Happy feet, happy world

Designing footwear that makes an environmental and social impact

The World Health Organisation reports that there are 1.2 billion people across the world who live in extreme poverty (less than one dollar a day) without access to food, shelter, sanitation and healthcare. Additionally, an estimated 1.5 billion people die of soil transmitted diseases, every year. Even though we may take footwear for granted, about 18% of the world’s population is just too poor to afford a basic shield against soil-borne parasitic diseases.

Shriyans and Ramesh are both athletes, who run their way through three to four pairs of shoes every year. Globally, this sums up to 350 million discarded sports shoes, per year. They realised that even though they had to replace their torn shoes, the sturdy soles were still usable. That is when, in December 2013, they decided to do something about it.
“We did a lot of research and experimentation and came up with the idea of refurbishing our old shoes, to make slippers for ourselves” says Shriyans Bhandari, who is currently pursuing a Masters in Entrepreneurial Leadership at Babson College. By April 2014 they realised that this idea had real potential, decided to start Greensole and filed for two patents for their design.

In order to develop a cheap prototype, they approached the shoemakers at Thakkar Bappa Colony – a colony of 100,000 people in Chembur, Mumbai, who are primarily shoemakers.Since they were expected to make footwear out of someone’s used shoes, they were quite reluctant to work and refused to work with Greensole. The two of them did not have enough money to get the business going, so they applied to several entrepreneurship competitions. As a result of winning the Technology and Sustainability Award at Eureka – IIT Bombay’s B-plan competition and a second position at Ridea National B-plan at Raisoni College, they started up their business with a capital of 5 lacs.

Greensole now has a database of over one lac people who are in need of footwear. Corporates like JLL, Tata Group, Canon, Just Dial and DTDC partner with them as part of their CSR initiatives and sponsor slippers at the price of Rs.199 per pair. DTDC also acts as their logistics partner, helping them collect and distribute shoes. They have donated about 500 so far in Kondana village and on the footpaths of Mumbai; 3,000 orders from Goqii, JLL and Just Dial are in the pipeline; and they hope to distribute 20,000 over the next year.
They have collection centers at Mumbai, Ajmer and Udaipur. Since the schools they partner with, don’t usually have the funds to sponsor, Greensole encourages them to collect used shoes to support the cause.

To keep up with the growing demand, Greensole has partnered with Ram Fashion Exports, whose directors have come on board as vision partners.They now have a factory in Mumbai and a refurbishing capacity of 5,000 pairs per month. How do they refurbish the shoes? Since the uppers are the damaged portion, they use heat treatment to separate it from the lowers. After washing and cleaning the lowers, to remove any chemicals, they are attached to straps made from recycled material like jute and hemp. As Shriyans mentions, they are constantly striving to make the final product as eco-friendly as they can. Greensole’s footwear is made to last about 2-3 years and can be re-recycled. Damaged soles or odd pairs are not a problem, as they are reconstructed if required. The slippers are made in all sizes. In addition to refurbishing, if they receive shoes that are in a relatively good condition, they give them to underprivileged athletes, who can’t afford a brand new pair.
Making a brand new shoe is an intensive process, combining 65 parts in 360 steps. Discarded sports shoes end up in landfills and generate about 30 lbs of carbon emissions upon incineration. Greensole puts these discarded shoes to use as footwear for the needy, making an environmental and social impact.

Whilst Shriyans studied BMS at Jai Hind College, co-founder Ramesh Dhani, hails from Uttarakhand and lacks any formal education. He is a pro athlete and coach, who handles operations at Greensole and looks after the design and manufacturing. Shriyans handles Marketing, Finance and Business when he is not running or photographing birds. As an ornithologist and photographer, he’s published “Birds of Aravallis” in association with Rajasthan Tourism and BNHS India. He believes that all business should be socially beneficial and people should not think of social entrepreneurship as something to take up when you’re old.

In another part of the world, with the same mantra in mind, 29 year old Kenton Lee created The Shoe that Grows. “After graduating college, I traveled and lived in Nairobi, Kenya for a while. One day, while I lived and worked at an orphanage, I saw a little girl in a white dress who had shoes on that were WAY too small. It was right then that I had the idea to create a shoe that could adjust and expand its size – a shoe that could grow!” says Kenton, a pastor of a small church in Nampa, Idaho.

After an unsuccessful attempt at making a prototype in his garage, a company in Portland helped him design it. There are 300 million children without footwear – and the problem with regular shoes is that kids outgrow them very quickly. These shoes come in a Small and Large size, that can grow 5 sizes and last at least 5 years. Built for longevity, the shoes are made with a sturdy leather and a compressed rubber sole. Depending on how many pairs a sponsor buys, the shoe costs between $12 to $30. Kenton says that they do have some plans to make a lower cost shoe that could be purchased by families or re-design it in such a way that it could be made in developing countries by local people. Demand for the shoes has been high in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Haiti. As a part of his efforts at his non-profit, Because International, he is also working on an updated version of the bednet.

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