With the coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc on businesses, Agra shoe manufacturers have now shifted their focus to new products to help them tide over the crisis that has robbed the happiness and economy of the labour-intensive industry.
Along with tourism, Agra’s shoe industry has virtually collapsed due to migration of labour and cancellation of overseas orders.
However, a few enterprising manufacturers have now started working on khadi shoes that could prove a game changer in many ways.
At the initiative of the National Khadi Commission, shoes are being designed using khadi as raw material, instead of leather or other synthetic materials.
This is in response to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appeal for “Atmanirbharta” and promotion of local products, shoe exporters said.
According to Pooran Dawar, president of the Agra Footwear Manufacturers and Exporters’ Chamber, “Samples have been sent by a couple of local manufacturers, to the central authority. Once these are green-signalled, production will begin. The khadi shoes will naturally be more colourful, elegant and affordable.”.
Agra is considered as India’s number one leather shoes manufacturing hub and an equally important tourism destination.
Talking to IANS, Dawar said that the ₹5,000 annual turnover industry, needs massive support from the government, particularly because it directly or indirectly supports livelihood of more than four lakh people in the city. In recent months a large number of orders have been cancelled due to the pandemic. Raw material has already been purchased. Possibly 30 per cent of the production could reach overseas customers at heavy discounts. But a major policy overhaul and injection of financial support is the need of the hour.
Dawar suggested cluster-centric education that would enable MSMEs to convert classrooms into tool rooms.
“Students till the high school level should be persuaded to acquire basic skills that would help them earn a living.”
Agra is a major producer of leather shoes and handicrafts items, particularly marble inlay work. In the past, many experts committees have recommended integrated courses for these sectors, run by Agra University.
Agra region has been a pioneer in the production of glassware, leather shoes, Petha making, iron foundries that played a crucial role in ushering in the green revolution in the early 1970s by casting agricultural implements, pipes, diesel generators and pumps.
“Though not a single raw material for these industries was locally available, but on the strength of skilled manpower, Agra was the pioneer and key player in the promotion of glass wares, bangles in Firozabad which was part of Agra district till the 1990s and cast iron products plus of course the leather shoes industry,” said Agra Development Foundation secretary KC Jain.
The need is to open research centres to upgrade skills and promote products from these exclusive sectors, Jain added.