Kurdish shoes: ‘Cool in summer, warm in winter’
In a small workshop, Hama Nuri smiles as he finishes making a pair of Kurdish handmade shoes called “klash.” After he is done, he closely examines each pair from all angles and then puts it on a display shelf.
Klash-making demands meticulous handcrafting with shoemakers spending hours on a single pair. It has been in use for several centuries. Though young people now exclusively wear western-style shoes for everyday use, klash remains a cultural staple in Kurdistan.
Nuri uses cotton fabrics and cowhide to make the sole of the shoe and knitted wool thread to make the upper vamps. He only makes klash worn by men, with sales increasing during national celebrations such as the Kurdish Flag Day (March 10) and the Kurdish New Year of Newroz (March 21).
“I have been doing this for 20 years, learned it from my father,” Nuri, 42, says with an air of pride.
The craft makes him happy, he adds. "It is good to do something that maintains your own culture."
The uniqueness of klash comes from its colors (white, red, blue) and that there is not left or right pair. You can wear it either way. The footwear is also known for its sturdiness.
“Each week, it is better to swap the left and right foot, so they get the balance, and this way your klash lasts longer,” Nuri says.
Many shoemakers like Nuri make klash in the Hawraman and Halabja areas of the Kurdistan Region. The areas are also known for their attractive natural sites that draw tens of thousands of tourists every year.
The Price Tag
For Nuri, it is easy to pass cotton threads between his toes before connecting them to small machines that wrap them together to make the sole of klash. “I enjoy it as much as I make money from it. But, it is not only about money; it is about my father’s way, the Kurdish way.”
A pair of klash typically costs between 30,000 and 120,000 Iraqi dinars (about $25—$80), depending on thread quality.
However, “there are klashes that go for as high as 300,000 ($210),” Nuri says.
Young Kurds wear klash for ceremonial occasions, but Nuri says he also often gets orders from abroad, from Kurds and foreigners alike.
“Those Kurds who live abroad order klash, either for themselves or gift it to their friends, which makes our business better. Those foreigners who have it, they order it for their friends and family.”
A customer comes in. After a long, warm greeting with Nuri, he pays him 50,000 Iraqi dinars ($33) and picks up his white and blue pair. “I will wear them with my blue rank u joghal,” he says, referring to a Kurdish traditional outfit.
After the man leaves, Nuri explains that that customer waited three weeks to get his order.
Even though western-style shoes dominate the footwear market, including in Kurdistan, Kurds continue to express pride in wearing klash.
“It is an honor to wear klash,” Hawre Mustafa, 28, says. “It is so comfortable. In the winter it is warm, and in the summer it is cool.”
“It feels that you are a real Kurd,” he adds with a laugh.
Some Kurds believe that klash was first worn by Zoroaster, the prophet of the Zoroastrian religion. For those who still practice the ancient religion, wearing klashes is also spiritual.