– Edwin Pinto overcame caste, queer slander to become Goa’s leading designer shoemaker.
– Local shoemakers in Goa are dwindling, government needs to look to revive art to preserve the tradition
Panaji: From battling addiction to being a branded queer, the story of Edwin Pinto, the founder of Janota Shoes, one of the oldest homegrown brands of contemporary leather footwear in Goa, is one of resilience and walking the less trodden path.
From facing casteist barbs, to being called gay by acquaintances, Pinto, who later even taught prisoners at the Colvale central jail the art of shoemaking, says he took it all in his stride.
“In the early phases, my chosen profession of tailoring was often linked with femininity,” stated Pinto. “Many remarked, ‘A doctor’s son is now becoming a tailor’. Nevertheless, I remained undeterred by these comments,” shared Pinto, during his recent talk titled ‘The Style Quotient of Janota Goa’ during a MOG Sundays at the Museum of Goa in Pilerne.
Even thinking of becoming a cobbler was difficult back then, he says, citing the caste implications linked to the profession.
“My grandmother would discreetly call the cobbler through the back door due to the stigma attached to the profession,” he said.
“Even today, there is reluctance among the younger generation to embrace shoe-making due to these misconceptions. However, the reality is far from it. I have had craftsmen who have shared how their lives improved significantly because of this profession,” added Pinto.
Apart from tackling social stigma, Pinto also worked with inmates from the Colvale jail, teaching them the art of shoemaking. “Engaging with the inmates was surprisingly effortless. We fostered genuine connections that transcend our roles,” said Pinto.
His past struggle with drug addiction, became the catalyst for Pinto’s Colvale jail initiative.
“I had to seek rehabilitation and pursue studies in Mumbai, becoming a clinical counsellor,” Pinto reflected. His journey post rehabilitation led him to embrace shoemaking again, catalysed by chance encounters that showcased his craft to a wider audience.
“It’s critical that we empower each other. The late Wendell Rodricks saw my early work and helped to market it, which opened the door for the establishment of Janota Shoes,” Pinto stated.
“My journey in shoemaking was propelled by his invaluable support and encouragement.” Underscoring the importance of preserving this trade in our state, it is necessary for organisations and governments to recognise and assist the shoe industry, particularly in these times when support is essential to its survival.
Goa has now seen a drop in the state’s shoemaking craftsmen and Pinto emphasised the need for reviving this industry. “Goa lacks skilled shoemakers and recognising and creating space for this craft is crucial to saving this industry from an untimely death,” stated Pinto.
Born in Tanzania, East Africa, Pinto’s upbringing was marked by frequent relocation due to his father’s career in medicine, leading them to shift homes eight times during his early years. However, at age 10, he returned to Goa which brought about a profound shift in his life.
“Academically, I was a mediocre student with little interest in learning but had a great deal of love for scouting, arts and crafts. I was fascinated with the fashion world, particularly when I went shopping with my mother, aunts and sisters. I vividly remember the Saligao tailor who came on his bicycle to turn our room into a busy studio. I was captivated by his ideas, his expert craftsmanship and how he used hand machinery to create beautiful ensembles,” he said, adding he would frequently offer his family different design ideas, which led to him being the “family’s fashion adviser”.
At present, Pinto has passed the baton to his son Aaron, who now runs Janota shoes from Mumbai. 65 years old now, Pinto, devotes his time to supporting individuals who are struggling with addiction, including drug dependency and alcoholism as an associate with a social initiative called ‘Roy Cares’.