A startup in Pakistan aims to turn the spotlight away from mass production of shoes and bring back the concept of handcrafted shoes made through hours of tedious labour and attention. Founded by Waqas Ali and Sidra Qasim, Markhor brings handcrafted shoes made by local people to international markets.
The entrepreneurial journey for the duo began when they visited their home village in Okara. They witnessed craftsmen there working with dedication to ensure these handcrafts were made to perfection. Waqas and Sidra learned that huge brands worked with these craftsmen from countries such as India, Pakistan, and Vietnam. However, these craftsmen did not get the recognition they deserved.
Both these entrepreneurs believe that digital world will play a key role in building wealth in developing nations and in pulling them out of poverty. But a local shoemaker Waqas met did not share the same opinion. While Waqas believed in the power of the digital world, this shoemaker, Muhammad Hussain, thought that social media should be banned nationwide. The only common force driving them was their curiosity to learn.
Waqas understood that the only way to bring his craft to the audience worldwide was through digital world. When he approached Muhammed with this idea, the latter was initially taken aback by the suggestion but later succumbed. Markhor had its first production run in the year 2012 and later launched the business selling handcrafted shoes online. They were able to sell 200 pairs of shoes in 17 countries within the first six months itself.
While talking to the Deseret News, Sidra said,
We were able to give jobs to 24 local craftsmen. In our next run we would like to increase their pay by twofold, and offer health benefits as well.
Soon after, Plan9 gave an opportunity to Markhor and they received support from Pakistan’s first technology incubator. Plan9 took them up for six months and provided them with free office space, laptops, electricity, and a small stipend. They also provide the startups with the training necessary to promote and expand their business.
Since then, Markhor has expanded tremendously, and has recently extended its product line with the addition of handmade Apple accessories. The company’s growth has also resulted in co-founder Waqas appearing on the 'Forbes 30 under 30 Asia Retail & E-commerce' list.