PESHAWAR: The oriental dressing traditions have a charm and attractiveness of their own. It is said that footwear is an essential part of one's dressing. Every culture has its own standards of dressing and these standards are based on certain utility. In Pakhtoon culture the footwear called "Siplai" or "Chappal" in Urdu has a special significance. Siplai is most commonly used among the Pakhtoons. Whenever someone talk of Siplai Charsadda automatically comes to one's mind. Today Charsadda, the town famous for influential political families like Walis and Sherpaos and Pakhtoon nationalist movement, boasts of some 600 shoe-making shops. The craft has thriven by leaps and bounds since the first craftsman started the skill some 60 years ago. Charsadda made Siplai has its own elegance and look.
Now when Charsadda made footwear makers have become purely commercial still there are certain craftsmen who purely stick to the tradition and whose occupation is not only to earn livelihood but also to keep alive a tradition. Haji Tamash is perhaps the only surviving footwear specialist among the three most famous artisans Charsadda produced. Old and feeble Haji Tamash has made shoes for almost half a century. Nowadays he does not work any longer for long hours. However, he is fortunate enough to have transferred the skill to one of his son, Saifullah, who is undoubtedly one of the most skillful craftsman presently in Charsadda. When in mood Saifullah nimble fingers churn out such splendid pieces of footwear that are no second to an artist-made handicraft. When on feet they give such an exquisite look that adds to the aggrandizement of one's personality.
Despite of its beauty the habit of wearing Siplai is on the decline. "It is because people have started wearing ordinary or casual chappal," said Saifullah. So keeping up with rising demand most of traditional footwear makers have started making casual wear sleepers.
This has given a blow to the business. The goodwill of Charsadda made footwear was a bit stigmatized by preparing substandard shoes and selling them even on credit to dealers from Karachi, Lahore, Abbotabad. However, mostly the standard of Charsadda Siplai makers has been maintained.
Most of the exports of shoes from Charsadda has been to Dubai, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf and Arab countries besides to UK and Germany. Mostly, the orders for exports are received in international exhibitions held by Export Promotion Bureau (EPB). Many shoe-makers told that though the EPB had decided to distribute orders among shoe makers but nepotism is practiced in this connection and thus many deserving manufacturers are unable to get any share in exports.
The profit margin for good shoemakers has come down considerably and Saifullah said that it is now 15-30 percent hardly.
Footwear makers of Charsadda also have a genuine fear that the art may die. "The reason of this is the absence of any support from the government. Though government has established a leather institute in Charsadda but the fate of it is like other government institutes. According to many craftsmen the said institution is of no practical utility.
The wearing of Charssadwal made footwear may be on the decline but to wear it is a tradition among the gentry of Pakhtoons; while to majority of folk's feet suit no other footwear.