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Handcrafted for comfort

Very little thought is given to the shoes and sandals that you wear. Usually the design and style take preference over comfort. RAMYA RAMANAN says that if readymades don't suit you, try handmade, made-to-order footwear, elegant and comfortable.

REMEMBER THE fairy tale of `The Elves and the Shoemaker'? The story goes something like this... "Once upon a time there lived a poor shoemaker who had nothing left but leather for one pair of shoes. He cut them out at night hoping to make them the next morning. The next day as he sat to work, he was astonished to see a pair of neatly stitched shoes all ready to be sold. And this continued till the shoemaker and his wife discovered that their skilled craftsmen were a tiny pair of little elves... ... ... "

Even today we have plenty of such skilled elves that make fashionable and comfortable shoes that adorn our feet. Branded footwear from Prada, Gucci, Nike, Reebok, Versace and Adidas may be the favourites of a select group, but the rest are quite comfortable in elegant, simple footwear. All of them crafted by diligent `elves.'

Luxury, simplicity, durability and comfort are the hallmarks of handmade footwear. This variety may not come in fanciful styles but are bound to last longer than the styles cut by machines. Thanks to advanced technology, the industrially designed footwear is more stylish, chic and provides a whole lot of designs for the customer to choose from. "The handmade ones are made by our workers and they put in a lot of care while shaping, stitching and moulding the shoes. We also repair and replace the pair if there is any damage," says Mr. Shiju of King Shoe Mart, Broadway.

Kochi is home to all styles, fashions and patterns. Customers can pick and choose from the wide range displayed in a number of shops. There are exclusive outlets for handmade styles and many others, which cater to both machine made and handmade footwear. One such exclusive shop is Charmashilpa at Pullepady, where footwear is made to order. There are many who come here with specific designs. Ms. Sukumari, who is 82, cannot wear ordinary sandals, owing to pain in her knees. Hence, her children order for a pair of slippers, almost every three or four months, to her individual specifications.

Mr. Subair of Classic Leathers observes that many clients prefer shoes and sandals made from genuine leather. But since this cannot be used during rain, the most common type of material used is synthetic leather.

Most of the shops in the city get the different materials used for making footwear from Agra, Rajasthan, Jaipur and Delhi. Mr. Abdul Latheef, owner of Falcon at Valanjambalam, has been in this business for nearly 12 years. "Handmade shoes take more time to complete. We take almost a week to make a pair that has been ordered. The prices vary according to the patterns and specifications," says Mr. Latheef.

There is a spurt in sale of footwear during Christmas. This, says, Mr. Jose, who owns Goldwin and three other exclusive outlets in the city, Gals, Grace and Galeo, brings in a lot of customers. There is brisk business during this season. This trend may continue till February, after which there is a lull, which then picks up only during Onam.

The materials used for the insole range from sun mica, rexin, velvet, satin, Velcro, putty, nubook, to pure leather. Sun mica is best suited for the Kerala weather. Shoes and sandals with PVC soles are also in great demand. They last even when worn during the monsoon and now come in a stylish range. The polyurethane, or the PU soles, are lighter than PVC, but are best suited for occasional or functional wear. Various other materials are used today to give the footwear its attractive look. This includes the glittering material used for the upper part of the footwear, especially slippers; wood which is used to fashion the heels and is very much in vogue; cutwork embedded with studs or stones; and the Cinderella glass slippers, cleverly made of fibre glass.

Firs the sole is cleaned using a thinner, then with the help of an adhesive the upper and the sole are joined in the correct temperature. This may sound simple but the intricacies involved are much more. A `unit' on an average consists of 10 to 12 workers who mostly work in pairs. Each pair of these workers is capable of making around 35 to 36 pairs of slippers per day. This is, however, not usually done, as the demand does not meet the supply.

Mr. Sunny, of Styles Foot Wear, Mulanthuruthy, asserts that most people who get made-to-order footwear do so because of their unusual size of feet or because of disorders like having six toes or disfigured toes and feet. For those who define fashion with variety and for others who apply the consistency concept, handmade shoes are just perfect. With reasonable rates, they can be used on a fortnightly basis or cater to long-term needs.

There are innumerable such handmade shoe shops in the city like Sheela Shoe Mart and Abba Boots in Palarivattom, Selection Shoes and Bags at Broadway and City Leather at Valanjambalam, to mention just a few of them.

Spare a minute then for your feet. Think whether the pair you own really suits. If not go out and shop for a dainty pair of handmade slippers, which is sure to give you elegance and comfort.

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