From Maoist symbol to hipster accessory: Nepal’s Goldstar shoes get revamp

Employees work at a factory of Nepali shoe brand Goldstar in Katmandu. Goldstars were best known for cladding the feet of Maoist militiamen who waged a brutal insurgency against the state from their rural strongholds. (AFP)
Updated 16 February 2018
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From Maoist symbol to hipster accessory: Nepal’s Goldstar shoes get revamp

KATMANDU: Long maligned as the footwear of choice for Nepal’s Maoist guerillas, Goldstar sneakers are undergoing a revival in the Himalayan nation — fast becoming a must-have hipster accessory.
The humble $8 trainers were worn by insurgents during Nepal’s decade-long civil war, when just being seen wearing a pair was enough to wind up in prison accused to being part of the rebel force.
Today that stigma is fading as fashion conscious Nepalis, proud to support locally made products, flock to the brand — Goldstars saw a 30 percent jump in sales in 2017 according to company figures.
“Wearing a Goldstar now is like being a part of a movement. And everybody seems keen on being a part of it,” says Katmandu-based singer Samriddhi Rai, who regularly posts about her ever-growing collection to her large social media following.
Many of this new generation of consumers came of age after the conflict ended in 2006 with more than 17,000 dead and thousands more missing.
Then, Goldstars were best known for cladding the feet of Maoist militiamen who waged a brutal insurgency against the state from their rural strongholds.
The rebels earned a reputation for nimbly evading government forces, darting around the hills in military fatigues — and their distinctive sneakers.
“Goldstar shoes, the shoes of combatants. Always one step ahead,” local punk band The Katmandu Killers sing in a recently released track that taps into the enduring legacy of the brand from that era.
The army eventually changed tactics, opting to starve the rebels out by imposing a blockade that deprived Maoist strongholds of both food and footwear.
“They were trying to stop the lifeline, like food, but at the same time they were stopping the shoes as well,” Amir Rana, managing director of Goldstar’s parent company Universal Group, says.
As the bitter conflict dragged on, the trainers became so synonymous with the Maoists that anyone wearing a pair was suspected to be a militant.
“The security forces profiled them. If a guy was wearing Goldstar shoes and had a backpack, he was Maoist,” Rana adds.
The war ended with a peace deal in 2006 that brought the rebels into the folds of government, with Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal becoming Nepal’s first post-war prime minister.
But the scars linger and two commissions set up to investigate abuses on both sides have failed to bring key perpetrators to account, with many still occupying top positions in the government and military.
But many buying Goldstars today do not attach these storied shoes to the horrors of the past.
If anything the brand, founded by Rana’s father in 1990, has benefited from its humble roots as a family business as national pride has surged in recent years.
Sandwiched between two Asian superpowers vying for economic and diplomatic influence, Nepal is flooded with products from both.
“Most of the goods that we get are either made in India or made in China,” muses Shreyans Tamang, a young Katmandu resident who was sat on a sun-soaked step drinking tea with friends — a pair of Goldstars on his feet.
“I think that’s also why I like Goldstars because they are made in Nepal,” he adds.
A popular #MadeinNepal movement has also put a premium on homegrown products and helped local businesses reach young buyers through social media where their goods can acquire a new appeal.
Rai, the singer, said Goldstars meant much more than wearing “a funky pair of shoes.”
She says: “It was also about making a statement: that I support Nepali makes, the Nepali industry and that I embody the spirit of being a Nepali.”


Made homeless by war, Syrians sell furniture to survive

Updated 15 sec ago
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Made homeless by war, Syrians sell furniture to survive

  • The Idlib region is supposed to be protected by a buffer zone deal signed by Russia and rebel backer Turkey in September
ATME, SYRIA: For years, Abu Ali sold used furniture and home appliances for a living. But he never thought Syria’s war would one day make him homeless and force him to sell his own.
His family is one of dozens stranded in olive groves along the Turkish border, who say they have had to sell their basic possessions to ensure survival.
“I sold them to provide food, drink and clothes for my children,” said the father of five, who now houses his family in a tent.
An opposition bastion in Syria’s northwest has come under heavy regime and Russian bombardment since late April, despite a truce deal intended to protect the jihadist-run enclave’s three million inhabitants.
The spike in violence in and around Idlib province has killed hundreds of civilians, displaced 330,000 more, and sparked fears of one of the worst humanitarian disasters in the eight-year civil war.
Abu Ali, his wife and their children fled their home in southern Idlib in early May, hitting the road north to seek shelter in the relative safety of the olive groves close to the border.
“I used to have a shop to buy and sell used items,” such as fridges and furniture in the village of Maaret Hurma, he told AFP, sitting in the shade of a tree near the border town of Atme.

A few days after fleeing his home village, he hired two trucks for 50,000 Syrian pounds (over $110) to bring “eight fridges, bedroom furnishings, seven washing machines, and several gas stoves” up to the olive grove.
But under the summer sun in the makeshift camp, the merchandise soon plummeted in value.
“I was forced to get rid of it or sell it — even at a very low price,” the 35-year-old said, his chin stubble already greying under a head of thick dark brown hair.
For example, the going price for a fridge originally bought for 25,000 Syrian pounds (more than $55) can be as low as a fifth of that price.
In Atme, some families have stored their fridges and other appliances in a single tent to protect them from the elements.
Outside, a top-loader washing machine sits in the shade of a tree.
Awad Abu Abdu, 35, said he too was forced to part with all his household items for a pittance.
“It was very dear to me. It was all I had accumulated over a lifetime of hard work,” said the former construction worker, who fled the village of Tramla with his wife and six children.
“I sold all our home’s furniture for just 50,000 Syrian pounds,” he said, dressed in a faded grey t-shirt fraying around the collar.
After transport costs, he was left with only half that amount to feed his family, he said.
Abu Abdu accused buyers of “cheating us, exploiting the displaced,” but said he had no other choice.
“Everything’s so expensive... and there are no organizations looking out for us,” he said.

The Idlib region is supposed to be protected by a buffer zone deal signed by Russia and rebel backer Turkey in September.
But the accord was never properly implemented as jihadists refused to withdraw from the planned cordon.
Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, an alliance led by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate, took over administrative control of the region in January.
In the town of Atareb — about 30 kilometers from Atme, in Aleppo province — Abu Hussein received a new delivery at his shop of second-hand household appliances and furniture.
“Every day, more than ten cars arrive loaded up with items the displaced try to sell us,” said the 35-year-old.
“This means we have to pay relatively low prices, because the supply is so high” and it’s hard to then sell them all, he said.
Back in Atme, 50-year-old Waleeda Derwish said she hoped she would find someone to buy her fridge, washing machine and television, to help her provide for her eight children.
The widow transported the electrical items to “save them from bombing or looting” in Maaret Hurma, she said, a bright blue scarf wrapped around her wrinkled face.
Now the appliances represent the family’s only lifeline, she said.
“I’m forced to sell them. How else are we supposed to live?“