If someone had asked you 10 years ago to name a Nepali shoe brand, you would have scratched your head. Today, BF Deerhill, Shikhar and Goldstar are all familiar brands that are crowding out imported shoes with lower prices and improved quality.
The Nepali shoe industry has certainly come a long way since the days of the now departed state-run Bansbari shoe factory. Its momentary success did at least prove that there is a market for locally-made shoes if the quality and price are right. Newcomers to the shoe market are now hard at work to re-establish the lost prestige of the 'Made in Nepal' label.
"Previously, we struggled just to survive," says Ram Krishna Prasai, managing director of Shikhar Shoes, "but now we can proudly say that we are growing, and growing dynamically."
Today there are about 60 registered shoe manufacturers in Nepal, with perhaps another 100 operating informally, and the industry estimates that local brands now account for about 35 per cent of the local footwear market. Retailers, once reluctant to sell locally made shoes, are now eager to stock them.
And its not just the standard selection of leather shoes, as many Nepalis think. Domestic manufacturers are now producing a wide variety of sports shoes, ladies' footwear and casual sandals.
"High quality, competitive designs and a price range that fits most Nepali pockets" are the reasons for this new-found success, according to Hom Nath Upadhaya, managing director of BF Deerhill Shoes. Initially, the market was dominated by cheap and shoddy Chinese shoes which often quickly fell apart. Manufacturers here say customers have now learnt that Nepali shoes, though more expensive than the Chinese models, last longer and still undercut prices of shoes from elsewhere.
Another change is that local manufacturers and retailers are now marketing their products more aggressively through advertising and eye-catching promotions. Many come with a warranty which has increased their credibility among consumers.
Despite these improvements, many shoes sold here are still wrongly labelled and mis-sold. "A lot of shoes make it to the Nepali market illegally, and there seems to be an unhealthy competition between the registered manufacturers and the non-registered sector," says Surendra Dahal of the Leather Footwear and Goods Manufacturers Association.
While the domestic market is booming, local shoe manufacturers have made little headway in finding export markets. About 70 per cent the raw materials still need to be imported, and there has to be an improvement in quality before Nepal can compete with Vietnam, Indonesia and Sri Lanka as a manufacturing base for designer shoes.
Officially, only one Nepali brand, Goldstar, is currently exported to India. In fact Goldstar is so popular in Nepal and India that the Chinese have started making knock-off Goldstars to sell in Nepal.
Says Goldstar's Rajan Shrestha: "Our sales are growing at 10 percent a year and there is a huge market right next door for our shoes."