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Thursday, Oct 24, 2019

A market on the edge?

One of the biggest and the most thriving markets in the country, Dharavi’s popular leather market seems to be losing its glory

art-and-culture Updated: Sep 23, 2019 19:10 IST
Sanskrita Bharadwaj
Sanskrita Bharadwaj

Sisters Zarina and Zuleikha Bandey have been coming to the leather market in Dharavi, Mumbai, for a few years now. Zarina, who is based in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, is bound to visit Mumbai’s Tata Memorial Hospital every year for her routine checkups. Before leaving though, she makes sure she lays her hands on a few handbags she could take back home, for her family and friends. Zuleikha, too, picks up a bag or two as she accompanies her sister every year. It was, in fact, Zuleikha, who first discovered the wonders of this market. “I was researching online where one could find the best quality leather bags in India and this (the Dharavi) market showed up. We have been coming here for a long time,” says Zuleikha, who is based in New Delhi.

Gritty Glory

Dharavi, is considered to be one of the world’s largest slums. A network of narrow lanes marked by dense underdeveloped housing was made internationally famous in popular culture by Danny Boyle’s Oscar winning film, Slumdog Millionaire (2008). Most recently — Bollywood depicted the struggles of an underdog living in the slums of Dharavi and how he conveys his views on social issues that exist in the slum colony through his rapping — in Zoya Akhtar’s film, Gully Boy. Home to more than 7,00,000 people, Dharavi is also known for its leather, textile, pottery and recycling industries.

As you walk past the crowded 90-feet road, you will notice a number of leather shops sprawled across it and the adjoining Sion-Bandra Link Road. The leather market, has been considered a paradise for people who want to shop for bags, shoes, wallets, jackets, and all kinds of leather accessories. As an informal economy, this market, which is about 25 years old, has been providing employment to thousands of families residing in the slum colony. Javed Agwan, 40, who has been running his shop for 15 years now, says, “This market has always had leather. While the days of leather tanning are more or less over in Dharavi, finished leather goods have taken over as the main leather-based business.”

A number of leather shops are sprawled across the 90feet road and the adjoining Sion-Bandra Link Road in Dharavi (Photo: Pratik Chorge/HT)
A number of leather shops are sprawled across the 90feet road and the adjoining Sion-Bandra Link Road in Dharavi (Photo: Pratik Chorge/HT)

Perennial favourite

The 21-year-old Zahid Mansuri sits at his elder brother’s showroom. The leather that is found here, he says, is not found anywhere else. “The price range is affordable for the kind of stuff you get here. If you go outside, you will get leather bags that start from Rs5,000. Here, you could get it for Rs2,000,” he says.

Vishruti Boricha, 23, who is paying a quick visit to the market along with her uncle, before she goes out of the country for her further studies, says, “I have bought leather jackets from many branded stores but those have worn out rather soon. The jackets I picked up from here, though, have really survived the test of time. My family has been coming here for years to buy bags and jackets. The quality here is pure and authentic.”

Dressed in a plain black cotton kurta-pajama, 50-year-old Ramzan Dayatar calmly sits inside his shop — one that sells all kinds of leather goods ranging from bags to belts. His shop, Ramzan says, is almost 70 years old. “Earlier, it was a shop that would only sell leather — the leather that was used as a base for big luggage bags. Then, it moved on to being a ration store. When the whole leather market began, it was only then that we came up with our own showroom, and now, this is all we’ve got for the past 15 years,” he says.

But all’s not well

But Ramzan points out that the market is “not popular anymore”. “Look at the area, it has no benefits at all. There is no parking space, the infrastructure is poor, and the workers here at the manufacturing industries work in terrible conditions. I have grown up hearing how Dharavi would eventually develop but it is still the same. There is so much space and it could be as developed like Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC). All of this is affecting the leather industry as well. My grandfather and father have seen hordes of tourists come here and now there are hardly any customers apart from two or three people in my shop every day,” he explains.

Earlier, leather products were exported from here to all over the world. “We wouldn’t export directly but we had various agents through whom we did,” says Javed, but he says that there is a low demand for the products right now. “There was a huge demand sometime until 2013. Now, the dip in demand is affecting us a lot and there’s absolutely no export,” he adds.

Ramzan whose grandfather came from Gujarat, grew up here, and is currently based in Mahim. He, too, like Javed, points at how export of leather products from the market have “completely declined”. “Now, the leather mostly goes to Chennai (Tamil Nadu) where there are tanneries. Because we have a lot of leather here, and it is getting wasted, we send it there. We have the resources, but business is lagging behind,” Ramzan adds.

Zahid, too, agrees with Ramzan and Javed. However, he is hopeful that the sales might “magically” go up during the festive season.

First Published: Sep 23, 2019 19:09 IST

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