Indian entrepreneur takes recycled tyre shoes to a new level
Recycled Tyres with a Difference
We have all seen the stories about recycled tyres being used to make shoes. We all recognise a certain “sameness” in the footwear. They tend to be flip flop type affairs, hardwearing but basic.
However, Indian entrepreneur Pooja Apte operates a brand called Nemital that creates sustainable footwear using recycled materials.
Apte won a competition run by “Startup India”, and took her winning to do precisely that, start up her own company.
“I was in my last semester to complete post-graduation in renewable energy from The Energy and Research Institute (TERI) and started hunting for a job in the renewable energy sector,” Apte, the 28-year-old entrepreneur, recalled.
“During the process, I learned there are not many people working in the field of upcycling textile and plastic. I decided to work on tyres and started experimenting,” she said.
“I did a lot of research on scrap tyre businesses. However, all of them required huge capital investments with late returns. For example, through pyrolysis, one can make commercial oil, carbon black and steel rods. But all of that requires heavy investment, and if the chemical process does not happen properly, it only leads to pollution,” Apte explained.
While continuing her research, Pooja came across African communities using discarded tyres as footwear, and that is when the idea struck. This idea did not require any chemical processes, and it was feasible to enter the commercial (B2C) sector.
The young entrepreneur then came up with a footwear model that had a better design and more applicability than the examples she saw from Africa. It did not take her long to come up with a commercially acceptable type – made from truck tyres.
After a couple of initial prototypes and working with a mentor, she presented her idea at ‘Startup India’ – a series of conclaves held across India for budding startups. “I got the prototypes made from a roadside cobbler,” she recalled.
In November 2018, Apte won Rs 50,000 in the ‘Upcoming Woman Entrepreneur’ category, organised by the Maharashtra State Innovation Society and the brand ‘Nemital’ under the company’ Blink Green’ was born.
After getting a boost of confidence by selling one pair of bridal footwear in April, Apte officially started her business in June 2017.
Apte took orders via social media and has sold about 1,000 pairs in the past one and a half years – upcycling 400 kg of scrap tyres.
The earlier models were also quite heavy. “Now, I have found the right thickness and type of tyre to be used. The sole is much lighter. The footwear is the same in terms of quality as any other brand with an added benefit that it lasts longer,” Pooja said.
“I have been wearing the same pair since April 2019 and continue using it. I am practically bored with it now.”
Nemital offers Kolhapuris, Mojris, sandals and even heels. “I sourced the scrap tyre from an old ragpicker lady. Another source to procure is from a company involved in pyrolysis, a process to recycle used tyres,” Apte said.
Recently, Apte has expanded her team. “I still get my footwear done by cobblers and have hired five karagirs (artists) on a contract basis. I also have a full-time designer working as creative head,” Apte explained.
Much of her clientele comes from Mumbai, Thane, Pune and Andhra Pradesh – among other states.
“I used to earn more than Rs 50,000 a month until the Covid-19 lockdown halted the growth in March. But the sales have started picking up from September,” Apte stated.
Apte concluded, “I want to focus on exploiting the Indian market in the current year and reach out to the global market in the next year.”
Source: The Better India