Halal footwear is a growing niche market in Europe and North America | Salaam Gateway - Global Islamic Economy Gateway

2022-03-30 08:55:03 By : Mr. Roger Lee

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Demand for halal certified leather, from ostrich to cow, is growing (Shutterstock).

At a time when footwear companies are moving to tap high-quality and high-added value segments and niche markets, such as vegan shoes, attention is now turning to the sales potential being offered for sales of footwear that is halal-certified in wealthy non-Muslim majority markets such as Europe and North America. 

Sales of footwear marketed as being halal has certainly been picking up in Europe and North America. For instance, New York-based Wear Halal sells shoes it says are made from “100% halal cow, sheep and goatskin,” noting that it “does not use pigskin to reduce the product price” of its shoes. It also argues that “using high-quality halal raw materials are the key to comfort and satisfaction.” Meanwhile, the Sweden-based Arabian Shopping Zone sells products such as “genuine halal leather shoes and khuffs” (prayer slippers) as “indoor carpet footwear.”

Such demand for halal certified footwear is likely to rise in Europe given the increasing number of Muslims there, now exceeding 44 million - (the Pew Research Centre said in 2016 the population proportion was 4.9%) - with many more visiting the continent, said Jörg Imran Schröter, from Freiburg, in Breisgau, south-west Germany. His company SmartKhuffZ integrates sneakers (trainers) with prayer socks, enabling wearers to slip off the outer form of these sports shoes conveniently and easily. Having converted to Islam over 30 years ago, when he was 19, he was always troubled by washing his feet for the ritual prayer, especially during his studies and later during a university teaching career. SmartKhuffZ was born from the idea to “put traditional prayer socks into modern sneakers to combine the religious life with the circumstances of daily life today,” with the brand being registered in 2017 and patented in 2018. 

Schröter is currently focusing on expanding marketing to reach a wider market: “The main thing is that many young Muslims want to live their religion, but in a way that is easy to combine with daily life. They don't want to be or to look somehow backward. SmartKhuffZ is therefore not just a function but also an identity for urban Muslims,” Schröter told Salaam Gateway. SmartKhuffZ’s development has been held back by the Covid-19 pandemic, but with the disease likely to become endemic this year, he said: “I wanted to start a direct physical business in the UK, but all the markets and fashion weeks were cancelled in 2020-21. Now in 2022, I will focus on the online business.” To ensure that his product is ‘halal’, he has received a formal declaration of support via the Fatwa Committee of the Al-Azhar Islamic Research Academy in Egypt. It confirmed that the wiping over his product’s inner shoe, or sock, section, instead of washing feet before prayer is permitted under Islam.

SmartKhuffZ is not alone. American e-commerce company Еtsy, which focuses on handmade products by sellers and artists worldwide, including Europe, offers more than 80 types of halal-marketed leather slippers made out of genuine sheep, lamb, or goat leather – all rated high quality by customers.

Faraz Omar, founder of the Canada-based halal stock screening system Muslim Xchange said there was a need for carefully assessing the halal credentials of these products in non-Muslim-majority markets such as Europe and North America: “I can say that there certainly is a need for awareness on this topic and there is a market for it as well. In the past, mostly Muslims would supply leather products to the world. So most products would almost always be pure. Things have changed now, and China supplies a lot of leather, which may mostly be made from pig skin,” he warned.

Ahmed Tanveer, a technical management consultant for leather and leather products based in Chennai (India) and a former technical director and senior executive at K H Leather Industries Pte Ltd, in Ranipet, Tamil Nadu, said India was well placed and determined to fill a gap between supply and demand of halal footwear in Europe and North America. Noting that “a major portion of Indian leather falls in the halal category” because of its large Muslim population and the preponderance of Muslims in its leather sector, the country “has a huge facility” to produce leather shoes and socks.

Tanveer said Indian manufacturers “can build competent halal leather product brands to suit the market demand in the West with a huge advantage of competitive prices.” With nearly 40 years of experience in the industry, Tanveer stressed that India already supplies western footwear brands including Nike, Rockport, Timberland, Clarks and many more – although these products are not marketed as halal, even if their production is halal compliant, in terms of leather selection and the slaughter of livestock.

Niaz Ahmed Farooqui, CEO of New Delhi-based halal certification organisation the Jamiat Ulama-I-Hind HalalTrust explained that Shariah law regards tanned skins “as clean and fit to be used” in footwear products, with the industry preferring to process the skin of halal slaughtered animals that are processed carefully and so provide a superior quality of hide. 

“Therefore, demand for halal certification of shoes is increasing,” he said. Farooqui added that Indian footwear companies wanting to secure halal certification from his organisation generally paid around $350 for this work and international companies seeking halal certification for overseas and Indian sales were usually charged around $1,000.

Ahmad Salehi, the founder of Tehran, Iran-based, EMY Leather, which supplies ostrich leather, has been developing exports to halal shoe makers in Europe. He has also been working with a Portuguese buyer to supply halal ostrich leather for making slippers. Leather footwear is an important part of the halal industry, said Salehi: "The fact is that many Muslims do not even know that halal leather is as important as halal meat. In my opinion, mentioning the name halal on [shoe] products should draw more attention to this issue," he said.

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