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 and the reaction received, Paul Smith updated their website and recognised that the shoes in question were in fact inspired by Peshawari Chappals.


All the best,

The Express Tribune Blogs team.


Bina Shah

Author of A Season For Martyrs. She tweets @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!

    Read here how many variations they have brought in peshawari chappals. Do they have this much styles?

    Read about their lives and Mr. Robert is making huge amount of money on their idea.

    Mr. Robert must read the following to know how old it is and how much it is loved worldwide.

  • Deen Sheikh

    But seriously did this merit a blog?Recommend

  • David

    Any valid comments you made about Paul Smith ethically sourcing products from Pakistani chappal makers destroyed by labeling it cultural appropriation. It’s a sandal, nothing more. I doubt Italians were frothing at the mouth when gladiator sandals were the in the thing. Seriously, get a grip. Your country has far more pressing matters to be outraged about.Recommend

  • Sohan

    Outrageous. Someone should import and sell a ton of actual Peshawari chappals there, now that PS has kindly raised the profile of the design.

    One little thing, though: there were attempts to patent basmati and haldi, and both attempts were dismissed on the grounds of prior (traditional) knowledge.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:

    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:

  • 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

  • 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

  • Sadia Khatri

    Paul Smith’s addendum to the chappal description is a way to pacify us as best, I don’t think it compensates for anything. “Inspired by” has become synonymous with the right to steal/do something, as long as you add the disclaimer that the inspiration is there. There is nothing inspirational in Paul Smith’s appropriation. It is blatant stealing / copying and the joke’s on us because kya bhi kar saktay hain? Ban Paul Smith’s website, boycott the brand?

    To comments who claim keh har koi “inspiration” leta hai: the injustice in this specific example lies in how much $$$ Paul Smith is making, without needing to waste one brain-cell in making a honest, creative new design.Recommend

  • Ahmad Hassan Khan

    Just because my country has other “pressing matters” which need our due attention doesn’t mean people should go about cannibalizing my culture and traditions.To you it’s just a “sandal” but to the craftsmen over here its “life”.
    And, with all due respect if you had paid any attention (at all) to what you were writing you would have realized that the Italians probably weren’t “frothing at the mouth” because those sandals are called “GLADIATORS”. As far as I know Gladiators weren’t from Hawaii. All we expect from such world renowned brands is a little respect for the craftsmen on whose ideas they capitalize.PEACE :)Recommend

  • zarak

    this belongs to Pashtoon culture no doubt about that,and let me tell you one thing to all of you out here, these sandals belongs to Afghanistan. Pashtoon people of Afghanistan wear these sandals for centuries , when pakistan was not their on the world map so no need to cry on that ……Recommend

  • Belal

    Don’t wanna brag, but I was the one who wrote to them and demanded that they write “inspired by the Peshawari Chappal.” Just sayin’.Recommend

  • Supriya Arcot

    Well its ‘our’ loss / foolishness that we didnt bother patenting things like ‘turmeric’ ,’basmati rice’ or ‘ chappal ‘ designs. Why blame the west for throwing the first stone. if ‘they’ had not done it , some one else would have set claim like some one from Artic / China etc.,Recommend

  • Jawaad

    200 Years ago?? Pakistan was made like 70 years ago. The design is Afghan or Pashtun. As the design comes from that area. Ironic how its pakistan the gets the credit when its not even a pakistani design.Recommend

  • maria

    These chappals(saplay as we call them) are called charsadwalay(charsadda:a place in khyber pukhtoonkhwa) here. Not peshawari chappal by the way.Recommend

  • phannay khan

    I call BS on the whole ruckus that is being raised regarding these sandals. There would be no noise if the brand-name had been Chappal Khan instead of Paul Smith “Robert Sandals” (and here’s the good part) *regardless* of whether or not Chappal Khan was paying a dime to the hard working people in KPK.Recommend

  • annoyed

    stop being so bloody sensitive about every god damn thing man. sirf pakistaniyon ko yay masla hai kai khud nai socha to make some thing reach such big heights. complexed qaumRecommend

  • Monar

    yes it did,Recommend

  • pfft

    what a ridiculous article. there are bigger things to worry about. what about all the western adaptations here?? this is the problem with pakistanis. always making a huge deal out of insignificant issues. the polarised society here likes nothing better than to make such a big issue out of stuff till it reaches the point of a fatwa being declared. so what if you feel worthy recognition wasn’t given? at least something pakistani was getting global acknowledgment. something your own country men didn’t bother doing or succeed in doing. the blogger, as do most people in this god forsaken country, need to get a life. one with some meaning.Recommend

  • Studie

    Paul Smith is a joke anyways, I’m not surprised if they went around copying some good designs and calling it their own.Recommend

  • Faysal I. Malik

    they should be sued … the way ‘Sindh Festival’s logo been sued ?! remember anyone ?Recommend

  • Faysal I. Malik

    Hey David .. you seems to have an interest in our culture .. why don’t you search “Sindh Festival’s Logo” been sued by Marvel Comics …. should i say You’re country can’t even bear a Logo … yet you guys wants us to let it go on our cultural heritage … think again aren’t you westies being a bit selfish ?!Recommend

  • np

    Cultural appropriation – bad. What about outright piracy? Most Bollywood movies are seen either on DVDs o on cables without a penny of royalty/sales proceeds going to the Indian producer.

    Paul SMith had the decency to update their website once the issue was pointed out. Will Pakistan do something to curb piracy?Recommend

  • kDost Samjho

    a big joke of year lol robert ….its not u r design its pakisani designRecommend

  • Parvez

    Well, it seems that the blog got its desired result… good.
    The sandals in the picture are not spectacular, certainly not worth the price……my friend has mine made from a village mochi outside of Mardan (KPK) and they last forever and decidedly look better than the ones in the picture. Cost is so reasonable that my friend refuses to tell me.Recommend

  • Kublai

    You can buy good quality, hand made chappals
    with truck tire soles for about Rs. 600/700. From
    a Chappal Bazaar. Depends how good you are at
    Keep it authentic, chappals with tire soles. Beyond
    that,…anything with calfskin, goatskin etc. tender
    looking pieces,.. just look wimpy.Recommend

  • Lahore wala

    You can live in your doom and gloom. And every time
    you raise your tear stained face, your favorite subjects
    and articles on death,bomb blasts,grenades,target killings
    will be there a plenty. So get a life.Recommend

  • ShaikhRasheed
  • Mariyah

    Our local deginers ‘copy paste’ western desings allllll the bloody time and no one bats an eye…someone made a chappal over seas and you’re going all nuts about it!!
    Calm down!!!!Recommend

  • Khalid

    Rip off – best hand made Peshawri Chapli costs RS 2000 in Attock.

  • Khalid Khan

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

  • 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.

  • 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

  • Amrita Yasin

    I also would have preferred the word ‘copied’ instead of ‘inspired’ considering the only difference is the pink trim.Recommend

  • Amrita Yasin

    The video wala isn’t claiming these movies were made in Pakistan.Recommend

  • Arjun Kapoor

    @Bina Shah: very rich coming from.a pakistani. KOLHAPURI CHAPPALS originated in kolhapur, Maharashtra, india. Kolhapuris are very much indian worn in India till date.Pakistan has copied the kolhapuri.How come Pakistanis don’t recognise this and give credit where it is due eh? Take a good look at yourselves, before pointing fingers at others.Recommend

  • Unknown

    In USA, Multani Sohan Halwa is being sold as Dohda burfi and pateesa as sohn papdi but no voice from Pakistan.Recommend

  • Mian

    “Cultural Appropriation”…
    You’re so funny!!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

  • raj

    the chappal design has not been trademarked and hence can be copied. Superman logo is trademarked and bilawal should have known it. I agree with David. Pakistan is still focused of out-of-focus issues rather than bigger problems of inequality, injustice, lack of education and othersRecommend

  • Trump

    This is how western fashion labels have captured Pakistani elite.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

  • Kotri wala

    Did you invent kheri?Recommend

  • 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

  • Khyberbazaar

    Paul Smith have done a great work to promote the century old handcraft from Pakistan, but the price he fixed is little more.Recommend

  • Wahid Shah

    The price here in our province (KP Pakistan) is round about $5 to $10.. it is the traditional “Kheri” or more specifically “Saplay” and we wear it form hundred of years..Recommend