Roughly three hundred years ago (1800s), British officers living in Kanpur started the British India Corporation (BIC) in the ‘Harness Factory’ presently known as the ‘Ordnance Equipment Factory’ at Kanpur to cater to the needs of the British Army and Police. They taught local tanneries to make saddles for their horses, army boots and shoes. Master craftsmen were sent by the East India Company to train the local cobblers and leather artisans to make shoes in the style favoured by the Europeans.
The Kanpur saddlery industry grew rapidly during the periods of the world wars fulfilling the demands from various sections of the world. However, work slowly tapered off with the introduction of automobiles in the army.
Years later, some of the big saddlery brands from Walsall in England which has traditionally been considered to be the world’s saddlery capital began to source products from Kanpur. The reason was very simple – rising costs forced saddlery makers in the West Midlands to outsource production to Kanpur in India and little did they know that one day Kanpur tanneries which are remnants of the British Raj will catch up with their former master and emerge as the world leader.
Premium harnesses and saddlery goods (horse riding and driving equipment) have been manufactured under the umbrella of small industries for over a hundred years in Kanpur. The saddlery industry is highly labour-intensive and 100 percent export-oriented. The best thing about the saddle industry is that it is pollution-free and does not harm the environment. The workers are involved in making the products by hand.
There are over 2000 registered units in and around Kanpur with the annual turnover estimated at Rs 400 crore. Around 30,000 workers are directly engaged in manufacturing while 20,000 are indirectly engaged.
The superior quality and pristine finish of the saddlery goods made in Kanpur has made it the hub for saddlery products not only in India but also in Asia. More than 300 products and over 5000 products exclusively for horsemen are made here.
The saddlery industry comprises of products such as the saddle, stirrups, bridles, straps, shoes and whips. Kanpur is the leader in harness and saddlery items in the world. The product range is so extensive in both leather and non-leather goods that it has single-handedly squashed all competition in the world. Each and every product for a horse rider is specific and tailored to his or her needs.
The saddlery industry uses the easily available vegetable-tanned buffalo leather to make their harness and saddlery goods. The excellent craftsmanship, competitive pricing, low manufacturing costs and capacity to make the items in bulk and in time are some of the reasons that this industry in Kanpur has earned a formidable reputation in the world.
Kanpur saddlery was awarded the Geographical Indication Tag (GI) in 2014.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
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