Put your hawai foot forward

The tale of hawai chappals

Freestyle

April 26, 2019

/ By / Kolkata

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The flip flops have come a long way from traditional zori for worker class people to a casual wear for everyone

How did flip flops become the symbol for average Indians?  Why are flip flops in India named after the US state Hawaii? Let’s take a dive into the story behind the origin of hawai chappals (flip flops).

The hawai chappals have been a part of the lives of every common Indian household for ages and were even considered a symbol representing the financially backward sections. However, along with time the perception of hawai chappal has changed -from what was regarded as a casual wear to something that is now considered to be stylish and cool. It is used by people from both urban and rural places. And all thanks to the BATA shoe company, that brought the durable rubber flip flops to India.

If we look into the Indian history, earlier people had been using wooden sandals with a toe nub but no straps that were known as padukas, as it is even mentioned in the mythologies. The advent of Buddhism saw the padukas moving towards other countries like China, Japan, Sri Lanka where they were adopted accordingly. The Japanese adapted this into a straw footwear zōri with V-shaped strap that secures the foot to the sole. It was after World War II that this footwear got recognition as the soldiers returning from Japan brought along zōri as mementos. America caught onto this trend, redesigned it and started using it mainly as a beach wear or casual wear.

Then why is it named after Hawaii in India? The Hawaiians had been traditionally using Ti plant leaves for making slippers to protect their soles from rough lava or coral in the island. But they are not the hawai chappals we use today. When the Japanese were brought to work on the fields in Hawaii during late 19th century, they wore their traditional zōri to work. The zōri became popular in the island country too. Nearly after 50 years it was adapted by an American cobbler to change it to rubber soles from straw ones.

It was in 1960s that a Brazilian company Alpargatas marketed a flip flop brand Havaianas (name derived from the feminine form of Portuguese word for “Hawaiians”) which made the blue and white designed rubber flip flops for the working class popular. They were introduced in India by the Bata shoe company and were given the name of hawai chappals. It was widely adopted by Indians due to its comfort and durability.

The hawai chappals have been a part of the Indian lives for so long that even a few superstitions have developed around them. One of the superstitious belief is that leaving your chappals (slippers) upside down brings along bad luck while many drivers have chappals tied to the back bumpers of their trucks to ward off evil and bad luck. Also in Asian countries it is considered bad to wear slippers inside the house as it is believed to bring along impurity.

The hawai chappals may have been developed for the working class but it is happily used by Indians for the comfortable sole and lightness. They are ideal for just stepping out for groceries or visiting relatives and friends in a jiffy. If there was no dress code, then people would even wear them to offices.

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