CHENNAI: What do you get when you meet a shaggy-haired man in Hawaiian shirts and an open smile? We got an environmental science and design lesson which we lapped up eagerly. Meet Manmath, from Hubli, a small village in north Karnataka. He started his customisation unit in 1998 when the concept of bespoke was a novel. Naturally, he had limitations with raw materials and had dealt with the wavering doubts people had about handcrafted products.
“Everybody wanted something machine-made at that point, and now it is the other way round!” he laughs. All of Manmath’s work is community-based and eco friendly. He works with shepherd communities near Hubli to offer a better livelihood, using alternative fabrics like jute and cotton, while giving importance to traditional methods and Indian ethos. He believes in completing the cycle in the small ecosystem he has created. He started producing his own leather buttons and began hand stitching as well.
“We used to come to bigger cities for fewer products, and made do with what we had,” he says. Interestingly, he has no educational background in design and has learnt everything on the job. He wasn’t exposed to a lot of study material when he started in 1998, as opposed to now – when we have information at the tips of our fingers. “It was a challenge. I used to buy shoes, dismantle them, take a look and fix them back,” he remembers. He produces everything from customised guitar straps, basic footwear, up-cycling with rubber tyre tubes, flex materials, sling bags, furniture, storage compartments and even amplifiers! He also makes leather helmets for Royal Enfield. “Everything was a lesson and a challenge.
It was never monetary,” he opines, and lays emphasis on practical knowledge and diversifying. So far, he has made nearly two lakh pairs of shoes, all individually customised. “This is my study, interest and graduation. People come to me with their specifications and requirements, and the process has helped me evolve,” he says. So how do up-cycled shoes work? “If the sole of your old shoe is in good condition, we work on that by cutting open the top half,” he says, and opines that this helps contribute to the environment directly.
These are made of truck tyres and are designed to fit like a glove. “I have been using this pair for six years and we give a guarantee for 10 years,” he smiles, pointing at his rubber up-cycled shoes. Manmath is a fan of Indian artistry and handcrafting. “Unfortunately, we don’t have the right direction and don’t understand how rich our heritage is,” he avers, talking about how he picked cobblers from the street and trained them. “They know their tools and the basics but stick to repair work only. I only shifted their focus a little bit.” His enthusiasm is infectious as he takes us around his store and tells us about how giving back to the environment directly is our responsibility. Now you know where to buy your next pair of shoes from!
(For details, visit myfoot.co.in or mail firstname.lastname@example.org)