Poverty had forced Mukutmoni Moirangthem of Kakching to knit shoes for her daughter and now, after three decades, her craftsmanship has found markets overseas as well as domestically.
Her entrepreneurial spirit and efforts to empower poor women have earned her recognition and she was awarded the Padmashree in 2022 for her art.
Moirangthem said she started knitting shoe uppers more than three decades ago because she couldn’t afford to buy new shoes for her school-going daughter. “Like other women in the area, I used to knit woolen socks and mufflers at home for my three children whenever I had time after working in the rice fields for the day,” said the 64-year-old woman from Kakching, about 45 km from here, said.
”I couldn’t buy shoes for my daughter who was going to school because I had no money at the time and had to constantly fix them. So I removed the upper from the shoe and replaced it with a hand-knitted one that I made with leftover wool after knitting mufflers and socks,’ said Moirangthem, who has was married by her widowed mother when she was barely 16 years old.
The innovation caught the eye of a school teacher and she ordered a pair for her own daughter. “That’s how it all started,” Moirangthem told PTI.
At first, she worked with simple hand tools to cut shoe soles and took help from a non-Manipuri person in Kakching City. Her hand-knitted shoes were spotted by military personnel deployed there on patrols. “Army men expressed surprise at my product,” and some of them even bought a few pairs. Later they came back to order more. This is how my hand-knitted shoes made their way outside Manipur,” she recounted.
Emboldened, she established her own company Mukta Shoes Industry in 1990 and showcased her hand-knitted products at a trade fair in the city of Imphal. ”My shoes were a big hit at Imphal. My shoes then traveled to a fair at the Pragati Maidan in New Delhi in 1997 where I sold 1,500 pairs in just five days,” she said.
Moirangthem is now ordering insoles for their hand-knitted shoes in Kolkata. The wool is bought locally and the thread for sewing the shoes comes mainly from distant Ludhian in Punjab. His shoes are sold at large fairs held in cities across the country. Orders are also being received from countries such as Japan, Russiaa, Singapore and Dubai through Delhi-based intermediaries.
His shoes have also found customers in Delhi, Rajasthan and Bengal. ”Currently, about 20 people, mostly women, work for me. But there are many times when I am unable to respond to requests due to lack of resources,” she said.
Children’s, men’s and women’s shoe uppers are hand-knitted by them, and an adult-sized pair of shoes takes about four days to complete. Prices range from Rs 500 for a baby to Rs 2000 for adults and workers are paid around Rs 5000 per month. ”Stocks of shoes are required to meet any random orders from online stores. We have to be ready for different designs, sizes and colors if we want to grow, but financial constraints and lack of resources have hampered our efforts,” she said. Its success has also raised fears.
“My biggest fear is that big companies with better resources will one day copy and mass-produce these woolen shoes and sell them at low prices. In the process, my creation will be lost,” she said.
Moirangthem said she would like her device to be patented, but seemed unaware of the procedure. “If my craft is patented, then at least the name of the state of Manipur and my hometown Kakching will forever be linked to hand-knitted woolen shoes.” She also wants to start a training center where young people will learn the trade and become independent. employee. “A day will come when I won’t be able to make these shoes anymore. Unless a suitable mechanism is created, the craft will eventually be lost. The thought breaks my heart,’ Moirangthem added.
(This story has not been edited by the Devdiscourse team and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)