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Throwing away your old shoe? Think again!

June 19, 2017 12:52 IST

A social venture is recycling shoes so that barefoot children have proper footwear, discovers Geetanjali Krishna.

Every day, tens of thousands of children step out of their homes without shoes on their feet.

IMAGE: Greensole, a self-sustaining social enterprise launched by two athletes in 2013, recycles discarded sports shoes to make comfortable footwear. Photograph: Kind courtesy Greensole

Every day, tens of thousands of children step out of their homes without shoes on their feet.

Barefoot, they walk through fields, go to school and play sports, risking injuries, parasitic infections and more.

Yet, while food, drinking water and shelter are considered basic to their well-being, wearing shoes is often overlooked.

This is why the young social venture, Greensole, is making waves.

A self-sustaining social enterprise that recycles discarded sports shoes to make comfortable footwear, Greensole claims to not only reduce the ecological footprint of discarded shoes -- apparently, about 350 million pairs of non-biodegradable shoes are discarded every year, worldwide -- but it is also distributing recycled shoes to barefoot children in villages in Maharashtra and Rajasthan.

The cost of each shoe is partly subsidised by their retail sales, and partly through corporate donations. 

Greensole's journey began in December 2013 when two athletes, Shriyans Bhandari and Ramesh Dhami, brainstormed about what to do with the several pairs of expensive sports shoes they had to discard every year.

Could they repurpose these shoes into new ones?

Without any experience in shoe manufacturing, the duo probably didn't even realise that their idea was novel and audacious.

Greensole founders Shriyans Bhandari and Ramesh Dhami (with glasses)

IMAGE: Shriyans Bhandari and Ramesh Dhami (with glasses) rolled out their first line of recycled shoes in 2014. Photograph: Kind courtesy Greensole

At first, they thought of recycling their own discarded shoes for personal use.

"But then, we decided to develop it as a sustainable business," says Bhandari.

Soon, they were able to patent two of their industrial designs and rolled out their first line of recycled shoes in 2014.

Towards the end of 2016, they began online sales of high-end recycled shoes as well, the profits of which flow directly into their charitable work.

"Presently, we have raised about Rs 70 lakh (Rs 7 million) in shoe sales, while Rs 80 lakh (Rs 8 million) has come from 35 corporate partners," says Bhandari.

The aim is to grow their retail business in a manner that it may completely subsidise Greensole's charitable work.

They have a growing network of sports shoe donors in Mumbai and other metros, as well as partnerships with corporations, NGOs and schools to distribute their shoes.

In addition to kitting barefoot children with shoes, Greensole has also devised a skill-development and livelihood programme for young adults.

Their two training centres in Bengaluru and New Delhi impart training in shoe production to young adults.

Shriyans Bhandari distributes refurbished footwear

IMAGE: "We have distributed footwear to 50,000 people in need and aim to grow this number to 200,000 by the end of 2017," says Bhandari. Photograph: Kind courtesy Greensole

Here's what happens to the discarded shoes that reach Greensole's manufacturing unit in Navi Mumbai.

First, they are washed thoroughly.

Then, their uppers and lowers are separated.

The lowers are resized into soles for fresh shoes, slippers and sandals.

The uppers are cut and used to make straps.

Even the laces are repurposed in the shoe packaging.

One shoe typically costs Rs 199 to recycle.

Companies as well as individuals can help either by pledging a fixed number of shoes to be distributed to barefoot children or by contributing old sport shoes to Greensole.

Further, every pair of recycled shoes that is sold contributes to the production of shoes distributed free to barefoot children.

"We have distributed footwear to 50,000 people in need and aim to grow this number to 200,000 by the end of 2017," says Bhandari.

"By 2023, our aim is to ensure that everyone in the country has a pair of shoes."

Further, Bhandari reckons they are also saving thousands of sports shoes (otherwise non-biodegradable) from landing up in the country's overflowing landfills.

"Instead of melting the shoes like many shoe manufacturers do, we repurpose them by hand, which means there are minimal carbon emissions," he says.

Young students show off their refurbished footwear

IMAGE: Young students wearing refurbished Greensole slippers. Photograph: Kind courtesy Greensole

>In 2014, Greensole was ranked among India's top 30 innovators by the Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India, Ahmedabad, and was adjudged one of India's top 25 start-ups of 2015 by Tata First Dot.

On the anvil are many more corporate and NGO partnerships, including one with an international sports shoe brand.

With minimal advertising to spread the word about their work, Greensole has generated quite a buzz.

The duo has relied on creating content about the significance of shoe recycling -- articles, short videos and social media posts.

In doing so, they have demonstrated that it is possible to combine business with philanthropy -- or, in other words, successfully make and sell recycled shoes with a soul.

You can visit www.greensole.in to know more or buy Greensole products.

Geetanjali Krishna
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