Paul Smith shoes and cultural appropriation

Published: March 10, 2014

Paul Smith's new design 'Robert Sandals' seems similar to our Peshawari slipper.

Paul Smith has come up with a fabulous new design for shoes, check them out. They call them the ‘Robert Sandals’ and you can buy them here online for GBP 300.

Source: Paul Smith website

Except oops, wait a second, this isn’t an original design by Paul Smith!

They are in fact Peshawari chappals (slippers) that have been made and sold in Pakistan for the last, oh, 200 years?

Here is a fine example of the Peshawari chappal from Zalmay, a Peshawar shoe store. They make these shoes to sell abroad, given the price in GBP, 27 pounds. Zalmay doesn’t have a monopoly on this design either – it is ubiquitous. But I bet all the shoemakers in Pakistan are wishing they’d applied a trademark to this design right about now…

Source: Zalmay

It’s true that fashion designers have been inspired by different cultures and traditions throughout time.  But it is important to acknowledge the source of the inspiration which Paul Smith can easily do by noting that the design of the Robert Sandal is not original but in fact worn by Pashtun men all over Pakistan. You couldn’t exactly call it intellectual property but at least credit would have been given where credit was due.

Even more ethical would be for Paul Smith to work with local shoemakers to source the shoes directly from Pakistan. It would also have boosted the local economy and could have been a great example of British-Pakistani cooperation in trade.

Still, though, when this has been done in the past, local craftspeople get paid a pittance for their work – in India, sometimes less than 100 rupees a day, where the Kohlapuri chappal has been similarly claimed by western fashion designers.

In the same vein, western companies have also patented basmati rice and turmeric in order to turn huge profits because of these items’ popularity and possible health benefits for developed nations.

There’s nothing wrong with appreciating what we produce indigenously or even wearing it out of admiration for its beauty. But we in Pakistan need to learn to protect our local customs, traditions and products from being exploited by those who claim that nothing good can come of our culture. They cannibalise the best of it in order to make money and nothing good can come of that for us at all.

You may call it a Paul Smith original or a Peshawari chappal, but you know what I call it?

Cultural appropriation.

Or, in layman’s terms, ‘stealing our cultural icons and pretending that you came up with them for huge profits without acknowledging, or renumerating, the source, or inspiration, of your design’.

This post originally appeared here.

Note from the Editor:

Dear Readers,

After this blog post, a petition filed on change.org and the reaction received, Paul Smith updated their website and recognised that the shoes in question were in fact inspired by Peshawari Chappals.

Congratulations!

All the best,

The Express Tribune Blogs team.

bina.shah

Bina Shah

Writer and columnist. Author of Slum Child. She tweets @BinaShah (twitter.com/BinaShah)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Umar

    I can get the best quality for around 50-55 dollars, i.e 5000 rupees. The BEST quality; better than Paul Smith. I would never give 300 quid for this LOLRecommend

  • Ahmed

    @author , I bet the chappals or jootas bought by you from various Pakistani retail stores are also copies from various International brands who were never given credit. When a big Pakistani brand can sell these without honoring their countrymen, why should Paul Smith ? Stop jumping to conclusions and crying a river.Recommend

  • Peshawari chappal

    Read how much effort these artisans put into the making of peshawari chappal and they call it Robert sandal huh! http://sidraaiman.wordpress.com/2012/01/07/manufacturing-process-of-peshawari-chappal/

    Read here how many variations they have brought in peshawari chappals. Do they have this much styles?
    http://sidraaiman.wordpress.com/2012/01/07/alternations-in-peshawari-chappals/

    Read about their lives and Mr. Robert is making huge amount of money on their idea.
    http://sidraaiman.wordpress.com/2012/01/06/insight-into-a-laborers-life/

    Mr. Robert must read the following to know how old it is and how much it is loved worldwide.
    http://sidraaiman.wordpress.com/2012/01/08/history-tradition-of-peshawari-chappal/Recommend

  • Deen Sheikh

    But seriously did this merit a blog?Recommend

  • Suleman

    The “Peshawari chappal” isnt patended or copyrighted or trademarked.,,, which means anyone can LEGALLY make and market them the way they want.Recommend

  • Ali Naqvi

    Every market of Pakistan is full of pirated Paul Smith products, what is your say about it?Recommend

  • Waqar

    You can call a tribute to Peshawari Chappal because they have clearly mentioned “Men’s high-shine black leather sandals with neon pink trims inspired by the Peshawari Chappal.”Recommend

  • Faheem Z. Choudhry

    who is robertRecommend

  • SN

    The website now says:

    Overview:
    Men’s high-shine black leather sandals with neon pink trims inspired by the Peshawari Chappal.Recommend

  • Waqas

    on the website it is clearly mentioned inspired by Peshawari Chappal.. :(Recommend

  • Ahmad Hashmi

    I seriously doubt that the author has any knowledge of this subject otherwise, would not have written this blog.Recommend

  • Umar Khalil

    Bina Shahid .. Please do some research before writing columns..I just checked Paul Smith website. They clearly mention ‘inspired by the Peshawari Chappal’ which is good enough credit to Pakistan. Here’s the link:
    http://www.paulsmith.co.uk/uk-en/shop/mens/shoes/men-s-black-high-shine-leather-sandals.htmlRecommend

  • kash

    I wonder who is this Robert fellow! it would’ve been nice if they called it Khan sandals or may be Peshawari sandals! and to all those who think it is not a bit deal, well indeed it is a big deal, or else you would stay proud to present good for nothing forever!Recommend

  • Tariq zaman

    Excellent, except “You couldn’t exactly call it intellectual property…” this comes under Traditional Knowledge which is recognised as an IP by WIPO
    Recommend

  • Ahmed

    Now they changed the name and description and mentioned “inspired by Peshawari chappal” :-DRecommend

  • Ahmed

    they changed it in last hour or so (even the name Robert Sandal is changed now), we’ve been following it since few hours :-)Recommend

  • Ramsha

    They have actually noted that the inspiration came from the Peshawari Chappal. It’s on the first link you provided, on the official website.Recommend

  • Atif Nawaz Khan

    This is irony for us. If we were not a dead or sleeping Nation, this was our responsibility to introduce such products in west. But, we a are shame of our own culture. I wish I see people wearing this in their offices in west and soon we will realize and copy it….. ShameRecommend

  • Haroonfarzana

    Yes this our ;pashaweri chapple , from baluchistan ,,and from Khaber pukhtoon koah Recommend

  • Simpleton.

    Bina, thanks for highlighting.. I am quite keen on Paul Simth clothes and shoes but this has left a sour taste!Recommend

  • Rashid

    Those are not priced at $500 and FYI those ‘cheap’ imitations are sold even all over Europe and America’s as well.Recommend

  • Rashid

    That was only after this blog and reactions received from people. Read the whole story!Recommend

  • Rashid

    I bet the few people commenting below, they didn’t bother reading the whole article, but read the heading and started commenting.Recommend

  • reader

    Good blog!Recommend

  • arslan

    Good to here that they got inspiredRecommend

  • Khan

    At least someone promoting our culture. And you people are even feeling shame to wear our Peshawari chappal. Cool down . And now you should start to sell it in 100 Rupees . I know you can’t Recommend

  • Khalid Khan

    Forget the $600 price tag – Peshawari chapal with pink color is kind of “un-manly”
    Recommend

  • Pink Peshawari

    Price is not high considering that product comes with a free supply of naswar for six months…!!!Recommend

  • KB

    Proud to see my “Kheri” fetching price in dollars and pounds.
    Recommend

  • Rafay Bin Ali

    I think it merited not just a blog, but a whole news story. This is very important.Recommend

  • KB

    Jealousy is the worst diseaseRecommend

  • Sirac

    They recognized the inspiration later or you saw the mention later :P Well I think we better start patenting our productsRecommend

  • Ghayas

    infact… it shows how much responsible (irresponsible in fact) the patent filing agencies are. such agencies having no credibility should be banned.Recommend

  • saad

    The people who are talking about our local retailers selling western copied designs, when was the last time that something came out of those countries that was essentially “British” or even “American”, something that related to their history? I cant recall anything.Recommend

  • Belal

    Loving it, hahaha.Recommend

  • Belal

    Loving it, hahaha.Recommend

  • Belal

    Bad comparison. Piracy is done by poor people, and they sell their knock-offs for 100 rupees – and it’s still declared illegal. What the Paul Smith guys did was done by a legitimate megacorporation, and they were selling the product for half a thousand dollars. Why should a legal company be judged by the same standard we judge desperate criminals in third world countries?Recommend

  • Belal

    Bad comparison. Piracy is done by poor people, and they sell their knock-offs for 100 rupees – and it’s still declared illegal. What the Paul Smith guys did was done by a legitimate megacorporation, and they were selling the product for half a thousand dollars. Why should a legal company be judged by the same standard we judge desperate criminals in third world countries?Recommend

  • Nobody

    I can’t speak for others, but I have heard it referred to as a Kolhapuri chappal in Pakistan. The name kind of speaks for itself, does it not? How is that not giving due credit?Recommend

  • Lahore wala

    Your jealousy ?Recommend

  • Chatafucup

    So I guess nobody wears or makes T-Shirts or Jeans in Pakistan without giving recognition they’re American originals? Hypocrite!Recommend

  • Chatafucup

    BTW, The Paul Smith version is much nicer looking and probably better quality!Recommend

  • Chatafucup

    Do you wear T-shirts, Jeans, or Cowboy boots? Watch television or use a phone, cell phone? Do you have electricity, use a computer? etc, etc, etcRecommend

  • Chatafucup

    Yeah, but he improved on it!Recommend

  • Chatafucup

    Are you blind? The pink trim is not the only difference.Recommend

  • Chatafucup

    Are you blind? The pink trim is not the only difference.Recommend

  • umar

    folks, i bought it in just 400 PKR two years back on and its still going such a solid type. A tribute from myside, charsada chappal rocksRecommend

  • Wasim

    Are you guys crazy? I bought 2 pairs yesterday from the place where it is actually available in its best quality at $13.5 per pair.Recommend

  • Mohammad Ali

    Dear Mind your own country business instead of ours. Ha hahaa.Recommend

  • raj

    I m minding my country’s business. Is Pakistan just for Muslims. Where is your patient nature towards other communities. I thought thats what Islam tells as well.Recommend