‘Sole’ful purpose: Fighting social inequality by recycling discarded shoes!
Ever wondered about the environmental and social impact of the shoes you discard? Chances are you would be having more than 5 pairs of shoes in your closet that you do not use, while it can save a person’s LIFE. Yes really, here is how:
While there is so much to share about my mistakes as I grappled with Entrepreneurship, today I will cover only the story of “Greensole”.
Our innovation is so simple that after hearing about it you would say it is just common sense.
As a marathon runner, I need to change my running shoes every two to three months or so. The old shoes become unfit to use and are thrown away. Ramesh Dhami (Co-founder, Greensole) and I were really sad when we had to discard our expensive shoes, as somewhere at the back of our minds we knew that they could be used for a better purpose. This is what gave birth to the idea of Greensole.
We started playing around with the old pairs of shoes that we would have otherwise discarded and after months of brainstorming and experimenting we had the Eureka moment when we finally figured that we could make slippers out of the discarded shoes, as the sole of the shoe was in good condition and other parts of the new slipper could be made from the shoe itself.
We started repurposing the shoes for our personal use and never thought it would become a venture that would make social, environmental and economic impact.
The turning point was when we were selected as top 50 innovators of the county by Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India and were asked to showcase our products in Ahmedabad. We were super excited and quickly packed our bags and made a few more prototypes ourselves, using a knife, glue and sewing kit; a true Minimum Viable Product (MVP) but we did not know about this entrepreneurial concept then.
We received a lot of traction at the exhibition. People applauded the frugal innovation, wore our basic prototypes and even started placing pre-orders for Greensole footwear (Shoecycle then). One of the judges at the event suggested that we apply for patents and I being an inherent opportunist applied immediately. We received two patents in November of that year.
Coming back home we were exhilarated to have received such positive feedback. We were now hooked on to the idea and did a thorough research to figure out how we could take the innovation to the World.
To our surprise we found that:
- More than 350 million shoes are discarded each year
- While, 1.5 billion (according to World Bank & WHO) people are currently infected by diseases that could be prevented by wearing proper footwear
- And that we were the first ones in the World (still are the only) to refurbish discarded shoes to footwear
Our next step was to make an execution roadmap. To put things in perspective I was 19 years old then, with no background in footwear or entrepreneurship and had absolutely no money to take the venture off the ground.
We borrowed a sum of money from our families ($2000 USD), I will always be grateful to my entire family for their constant support, especially my father, who currently runs the Heritage Group. With the money we researched further and found that there was a colony in Mumbai known as Thakkar Bappa, which had 200,000 cobblers making footwear. Bingo; we rushed there but only after lot of convincing, as the artisans were not ready to work on used shoes, got few more prototypes made.
We continued thinking about the business model for months and applied to a few B-plan competitions and in early 2015 went about winning two very prestigious competitions, in fact Eureka by IIT, Bombay was Asia’s largest, this gave us $8,000 USD in seed capital to start the venture. Things were going our way after a lot of hard work.
Using this seed capital we started a small manufacturing unit in Thakkar Bappa Colony of Mumbai and hired three labors to start manufacturing Greensoles. I also travelled extensively throughout the country to gain know how about footwear and we got footwear experts from Kolkata to set up our factory, they charged $1,000 which was a big hole in our limited finances at that time. We started refurbishing 20 pairs a day and then moved onto 50 soon after. We also registered our company and it was May of 2015 then.
I still remember instead of going to bars/eat outs with friends as people of my age would have been doing I used to go for shopping machinery and materials that would set up our factory and was constantly honing our business model to achieve the vision.
On one of my self-educational visits to a footwear manufacturer and exporter (Ram Fashion Exports), who operated on mammoth scale: employed 1200 workers, made 14,000 pairs of footwear a
day and exported to brands like ALDO, H&M, Marks & Spenser and many more. They quickly became very enthusiastic about the idea and wanted to come on board as manufacturing and strategic partners.
Seeing this as a good opportunity we tied up with them to strengthen our backend, it was my first experience making negotiations and a deal with investors. We quickly winded up our manufacturing unit and got factory space and office at our partner’s facility and today we have a refurbishing capacity of more than 800 pairs a day; which is a 1600% increase in capacity.
Through our CSR partner JLL (fortune 500 company), Tata Group, Canon, Just Dial, India Bulls and Goqii we provided footwear to more than 3,000 people in need in the villages of Maharashtra, India and in 2016 we will be impacting 20,000 people in need in India and abroad.
We were also covered by BBC and 25 other national newspapers. We also received an appreciation letter from President Barack Obama and Ratan Tata and have an awesome team of 24 talented volunteers and interns. There are 7 people in our management team and a group of artisans. Karan Bhasin is the COO at the company and is assisted by Ramesh and Simran to run the show in India.
It has been almost two years into Greensole and I have truly enjoyed the journey. I’m currently at Babson expanding my horizon, halfway through my Masters in Entrepreneurial Leadership course and would be going back to working full time on Greensole in May.
Do visit our website: http://www.greensole.in/