Waqas Ali spent the first half of his life in Okara, a small village in Pakistan, without ever using the Internet. It was only after attending college in Lahore that he was inspired by the internet and its potential for improving the lives of local craftsmen.
He began the online site Markhor and in September of 2014, launched an appeal for funding on Kickstarter that brought in over US$107,000 from over 500 backers in two months.
Explaining the mission behind Markhor, Ali says, “The idea is that craftsmen in Pakistan make handmade shoes for many luxury brands, but most of the money goes to the middlemen who are responsible for delivery.” Many of these shoemakers live off less than $5 per day, Ali says, even though your average pair of Louis Vuitton men’s loafers retails for around $1,000.
By designing their own shoes, purchasing the leather themselves, and selling direct-to-consumer online, Markhor is able to pay the craftsmen three to five times more than the going rate. For consumers, removing the middleman translates to handmade, designer-quality shoes that cost less than $300 and ship within five days.
When the shoes arrive, included in the box is a profile of the craftsman responsible, Ali says, which also tells you how much he makes. “People like to know that these shoes are not made by a child or a pregnant woman in China,” says Ali. “When you’re buying high-end shoes from big brands, there are so many layers that you don’t know where the shoes are made.”
Ali says that Markhor is currently working with 75 craftsmen in Pakistan, and plans to scale up as needed. “There are thousands of craftsmen like this in Pakistan, and if you include India and Africa, where we plan to expand our production, there are millions,” he says.