Basheer and Farook of Deluxe Foot Wear not only custom-make slippers and sandals but also clean them, thereby giving all worn-out footwear another lease of life
“Rajagopal” is inscribed in chalk on a sole that lies forlornly on the floor. A row of numbers follows. I am not sure if that is a contact number or some code known only to Basheer and Farook. “I’ve been here for so long,” 65-year-old Basheer looks dourly around the single room that is Deluxe Foot Wear. “In the trade for 50 years.”
Farook, Basheer’s nephew, who is busy pounding on a strip of leather, chips in. “We start learning at around 15 years.” What about going to school? Farook laughs and Basheer shrugs but neither will offer an answer. On Farook’s left is a steadily growing pile of diabetic slippers in pink and brown. “That’s what we’re working on now,” says Basheer.
Apart from the two men, there is one more helper. Between the three, they create custom-made footwear and service products from various footwear companies — Reebok, Metro, Woodland, Lee Cooper, Bata… Basheer reels off the names without a pause. Do people still want custom-made footwear, I wonder. Farook nods vigorously. “Style is only aspect. For some people, the feet are of different sizes. Then there are those with flat feet, issues in the arch, or spur in the heel… all of them come to us. Many doctors send their patients to us,” he says proudly.
Basheer with some of his samples behind him
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Basheer points to the various samples of slippers and sandals that hang on the wall. “We offer these styles but, if you bring your own, we’ll recreate that as well.” But they don’t make shoes. “That’s impossible,” says Basheer flatly. “We used to once but not any more. It needs too many materials that we don’t get here.”
The men work primarily with leather but also use artificial leather, foam, cloth and canvas. “The canvas used for shoes is different,” Farook anticipates my question. “It’s much softer. We cannot use the other kinds of canvas.” They source their material locally, though Basheer won’t say exactly where. “In the city,” is all he will offer. “If they don’t have what we want, they get it for us from Chennai.”
A large part of their work comes from repairs. “People spend ₹5,000-10,000 on branded footwear so they don’t mind spending ₹400-500 on repairs,” says Basheer, and Farook adds, “We also do a thorough cleaning of sports shoes.” I shudder thinking of the gunk attached to my shoes and Farook interprets it correctly. He points to a pair resting on a shelf in one corner. “You won’t believe what that looked like when it came,” he grins.
Basheer picks up a sandal that’s been brought down to its component parts. “See,” he holds up the worn-out end where the heel rests. That must have hurt, I think, looking at the cuts and scores on the leather. Basheer explains how they replace the foam and the leather and stitch it up again and “it’s good to go for another few years”, he slaps it back on to the floor.
All along, Farook has been working on the diabetic slippers and I bring up the topic of mechanisation. Both men sigh. “Earlier every thing was done by hand but today 90% is by machines,” they say in chorus. “Much of the stylish slippers in the shops is mostly plastic,” sniffs Basheer contemptuously. “And they need machines that cost a few crores.” How long does it take to create a fully functional pair of slippers? “From scratch, about 3-4 days,” Farook answers but then adds dolefully, “Who wants to wait that long when they can pick up one in a shop in a few minutes?”
It’s not that people don’t respect the work we do, muses Basheer. “It takes time and patience and people don’t have that any more. There’s lots of work and not enough people to do it.”
Deluxe Foot Wear is at 80A Ramachandra Road, RS Puram. Contact Basheer at 9600504227
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