Moirangthem Muktamani Devi hailing from Kakching Moirangthem Leikai is a master artisan. She started her small shoe industry, Mukta Shoes Industry in the year 1990-91. She has helped train many unemployed women in Manipur and help them earn a living making hand-made shoes.
Muktamani was born in December 1958 and brought up by her widow mother. She was married to Kshetrimayum Naran Singh, one of her classmates, when she was only 17 years. As she had three daughters and one son, she needed to work extra hard to make ends meet. She used to go to the paddy field and work there during the day with her husband and sell homemade eatables in the evening. She was fortunate that she knew knitting before marriage and used to make carry bags and hair bands at night and sell them to get extra earnings to support her family.
In 1989, when she could not afford to buy a pair of new school shoes for her second daughter, she knitted one on the sole of a torn Lee-shoe with woollen threads in the shape of a shoe. Her daughter happily wore it to school the next day. However, she was afraid of getting punished as her shoes was not part of the school uniform. During the school assembly, her teacher approached her and she started crying out of fear. But the teacher smiled and asked her, ‘Who made it?’. The teacher wanted the same shoes for his daughter.
That is how everything started for Muktamani. Over time, she started experimenting with more innovative designs. She also makes a point to work on the feedback she gets from customers. ‘My designs are based on comfort and feedback from my valued customers. We also create designs as per the latest fashion trends,’ shared Muktamani.
Of course like any entrepreneur in the Northeast, the journey has not been easy. She also had to miss out on opportunities because of low capital. In 1997, she had attended International Trade Fair at Pragati Maidan, New Delhi where Mukta Shoes was declared the best product and best selling item. It drew the attention of officials from Australia, Japan, Mexico and others foreign countries. They wanted to start work with her and asked if she could supply in bulk. But Manipur being a landlocked state, no investors from mainland India came forward to help her start a business with the foreign traders.
Even now, after so many years, she still struggles with getting the right materials. ‘It is hard to find shoe soles and thread of good quality in local markets. To continue my work, I am forced to buy average quality raw materials from Kakhulong and other areas of Imphal. Good quality soles and thread are available in Kolkata and Guwahati but I don’t have enough capital to buy the raw material in bulk,’ she shares. She also applied for government funding through MSME Ministry for cluster model of business but is still waiting for a favourable reply. She is worried that the corruption and favouritism culture present in the State and Central Government may hinder her from getting the required funding needed to expand her production.
But being a strong and determined woman, she has not allowed all the challenges and obstacles to get to her. Her shoes are still quite popular in Manipur and she has even started selling them online. ‘I sell my products at my hometown Kakching and at the nearby army canteens. Giskaa.com sells my product online. I also try to attend popular trade fairs organized in Guwahati, Shillong and in various places in Manipur.’
Although in the many years, she has been in the business of making hand crafted shoes, she has received many compliments, she shared the most memorable compliment was from APJ Abdul Kalam. ‘He said my product is the futuristic handicraft from Manipur which is comfortable, washable, durable, eco-friendly and bio-degradable.’
Her family continues to motivate and support her dream. ‘My husband runs a carpentry shop at home. His income helps support the family. All my three daughters are married. The eldest is a mathematics teacher in JNV, my second daughter is in the State Social Welfare Department as project officer and my youngest daughter is a physics teacher in Kendriya Vidyalaya. My son has completed his BCA and is looking for a government job.’
Apart from making shoes, Muktamani loves to tend to her garden when she has free time. ‘I love growing vegetables and indigenous flowers. I also look after my grandchildren whenever their parents go out of station.’ She also wants to write books on her art of making shoes and the practical know-how so that she can pass on the knowledge to future generations.
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Awards and Achievements
Citi Group Micro Entrepreneurship Award (2006)
National Award, Micro, Small And Medium Enterprises (2008)
Manipur State Award To Master Craftsman (2008, 2009)
Vasundhara – NE Woman Entrepreneur of the Year (2013, 2014)
By Meeta Borah
This article was first published in Eclectic Northeast (October 2016) issue