It’s the early 20th century. What connects the rural town of Zlín, Czechoslovakia with a small village in West Bengal? You guessed it! Bata - the footwear company that has stood the test of time, for they are as durable as the shoes they produce. Today, the name Bata has tremendous household popularity and as a Bengali boy, growing up in Kolkata, I can vouch for that. Even though it is a European brand, its renown in India is synonymous with any homegrown brand - so much so that many people simply assume Bata to be an Indian brand. Today we wind back the clock and take you back in time, as we trace the origins of Bata and how it flourished in India.
In 1894, Czech shoemaker Tomáš Bata, along with his brother Antonín and sister Anna, founded a small shoe factory in Zlín, Czechoslovakia (present-day Czech Republic). Three years later, in 1897, the introduction of mechanized production techniques in Europe, including the implementation of the first steam-driven shoemaking machines, initiated a period of rapid modernization for the company. Under the leadership of Tomáš Bata's son, Jan Antonín Baťa, Bata embraced mass production, affordable prices, and global expansion. This led to the establishment of Bata's presence in various countries, including India, Singapore, Japan, and many others, solidifying its position as a pioneering mass producer of shoes and a trusted footwear brand worldwide.
In 1931, Bata set its foothold in Kolkata, India, at a time when retail stores were a novelty. The company's founder, Tomáš Baťa, recognized the vast market potential and the opportunity to provide quality yet affordable footwear to the Indian population. Bata quickly gained popularity among Indians, who were accustomed to walking barefoot or wearing tattered shoes. The company's first Indian production unit in Konnagar, near Kolkata, proved transformative, as the demand for Bata shoes surged. From there, they moved to the small village of Nangi in South 24 Parganas. This move transformed the small village into the thriving township of Batanagar, a place synonymous with Bata's legacy in India.
Throughout its history, Bata has demonstrated remarkable resilience in the face of global crises. The company's ability to adapt, evolve and overcome challenges was the reason why it stood the trials and tribulations of time. Despite the massive disruptions caused by the World Wars, Bata continued to thrive and expand its operations. During World War I, Bata's factories in Europe were repurposed to produce military footwear, contributing to the war effort. Similarly, during World War II, Bata's factories in various countries were converted to support the production of essential supplies for the armed forces. Despite the difficult circumstances, Bata's commitment to efficiency and quality remained unwavering. The company's adaptability and ability to navigate through these turbulent times cemented its success and solidified its position as a global footwear brand.
Lekha Sarkar, my grandmother, a resident of Batanagar from 1947-1970
In the years after India's independence, Bata continued to thrive and solidify its position as a household name. The company's marketing strategy centered around the brand's universality in the lives of ordinary people. Bata's print advertisements, devoid of flashy slogans, placed emphasis on pricing and durability. The iconic tagline "First to Bata, then to school" encapsulated the ritualistic experience of visiting a Bata store before every school session. Bata school shoes became an integral part of every child's life, symbolizing the beginning of a new academic year. The brand's commitment to affordability and quality struck a chord with the Indian middle class, establishing Bata as the preferred choice for footwear.
In the 1980s, Bata faced competition from local brands such as Gola Shoes, Liberty, Paragon, and Khadim. To stay ahead, the company embarked on an advertising spree, showcasing its undefeated points about utility, durability, and pricing. Bata's advertisements highlighted the versatility of its footwear, targeting specific audiences. The brand's commitment to customization and catering to different segments of consumers helped it maintain its market share. Bata's advertising campaigns featured young people sporting their footwear, promoting the idea of stepping out in style and embracing the world of color. Bata advertisements were so legendary that today they are taught as case studies in top-tier MBA colleges.
Bata has also managed to In recent years, Bata India has undergone substantial changes, expanding its product portfolio and embracing consumer-centric strategies. The brand's ISO: 9001-certified Batanagar production plant continues to be a testament to its commitment to quality. Bata India's network of dealers and stores has grown exponentially, reaching customers in every corner of the country. The brand's advertising approach has evolved, enlisting popular actors and athletes as brand ambassadors, further cementing its position in Indian culture. Bata has also ventured into new segments, such as sports footwear, to cater to the evolving needs and preferences of Indian consumers.
Bata's dedication to social welfare
A good company yields only commercial success but a great company is known for giving back to society and Bata embodies that spirit. Bata has always recognized the importance of social responsibility and has actively engaged in initiatives that benefit the communities it operates in. The company has undertaken various projects and programs aimed at improving the lives of people, particularly in the areas of education, healthcare, and environmental sustainability. Bata has established schools and vocational training centers, providing educational opportunities to underprivileged children and empowering them for a better future. The company has also initiated healthcare initiatives, including medical camps and awareness campaigns, to promote well-being and access to healthcare in remote areas. Additionally, Bata has implemented sustainable practices in its operations, focusing on reducing its environmental footprint and promoting eco-friendly manufacturing processes.
Bata's legacy in India is a testament to its ability to adapt, innovate, and resonate with the Indian consumer. From its arrival in Kolkata to becoming a household name, Bata has left an indelible mark on the Indian footwear industry. The brand's commitment to affordability, durability, and style has endeared it to generations of Indians. As we step into the future, Bata will continue to carve a distinctive niche in India's footwear landscape, ensuring that its legacy lives on. With its rich history and unwavering dedication to quality, Bata has remained a trusted companion for Indians, accompanying them through various life stages and fashion trends.
If you enjoyed reading this, here's more from Homegrown: