PESHAWAR: Until recently, Nooruddin Shinwari’s shop was one of the nearly 600 that sold Peshawarichappal in the Jehangir Pura Bazaar in the old city. There was nothing to set him apart from others who have been selling the sandal popular among local men.
But then Shinwari made Peshawari chappal for Imran Khan whose party Pakistan-Tehrik-i-Insaaf (PTI) came to power in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2013. That in itself is nothing remarkable because people and politicians have long patronized the Peshawari chappal and cobblers here have custom-made them to fit feet ordinary or famous. Except Shinwari knew how to turn the chappal he made for the cricketer-turned-politician into a marketing gimmick.
Shinwari met Khan on the third day of Eid UlAdha in October 2014, during his party’s sit-in in Islamabad. “I took his shoe size on a paper and made sure someone captured that moment in pictures that I later displayed on a wall in my shop.”
Even though he did receive orders for Khan’s chappal before 2014, it was always through a third party. He had never had any direct contact with the politician before. His was just another sandal shop until his craft became associated with the PTI chief, Imran Khan, who as a former captain of Pakistani cricket team brought home the World Cup in 1992.
Imran Khan, says Shinwari, loves Peshawari chappal with a thick sole but does not want it heavy. In keeping with the politician’s preference, Shinwari designed a lighter Chappal for the Khan’s wedding in 2015. And in the process, created what was to become his piece de resistance, the “Captaan Chappal.”
“I designed a new packing for the chappal showing a picture of Khan under the monogram saying Captaan Chappal,” says Shinwari. “When I gave them to Imran Khan, he was much delighted.”
It was then that his son’s friends convinced Shinwari to let media highlight his craft. At first, he was reluctant thinking it would cost him a lot. He need not have worried because after his first appearance on TV, journalists made a beeline for his shop, seeking appointments for interviews. “I was stunned, unable to understand what was happening. Since then, media persons have been regularly visiting my shop to enquire if I have made something special for Imran Khan.”
The media coverage had a magical effect on his business, says Shinwari, boosting the sale of chappals. People in general and PTI followers in particular started visiting his shop for Captaan Chappal. As more and more people came to know of Shinwari’s specialty, orders poured in from all across the country. Depending on the material used, he charges PKR 2500 to 10,000 for a hand-crafted pair of Captaan Chappal.
Being the hub of the finest cobblers in Peshawar, others in Jehangir Pura bazar soon cottoned on to Shinwari’s business nous. Among them is JehangirMohmand Safi, whose shop is close to Shinwaris. Safi was quick to affiliate his chappals with Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif and not without a reason. He had been making chappals for the Bilour family of Awami National Party (ANP) and Shahbaz Sharif of Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) for a long time.
When Nawaz Sharif visited Peshawar in January 2016, he had Safi over to order bespoke chappal. Safi, like Shinwari, has a picture displayed outside his shop showing him with the prime minister.
In keeping with the election symbol of PML-N – a lion – Safi crafted three pairs of special chappals from imported lion-leather for Nawaz Sharif.
“I named them Shikari Chappal,” says Safi. Owing to the high price of lion-leather, says Sufi, the chappals are not available in the market and certainly not for everyone due to the price which ranges from PKR 20,000 to 25,000. To Safi, he crafted the Shikari Chappal – the Hunter’s Sandals – out of his devotion to the prime minster of Pakistan.
Apart from designing sandals that political heavyweights can comfortably slip into, Safi also remained in news for creating deer leather chappal for the Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan. Safi said he gifted two pairs of chappal to Shah Rukh Khan through his cousin MunniBaji who lived in the Shah WaliKataal neighbourhood of QisaKhwani Bazaar in the old city.
Linking Peshawari chappals to celebrities and politicians has turned the humble sandal into something special, not only bolstering its demand among the public but also the price, says Hassan Ali Shah, former president of the Peshawar Chappal Association. He said since the spots on media showing politicians patronizing Peshawari chappals, demand for the sandals has gone up by 15 to 20 per cent. The market for the chappal has widened, spreading to the rest of the country and abroad through online orders.
“The same chappal that is available in open market for PKR 1500 to 2000 rupees sells for a higher price of PKR 3500 to 10,000 in case of vendors who have associated it with a big name,” said Shah. “It is of the same shape and quality as in other shops but expensive because it comes packed in a box bearing pictures of politicians.”
This publicity stunt works both ways, with politicians also seeing in the popular Peshawari chappal the potential to publicize their style and name. Shah said since the Peshawarichappal became a la mode among politicians, they often visit the shops in Jehangir Pura to order sandals and ask cobblers to relate them to their names.
Ismail Khan a wholesaler dealer of Peshawarichappal in the bazar told News Lens that there were around 20,000 workers busy making sandals in Peshawar. The cobblers and associated workers, he said, produced around 3.5 million pairs of sandals annually.
Ajmal Khan, a customer buying sandals at the Shinwari’s shop said he was buying a pair of the CaptaanChappal for his friend in Lahore. He said although the Captaan Chappal was now available in other shops for a much lower price, his friend had asked for the real thing. “They have the packing with the picture of Imran Khan here which is considered a symbol of originality.”
Abidullah, a customer from District Dir, said the cobblers in old city were now “looting people in the name of politicians and politics.”
“If the practice of associating chappals with politicians continues, prices will become prohibitive and the common chappal will be beyond the reach of common people,” said Abidullah.
According to Muhammad Tariq Yousafzai, an expert on Entrepreneurial Marketing, the cobblers in Peshawar were applying guerilla marketing tactics to promote their products. “The chappal makers are using a politician’s name without giving him royalty.”
This technique has its pros and cons, said Yousafzai. “It is cost effective and appeals to the emotion of common man as the political environment these days is highly charged.”
To Yousafzai, it is also “stunt marketing or celebrity marketing” as used by media. However, he said, it could have a bad impact on the image of politicians as footwear is considered lowly in the Pakistani society. “It could dilute their image if someone connects their names with footwear in political or election campaigns.”
This article originally appeared in News Lens and has been reproduced with permission