Many shoe-making brands and companies all over the world are bringing fashionable shoes to the market. Hundreds of cobblers that exist around the world have set their own standards mending worn-out shoes. However, the majority of cobblers in Nepal are situated on the streets, where they operate by hand as they lack machinery or advanced equipment.
60-year-old cobbler, Dev Narayan Ram has been in this profession for the past 25 years. Even though e does not consider being a shoemaker a bad job, he says, “There are times when I consider quitting and returning to my village with my family to do whatever I can there".
Ram moved to Kathmandu from Sarlahi 25 years ago in hopes of finding a better profession and doing something positive for his family. “I have six daughters and a son to feed at home. Though some of them do work, I have to work as well to make ends meet," he adds.
Narayan roams around the city with all his equipment hoping to find new customers as he does not have a permanent job location. "People don't haggle at shoe stores where they have to pay almost Rs 5,000 for a pair of ordinary shoes, but when we ask our rate based on what we do, the looks we have to see and the words we have to hear are really frustrating. People bargain a lot because they do not realize how difficult it is to stitch shoes", he says. "I don't make a lot of money from this job. It's sometimes a nice wage, but other times I struggle to even pay for my lunch", he adds.
Another cobbler, Ram Bhai has been living at Pepsi cola and has been mending people's shoes for the past 20 years at Sunrise Market Place. He arrives at the market early in the morning and begins mending his customers’ shoes. Bhai, a 40-year-old shoemaker doesn't remember when he arrived in Kathmandu. He is originally from Janakpur, and his entire family still lives there. “I miss my family and want to be with them. But if I don't work, my family will go hungry”, he says.
Many workers like Narayan and Bhai struggled immensely during the lockdowns. “We had no assistance on this pandemic from the government or anyone else. Workers like us do not receive a salary, bonus, or pension. Instead, we must earn our own money and subsist on a daily basis”, he says. Bhai, who is solely dependent upon his shoemaking to earn money is worried that he might not survive another lockdown. “If there is another lockdown, I may find myself in much more problems than before. I don't have a family farm or any other business”, he says. “I can't understand how I will manage my family's demands if another lockdown occurs,” he adds.