Lahore, Pakistan, is renowned for the skill of its shoemakers. But that ancient craft seemed bound for extinction as cheap imported shoes flooded the country. Now, two entrepreneurs, Waqas Ali and Sidra Qasim, and their startup, called Markhor, are building a new market for Lahore’s fine footware — online.

Hands holding shoe to wheel (Courtesy of Markhor)
A Markhor craftsman fashions a chappal sandal. (Courtesy of Markhor)

Ali and Qasim knew they had a good product. “After working with the craftsmen and talking to customers for over two years, we learned in depth about the quality, design and what can be achieved,” Qasim said.

But to build an online market, the two needed capital. After several limited marketing attempts, Ali and Qasim launched a campaign on crowdfunding site Kickstarter, and supporters responded generously.

“Not only did we manage to meet the [fundraising] goal in less than a day, it allowed us to create ‘stretch’  goals, which directly connect to our mission of creating social impact,” Qasim says.

More than making money

Ali and Qasim feel a connection to the shoemakers because they come from the same community. With the help received through Kickstarter, they will offer health care and educational assistance to the craftsmen and their families.

Sidra Qasim and Waqas Ali with traditional shoemaker (Courtesy of Markhor)
Qasim, left, and Ali, right, with one of the traditional shoemakers. (Courtesy of Markhor)

Markhor plans to bring this sense of community online. It’s building a platform where customers and craftsmen can swap stories, creating virtually the sorts of connections that existed long ago, when people knew who made their shoes.

“My​ great-grandfather … knew his shoemaker,” Qasim said.

Ali and Qasim obtained valuable experience at the annual Global Entrepeneurship Summit, where they reached the finals of the GIST Tech-I competition. The 2014 summit, if you’re ready to follow in the pair’s, um, footsteps, is scheduled for November 19–21 in Marrakech, Morocco.