Koolaah - Reviving The Lost Himalayan Craft

For me, there's no greater joy than getting home, unlacing my shoes, shaking off the day and sliding into my slippers.

I first spotted my very own pair of Koolaah lounge slippers about 5 years ago on a stall at Spitalfields market. I struggled to walk past them, their bright threads and geometric stitches beckoned me over to for a closer look. The vivid colours reminded me of Peruvian blankets, so I was curious about the origin of the design. I was warmly greeted by Anuj, who delighted in telling me they were in fact from his home, high in the Himachal Pradesh state in northern India.

He explained that traditionally, these slippers were known as POOLAAH and crafted by village women and a big part of their local identity. They would be made using natural fibres such as hemp. However since hemp had become a controlled substance in the region due to its association with cannabis growing, the craft began fading away. So he, along with other passionate entrepreneurs forged Himalayan People, a social enterprise aiming to revive this lost tradition.

Bringing new sustainable materials such a jute, chord and wool Himalayan People began meeting with clusters of village women. Together they developed a range of contemporary colour combinations using the same weave, stitch and rope sole design that had been passed down through generations, renamed KOOLAAH.

High up in the Himalayan mountains, people congregate in close-knit family clusters. Himalayan People work with a number of these clusters, who live at altitudes of between 2500 – 3000 metres about sea level. From the highway, a two-hour steep uphill drive along a dirt road would bring us to the base of a village cluster. Beyond that, a further 2 hours on foot up the steep mountain close to the snow line would lead us to where Koolaah's community of makers is settled.

Each Koolaah is lovingly handcrafted, with no two pairs ever quite the same. This lack of uniformity brings such beauty to this collection, unlike the consistency we have come to expect from manufactured footwear, Koolaah represents a true expression of the people who are at the heart of every pair.

Anuj is passionate about sharing the crafts from his region and creating a fair and sustainable commerce for its locals. He explains,

Having had the good fortune of spending the early years of my life in the Himalayas, I have always been drawn to these mountains and the simple lifestyles of the hardworking people that live there. Experiencing the majesty of nature at a young age and seeing the quiet ritual of the lives of people that live among those valleys and hills has on reflection left a lasting impression on me.

“The Himalayas are a mountain range that, despite the awe-inspiring spectre of their desolate heights, are incredibly soft at their core! The hardy exterior hides within itself a gentleness that is difficult to fathom. Therein lies the essence of the Himalayan People. The difficult terrains, climatic gauntlets, day-to-day logistical challenges and often, tough economic conditions, have over the aeons produced a people of remarkable perseverance and ingenuity. Despite artificial political and national boundaries that have nominally differentiated them on paper maps in modern times, there runs an unmistakable unifying grain of socio-cultural proximity in all the people of the Himalayas. It is visible in the colours of their fabrics and handicrafts. It lends an audible oneness to their folk music & dance styles and imparts a familial flavour to their cuisines and food habits. The people are industrious and efficient in using the local materials and available resources to fashion artefacts of incredible beauty and practical utility. Above all else though, what ties the Himalayan People together most is an invisible thread of unassuming humility, peace-loving, friendly nature and an impossible-to-miss openness with which they welcome the outsider into their homes and lives to share in the collective human experience.” - Himalayan People

I feel so fortunate to be able to share these gifts and support makers high in the remote Himalayan mountains. We have just updated our collection in time for winter gifting season and have 25 new slippers now in stock in both the slip on and enclosed designs. Find your perfect pair in store.

amanda wayne