YOU cannot find leather online as a raw material from the convenience of your home. An average urbanite does not even know where to find it even if they happen to move out of their comfort zones.
Leather markets around the world are a rare find. We know of Bab Debbagh in Marrakech, Sham Shui Po in Hong Kong, Mercado La Luz in Leon, Mexico, and Periamet in Chennai, India. There are others in Vietnam, Nigeria, South Korea and South Africa, where there are skilled craftsmen working on a small scale and need to find supplies of material without having to wait.
Pakistan, like many Asian and African countries, has a unique feature of bazaars, which are mostly located in colonial era heritage building structures. There is a chamra bazaar in Karachi’s old quarters, which is located in Juna Market, close to Jodia Bazaar.
It was established in the early days of Pakistan by the merchants who came from Calcutta and Madras (now Kolkata and Chennai). Some of them are still present. Its simplicity contrasts with the business of the market and creates a harmonious streetscape for the visitors.
I have a childhood association with this bazaar. I have been visiting my father’s office ever since I was five or six. My cousins and siblings would visit the office on weekends and during summer vacations. We loved collecting leather and typing on the typewriter. We loved the way labourers would pull their pushcarts and how their new generation still finds their home in this market. My nostalgic association and the time from 2007 gang war have sparked a little avenging sense inside.
We lost a lot of customers who used to visit the bazaar; they either switched their businesses or started visiting Lahore because of life-threatening instances. I want the bazaar to once again be able to attract those customers. I want the traders to feel happy about being associated with the leather business in which they have spent their whole lives. I want to tell stories of these unsung heroes who resisted in those times and are still fighting for their sustenance.
The future of this market depends on the narrative of leather versus veganism. If the industry leaders fail to inspire new generation with the material’s organic nature and sustainability, the market will cease to exist in the coming years. It is a place for raw material sourcing. Making the material accessibility with due convenience is the goal. The driving factor is the narrative by the industry’s major stakeholders both within Pakistan and outside.
Apart from Karachi, there is a leather market in Lahore at Chamber Lane Road near Mochi Darwaza/Gawalmandi, and one in Peshawar at Jangi Mohalla near Namak Mandi. Rawalpindi also has a small bazaar located inside Suttar Gali in Raja Bazaar. A small bazaar is also located in Multan near Ghanta Ghar and one inside Hyderabad’s Pakka Qila.
Leather as a raw material is abundantly available in Pakistan. The revival of these leather markets across Pakistan would help the stakeholders and might as well attract new generation to experiment their entrepreneur skills with access to a material that generates valuable foreign exchange.
These chamra bazaars around the country are all in old towns. Preservation of such areas depends upon business sustainability. Also, it will help create precedence for other cities. It would help sustain the leather industry in a meaningful way as well. Will someone step in and revive these leather bazaars and subsequently the leather industry?
Published in Dawn, August 9th, 2022