurements and cut the leather accordingly. They stitch in the design given by the customer and then turn to the sole. The upper and lower parts are then assembled with glue and nails.
The shoes are then put on a wooden mould called a last and put over a burner so the leather tightens around the form and is able to hold its shape.
“Once this process is complete, we make the heel and taps, trim the soles and wax and burnish the sole edges to give it a finishing touch,” said Mushtaq Ahmed Ashrafi, a shoemaker at a workshop in Gawalmandi.
He said he has been making shoes for 43 years and was trained in the craft in Amritsar.
“We usually are able to make two pairs a day and earn about Rs800 a day,” adding that the cost of shoes has increased due to the increase in the production costs.
He said fewer women now wear leather shoes, which has affected the demand for their services.
“Fancy shoes in various colours are now available in the market at cheap prices but handmade shoes are limited to a few colours and designs,” he said.
Mohammad Yousaf, who has been a shoemaker for 50 years, said handmade shoes are popular among people who do not want to compromise on quality.
“Though we have shoes coming from China and an increase in the number of brands available here, there is still some demand for our work,” he said.
A retired armyman, Mohammad Ashiq, said he used to make army boots and was trained by people who used to work with British cobblers before partition.
According to the cobblers, the handmade shoe business has been edged out by the readymade footwear industry due to multiple factors, forcing many shoemakers to abandon their professions and turn to other ways of making a livelihood.
The influx of Chinese footwear in local markets, the price of leather, high labour costs and other factors have led to the decline of handmade shoes even though they are of better quality and are more durable.
A pair of fine quality men’s handmade shoes costs between Rs4,000 and Rs5,000, which drives buyers away.