Egypt’s Oldest Shoe Factory Still Surviving

Unique Hand-made Shoes Manufactured for Above 60 Years
Khaled Abul Enein, brother of the Babel Shoe Factory owner, walking out of the factory in downtown Cairo.

Amin Abul Enein, 70, stands inside his 69-year-old shoe factory in downtown Cairo training people how to make a distinguished shoe. 

Abul Enein is the owner of Babel Shoe Factory which dates back to 1952 and is famous for making some of the best and most elegant shoes in the country.

“There was a brand called Bally in Switzerland. The company was making high-quality shoes. So we decided to use the name from this brand but change it a little bit to have the name ‘Babel,’” Abul Enein told Majalla, “and we made similar high-quality shoes in our factory in Egypt.”

Abul Enein has trained hundreds of people about making a high-quality, distinct shoe. “I am a school. Many people come here to get training and then they leave,” he said.

The veteran shoe maker creates different, special models and receives many foreigners who want customized shoes.

ALL HAND-MADE

“All our shoes are handmade and this is what makes us unique,” he added

Abul Enein also said that in the old days shoemaking was mainly dependent on hand-making because there were no machines.

Pandemic Hits Egypt’s Oldest Snake Business

“At the time, a customer could wear a pair of shoes for about 10 years. Nothing would happen to it but even if something did, the person could come to our factory and we would repair it,” he added.

In manufacturing shoes, the Babel Shoe Factory uses molds which are accurate foot-like shapes made of wood in different sizes 40, 42 and even size 50, depending on the width and length of the foot.

TECHNOLOGY CHANGES INDUSTRY

Abul Enein said that in the past people loved to buy customized, hand-made shoes.

“But now technology has changed everything. People are turning to ready-made shoes rather than patronizing the old shops which were making handmade shoes,” he said.

Ancient Living Traditions

“Ready-made shoes are the fastest sellers and most widespread as they are present in all shops. Meanwhile, their prices are reasonable, unlike the prices of handicrafts which have become expensive due to the high price of raw leather.”

Abul Enein said that only the elderly come to the shop for customized or hand-made shoes.

Abul Enein’s brother Khaled said that he once had a customer who had a 10-year-old shoe.  “She came to the factory and wanted us to re-make the shoe. She loved it and wanted to keep it,” he said.

“I re-manufactured it and she was astonished. She said that this is not an Egyptian shoe, it is definitely a foreign brand,” the younger brother said.

CORONAVIRUS HITS INDUSTRY

The Babel Shoe Factory has been largely affected by the coronavirus pandemic just like other businesses.

“We went for weeks not working or selling anything. It was a disaster. But things now are gradually recovering,” Abul Enein said.

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and the economic slowdown, the unemployment rate rose to 9.6% by the end of FY2019/2020 from 7.9% in FY2018/2019 before declining again to 7.2% in December 2020 due to government efforts to contain the negative repercussions of the pandemic.

As the profession is going extinct, especially with the economic pressures, the brothers hope that they can open an institute to train people on shoemaking to keep the industry alive.

“This is a very unique industry that should not be dying. We have to protect it, continue to make hand-made shoes and also export to other countries,” he said.

“This will not only create job opportunities for many young people, but will also boost the national economy by exporting hand-made distinguished shoes to other countries,” the shoemaker said.

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