By Tariq Zaman
The Pashtun people are an Indo-European ethnic group from the subgroup of Eastern Iranians, who live in southeastern Afghanistan and the northern and southwestern provinces of Pakistan.
The Pashtuns speak Pashto, which is one of the two official languages of Afghanistan. The number of Pashtuns or Pashto-speakers in total is estimated to be 40–60 million people worldwide.
Pashtun culture is mostly based on Pashtunwali — an un-written ethical code and a system of law and governance in Pashtun society — and the usage of the Pashto language. The traditional male dress in Pashtun culture is qamis (a shirt) with shalwar (full trouser) and footwear called the Peshawari chappal. This distinctive footwear takes its name from the city of Peshawar, which links Pakistan with Afghanistan and Central Asia. This is a type of handmade, semi-closed, leather footwear consisting of a sole joined by two wide strips. The sandal design evolved over generations and is ideal for both the warm and cold weather of the Pashtun region. The Peshawari chappal is widely recognized as the traditional footwear of the tribal people in the Pashtun region of Pakistan.
If we Google “Peshawari Chappal,” we will find 18,500 results; a similar search for “Robert Sandal,” yields 5,640 results. The controversy between the “one design with two labels” started when famous British designer Sir Paul Smith released a new sandal bearing close resemblance to the traditional Peshawari chappal, but named the “Robert Sandal.” The price of an original Peshawri Chappal is around [£4], while the Robert Sandal sells at a 9,816% mark-up at £300. Initially, Paul Smith failed to credit the design to the specific region from where the design originates.
The Criticism and Response
The designer has received vast criticism. There is an online petition, on Change.org, demanding that the designer change the name of his sandals to “Peshwari chappals,” which, at the time of writing has already received 1,595 signatures. The controversy has also received wide coverage in national and international media. The British newspapers The Guardian, The Independent, as well as the Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail, and the Pakistani The Dawn have all published articles about what many consider a cultural appropriation, along with analysis of the situation provided by noted Pakistani designers. Designer Paul Smith has been criticized mainly for not acknowledging the origins of the sandal —making this a blatant case of cultural appropriation. There is also the matter of price; The Globe and Mail reported that one foreign correspondent working in Pakistan joked on Twitter about the cost breakdown as 15 pounds for the actual shoe and 285 pounds for the hot pink stripe. Mosharraf Zaidi, an education activist and former diplomat, told The Independent that “These are Peshawari chappals. Paul Smith can make all the money he wants, but he should afford us the small courtesy of calling them what they are.”
The pressure has worked to some extent; Paul Smith subsequently updated his webpage and added the note “inspired by the Peshawari Chappal.”
This controversy has highlighted the need for support mechanisms for the legal protection of traditional knowledge, skills, geographical indications, and Indigenous cultural expressions. The legal community considers the story of Peshawari Chappel as another episode of the now-famous “Pakistan Basmati rice case”. This refers to a particular species of long-grain rice grown in the Punjab region of Pakistan and India, whose grains remain petal-soft and separate after cooking. In 1997, the United States granted a broad Basmati patent to RiceTec, which developed several strains of rice marketed under various names similar to Basmati. This has had grave repercussions for India and Pakistan who not only lost access to US import markets for Basmati rice, but also their position in crucial markets like the European Union, the United Kingdom, the Middle East and West Asia. Basmati rice also has cultural value, and as the Indian Newspaper Economic Times explained, "Patenting Basmati in the U.S is like snatching away our history and culture.” In 2002, as a result of judicial and political challenges, RiceTec withdrew 15 claims (out of 20), thus removing obstacles to Indian and Pakistani rice exports to the United States.
“The case of Peshawari Chappal, just like rice, revolves around the geographical indication (GI).” reported Mr. Khan, a Lahore-based trademark expert in The Express Tribune, a Pakistani newspaper. He added that “This sort of an issue should be taken up by the Intellectual Property Organisation of Pakistan,” he said. “It is just like scotch whisky. You can put whatever brand name you want on it but its Scottish origin doesn’t change.”
Pakistan is facing serious problems in almost all sectors and the country’s track record in protecting its products and intellectual property is not good. There is still a lack of awareness, education, skills, and legal protection mechanisms relating to intellectual property. However, digital social media is playing a positive role by providing more opportunities for public participation in discussions. In the case of Peshawari Chappal vs Robert Sandals, digital media helped to convey the concerns of the Pashtun people and resulted in Paul Smith’s minor, but important, action.
Sources & Suggested Reading
Crossan, Andrea (producer). 2014. Is British designer Paul Smith's sandal a $595 knockoff? Public Radio International.
Hasan, Saad. 2014. Armed with the original Peshawari Chappals, businessman fights back. The Express Tribune News Network.
Kakar, P. 2004. Tribal law of Pashtunwali and Women’s Legislative Authority. Islamic Legal Studies Program at Harvard Law School.
Mahmood, M.K. 2014. Respect the Culture & Tradition. Change.org.
Marlow, Iain. 2014. Outrage erupts over designer’s take on classic Pakistani shoe. The Globe and Mail.
Muhammed, A. and S. Pirzada. 2005. Pakistan: The consequences of a change in the EC rice regime. World Trade Organization.
Syed, Madeeha. 2014. A chappal of two cities: The £300 Paul Smith surprise. Dawn.com.
Symington, A. 2014. How Paul Smith Sandals Peeved Pakistan. The Wall Street Journal
Images: 1. Paul Smith’s Robert sandal and Peshawari chappal from Shahnameh, an online Peshawari Chappal Store from Pakistan (source: Veooz.com); 2. & 4. Robert sandal Paul Smith webshop; 3. Comments on Twitter and other social sites.
Tariq Zaman is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Institute of Social Informatics and Technological Innovations, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS), and an IPinCH Associate.
Our Appropriation (?) of the Month features, written by IPinCH team members, highlight the complexity of 'cultural appropriation' and 'cultural appreciation'.