& occasionally about other things, too...

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Shoe Project

Last August I went to India for a month – my first trip after I came to Canada.

I had a long list of stuff to buy, and on the top of the list was ‘Buy shoes from Bata’. 

I belong to a generation that grew up before the big four global shoe brands (Nike, Adidas, Reebok and Puma) came to dominate the minds of consumers.

I’ve only wore Bata shoes (or sandals).

In Canada, I could get everything I wanted but no Bata shoes.

In India, where market segmentation is multilayered, Bata is still a powerful brand.

When I was growing up, Bata was such a huge brand that during the socialist phase in India (in the 1970s), there was even a song in a Hindi movie about flour being made available in a Bata shop – flour in Hindi is ata, and rhymes with Bata. 

(Bata ki dukan par bhi ata mile ga a rare Rafi-Kishore duet from the 1978 Heeralal Pannalal).

During our first month in Canada, we took a sightseeing tour of downtown Toronto and saw the Bata Shoe Museum from the outside.

I made a mental note to visit the museum, but visiting museums is one of those things that forever remain on the ‘must do’ lists.

Then, I heard about the Shoe Project from my friend Yoko.

Novelist and short story writer Katherine Govier, who has worked for many years with newcomers to Canada, was spearheading an initiative for the Bata Shoe museum.

The Shoe Project is a collection of memoirs of women immigrants about the shoes they wore (or brought with them) when they came to Canada.

The project started last fall when “Katherine met with twelve women, ages eighteen to sixty, who came to Canada from the Ukraine to Japan and many places in between...(O)ver tea and cookies the group discussed writing and immigration. Each woman found that she had a shoe-inspired tale. By the end each member had written a personal essay and provided the footwear to match.”

The exhibition came about when Katherine met Elizabeth Semmelhack, Senior Curator of the Bata Shoe Museum; Elizabeth “had long considered doing an exhibition featuring the shoes that brought people to Canada.”

Last week, the Shoe Project was officially unveiled.

And I finally visited the Bata Shoe Museum to see the Shoe Project – it is an absolutely fascinating exhibition.

Contributing writers to the Shoe Project 
There are 12 stories by immigrant women from across the world. 

They are by Filiz Dogan from Turkey, Maryam Nabavinijad from Iran, Sayuri Takatsuki from Japan, Gabi Veras from Brazil, Tanaz Bhathena from India, Elizabeth Meneses Del Castillo from Colombia, Miliete Selemon from Eritrea, Teenaz Javat from India & Pakistan, Freweini Berhane from Eritrea, Nada Sesar-Raffay from Croatia, and Tanya Andrenyuk from Ukraine.

Teenaz Javat and Tanaz Bhathena (both Parsis and both originally from Mumbai) read their shoe memoirs.

The exhibition has become possible thanks to a generosity of an anonymous donor.

I also met Sonja Bata, the force behind the museum that was started in Toronto in 1995.

Read more about the Shoe Project here: The Shoe Project
Read more about the Bata Shoe Museum here: Bata Shoe Museum
Read more about Katherine Govier here: Katherine Govier


  1. Great blog Mayank. Thank you for coming, and writing about us. I love the pun on Bata and ata- flour- . I wonder if Mrs. Bata knows. It is strange that Bata shoes were so big in Asia, and in Europe, but not here, although the the founder was Canadian. The shoes in the museum are Mrs. Bata's own collection and range from the days of Christ and Rome to our pop stars, and include a huge collection of beautiful beaded North American Indian moccasins.

  2. The exhibit and accompanying stories sound so touching and intimate. I remember visiting the Ellis Island museum in NYC, and the most moving thing was seeing displays of the meaningful personal items people had brought from so far away.

  3. Enjoyed reading the blog and about shoes and good old Bata, which is a permanent item in my shopping list in India. I remember spotting a Bata shop in Rome and feeling so excited about it as if I saw a piece of India in Italy!