Designed to please: Baloch chappals leave a popular trail

Customers flock to Quetta markets to get their hands on latest footwear variety.

Shoemakers put the finishing touches to their work in a Quetta shop. PHOTO: NASEEM JAMES/EXPRESS


Few areas or tribes in Balochistan do not have a namesake in the footwear industry. Be it the powerful Bugti or Marri clans or the ancient regions of Jhalawan or Sarawan, all have a Baloch chappal (sandal) named after them.

With hundreds of different cuts and designs, the traditional handmade sandals have been representative of the Baloch culture for centuries. And amidst all the violence in the insurgency-hit province, the art of crafting the famous Baloch chappal is still thriving.

As Eid draws nearer, customers are once again flocking to the markets to lay their hands on the latest designs on offer by different shoemakers.

One of them, 47-year-old Abdul Nabi, has been making such sandals for 35 years in Quetta. “Once a person wears a Baloch chappal, he will forget about all other shoes,” says a man who claims to have created more than 200 designs.

Traditionally made with pure leather, the shoemakers have recently given way to trendier fashions of using artificial leather and suede (locally called sabir). Apart from their splendid cuts, perhaps the most striking feature of the Baloch sandals is their soles, which are cut out of used tyres.

“The leather and sabir are imported from Lahore while tyres are available in the local market,” Nabi says. Only two pairs of sandals can be made in a day that shows the amount of labour the process requires.

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Depending on the design and the cut, the sandals can be priced anywhere between Rs1,500 and Rs5,000. The Sarawan, Jhalawan, Marri, Bugti and Mengal cuts are among the most sought-after designs.

While Balochistan is known for its resources, tribes and vast barren lands, Baloch sandals are a vital part of the province’s culture. The demand for the sandals skyrockets during the Eid season.

“People from different cities come to Quetta for buying the Baloch chappal,” shoemaker Nabi said. “This keeps our culture and traditions alive.”

Mohammad Saleem Baloch, a rickshaw driver, says he buys the traditional sandals for himself and his children every Eid.

Talking to The Express Tribune while on the lookout for the best sandal at a shop, he said his children always demanded these sandals for Eid and were excited to wear it. “Our Eid is incomplete without wearing the Baloch chappal,” he said. “We buy it whether it is cheap or expensive. It represents our culture and tradition.”

The sandals are not exclusive for men. The ones made for women are known as “Sawas” in the Balochi language. They are made of leather sewn together with threads of different colours. These sandals are also an essential part of the Baloch women’s cultural dresses. However, most of the footwear is crafted at homes.

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One of such experts is 24-year-old Zargull Bibi. A resident of the Brewery Road in Quetta, the young woman has been making the Sawas sandals for almost eight years now. She had to abandon her studies after Matriculation to support her family.

“Mostly women and shop owners give me orders to make large stocks of Sawas,” she says.

The sandals for women take more time. “One pair takes one week to complete because it is not made with machines. All the work is done by hand,” Bibi adds.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 13th, 2015. 

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