Sole-searching business

rashmi pratap | Updated on January 23, 2018

No carbon footprint: Biodegradable footwear made using discarded shoe soles

Shriyans Bhandari (left) and Ramesh Dhami, founders of Greensole

This company wants your old shoes, which it will refashion into trendy slippers that are also eco-friendly, and donate them to the unshod

As athletes, Shriyans Bhandari and Ramesh Dhami ran hundreds of kilometres every year. They also ran through at least three to four pairs of sport shoes every year. The soles were in good condition but the shoe sides tore within months. The duo always wondered if they could find some use for the intact soles of these quality sport shoes. A bit of research led to the idea of refurbishing them into trendy slippers. That brainwave eventually spawned an eco-friendly enterprise that reuses shoe soles and is appropriately named Greensole.

An estimated 2,000 crore pairs of shoes are produced each year, and nearly 30 crore pairs are discarded. As shoemaking involves intensive chemical processes, each pair takes centuries to decompose in a landfill, creating environment problems. At the same time, millions of people worldwide go unprotected without footwear. Bhandari and Dhami, a national-level marathoner, hope to make a difference through Greensole.

The commercial potential of their venture didn’t strike them until Bhandari went to the Entrepreneurship Development Institute, Ahmedabad, in April 2014. “They asked us to write about our target market, potential customers and the impact we could make. That is when we realised that it can be turned into a business venture,” says Bhandari, a third-year student of Bachelor of Management Studies at Jai Hind College in Mumbai.

Even after recognising the business potential, the two founders didn’t have enough money to act on it. Bhandari pumped in ₹1.5 lakh of his money and simultaneously they applied to business competitions. The duo won the business competition at Jai Hind College, Technology and Sustainability Award at Eureka — Asia’s largest B-plan competition at IIT-Bombay, and the second position at Ridea National B-plan. These winnings have been Greensole’s main source of funding.

As for raw material, it mostly arrives free of cost. The start-up has tie-ups with educational institutions, companies, Sports Authority of India, Maharashtra Police and even local sports clubs. “They collect discarded shoes and send them to us. We then send them to our workshop in Kurla,” says Bhandari.

Currently, Greensole’s main buyers are corporates and NGOs, which donate the slippers to those in need. Greensole then donates on their behalf.

Individual buyers or those keen on reusing their old shoes can order from Greensole’s website. “If you give us an old pair of shoes, we can give you a new pair for ₹249 or ₹299, depending on the design,” Bhandari says. Those wishing to donate to the needy can buy a pair for ₹149.

Greensole uses a heating process to remove the shoe uppers. This too is reused. “It is sorted and used for patching torn shoes.”

The lower part is washed and cleaned with chemicals to make it pesticide-free. “The whole idea is to make the process and the product environment-friendly,” says Bhandari.

The lower part is then coloured and the upper is made separately using rexine before the two are joined together. Greensole totally lives up to its name, as even the straps are made from recycled trekking ropes. “Going forward, we will use only eco-friendly paints and eco-glue. Once the shoe is made, it has to be completely biodegradable and fully utilisable,” he adds.

Bhandari has received two industrial design patents for his footwear. “We are applying for more patents to come up with innovative designs. But our focus will also be on providing footwear to the needy,” he says.

Greensole is receiving technical support from the Kolkata-based Footwear Design and Development Institute, which is helping them start an automated factory. While venture capitalists have shown interest in funding Greensole, Bhandari is keen to raise money from the old route — business competitions. He is readying to participate in competitions in Singapore in June and Amsterdam in September.

He is also trying to get celebrities to donate their shoes, which can then be refurbished and auctioned online. When that happens, buyers will likely get to literally walk in the shoes of an Aamir Khan or Katrina Kaif.

Published on April 24, 2015

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