Cobblers in Dhanmondi, Wari and Mirpur are creating personalised leather shoes from photographs and the imagination
Finding a perfect pair of shoes – with the right dimensions, provision of comfort, colour, and price – can be one of the most daunting tasks ever.
Though ready-made shoes still hold the majority share of the total shoe consumption, there is a custom-fit footwear industry in town. One can easily find custom-made shoe shops in Dhaka's Dhanmondi, Wari and Mirpur areas.
The road beside Keari Plaza, at Dhanmondi 8, leads one to a shoe market with a large number of such shops.
The New Sanjeeb Shoes, the Babul Shoe Store and the Jony Shoes are some of the reputed names there.
At New Sanjeeb Shoes, The Business Standard correspondent met a customer whose extraordinarily-designed white leather shoes and dyed hair would be enough to catch anyone's attention.
He was explaining his requirements for his next pair of white shoes – with great care and passion – sitting on the couch. His relaxing mood and jolly conversation with the shop owner made it clear that he is a regular visitor to the shop.
"I am Pintu Kumar. The people of this shop are family to me," said the customer who has been a regular of the shop for more than 15 years.
"I once saw a pair of shoes at Bashundhara City's Mustafa Mart. The price was Tk28,000 which I could not afford. So I took a picture of the shoes and came to this place. They made me two pairs of the same shoes for Tk8,000," he said, with excitement in his eyes.
"A lot of people come to us with images downloaded from the Internet. Some ask for a particular colour, some for a particular design. We try our best to make the shoes as per our customers' demands," said Komol Das of the New Sanjeeb Shoes.
The prices of custom-made shoes vary depending on design and leather quality. One can buy a pair of shoes from Tk700 to Tk10,000.
"It takes one week and five people's labour to make a pair of custom-made shoes," said Komol, who also owns a small factory consisting of 15 workers.
Apart from the quality, the price varies based on the location of the shops.
The price of the shoes in Dhanmondi is a bit high, while it is quite reasonable in Mirpur.
Like Dhanmondi 8, Mirpur is also a popular destination for custom-made shoe lovers. There are almost 25-30 custom-made shoe stores in Mirpur 10 and Mirpur 11.
Walking through the shops in Mirpur 11 will give one the impression that one is traversing a small island of shoes.
Golap Charan's family has been making these custom-made shoes for forty years. He was working on his sewing machine at his small shop and, when asked, did not hesitate for a moment to talk about the current status of the shoe business.
He said his shop gets around five-six orders on average, per week.
However, they get three times more orders ahead of different festivals, he added.
"Customers come from distant places. We even have some customers who have been visiting us for more than 20 years and we attentively make their shoes," he said with a sense of pride in his expression.
Rajkumar Ravi Das at Deepika Shoes in Mirpur 11 was working on a piece of shoe about nine inches long. Evidently, it is near-impossible to get a pair of shoes in that size in any readymade shoe store.
Sujoy Das is a regular buyer of custom-made shoes. While talking to The Business Standard, he expressed his dissatisfaction with readymade shoes.
"Last year, I bought five or six pairs of shoes from ready-made shoe stores. I have never been satisfied with their quality. So I prefer to have my shoes custom-made," he said.
Rezwan Faruk, a private employee, is a die-hard fan of handmade shoes. While talking to The Business Standard over the phone, he said, "Though I need extra-large shoes, this is not the only reason I have turned to custom-made ones."
"A unique design, good finishing, and long-lasting qualities are also important to me. These shoes [custom-fit] come with all these qualities."
Most of the custom-made shoe shops in the city prepare shoes for male customers.
Regarding this, Komol Das of the New Sanjeeb Shoes said, "Designs for women's shoes are more complicated, so we only make shoes for men."
There is no need to lose hope though. Shoemakers in the Mirpur areas receive a good number of orders from female customers.
Meanwhile, customised shoe traders expressed their concern about their business as people these days are showing interest in buying footwear products from China, and other countries, online.
Dolon Chapa, a former assistant manager at Bata, said, "The shoe-making culture started in the hands of local cobblers in our country. People related to this business should be trained to make quality products that satisfy local consumers."
If the custom-made shoemakers offer a variety of quality products, there is a possibility that the sector will be able to attract local customers.
Swarna Sharmin, a working woman who used to buy custom-fit shoes, stopped buying the products as she was not getting what she wanted.
"This is not only about comfort or size anymore. Many like me consider a variety in design, quality materials, measurement, and so many things. These can only be ensured when the custom-made shoe-making business flourishes as a sector," she stated.