The first thing people will look at when you step out in the public is your footwear. Sure, your clothes play a prominent role that showers numerous compliments, eventually, the attention follows on to your footwear, which defines your personality. Now, with unimaginably tough competition and new players entering the footwear space, brands have steered their focus on sustainability for a change.
To put a stop to the global plastic crisis, Adidas decided to make 60% of its footwear using sustainable means in 2021. Nothing New, an eco-friendly brand strolling on the streets made only with recycled plastic.
In the same way, Pooja Apte Badamikar, born and brought up in Pune, started Blink Green, an innovative startup that manufactures durable footwear using tyre scrap raw materials.
From Tyre Scrap to Durable Footwear
Studied advanced post-graduate diploma in Renewable energy from TERI University, Delhi, she worked in Capgemini, India in 2014. After 4 years in the corporate hat, she left the job in 2018. Next, with the risk involved for any entrepreneur-in-becoming, Pooja has taken that decision to start something new in the footwear segment that is both durable and fashionable.
When asked what made her choose entrepreneurship in this competitive world over a corporate job, she said, “It was not a conscious decision. The decision that I have taken was to work in the sustainability sector.”
After post-graduation, Pooja studied up-cycling, visited established companies, and met professors to discuss the idea. She also read multiple papers to gather information about plastic tyre up-cycling.
In October 2018, she came up with an idea of footwear made up of up-cycled tyres, which gave rise to NEMITAL - a brand that makes handcrafted footwear from upcycled tyres. The brand has its unique analogy behind its name, where “NEMI” means Chakra or Tyre, whereas “TAL” means sole. And in Sanskrit NEMITAL means TyreSole.
“With the help of local cobblers, we were successful in making 2 prototypes of tyre chappal. I was lucky to get help from mentors and professors in this sector. So, we have tried multiple experiments on scrap tyres in the laboratories. During one of my brain brainstorming sessions, I got an idea to upcycle the scrap tyres into handcrafted footwear”, said Pooja Apte about the idea on how she started a sustainable footwear business.
How NEMITAL is creating a sustainable change
Every year, 15 million tons of scrap tyres are generated in the world. These scrap tyres cannot be used for vehicles again due to the latest policy by the Government of India. Also, they cannot be decomposed easily, because they are nothing but a dangerous addition to our landfills.
To bring a sustainable change in the footwear NEMITAL came up with a commercially feasible idea accompanied by feasible production techniques to use cut pieces of scrapped automobile tyres to manufacture the footwear. “So, we can use scraped truck tyres or airplane tyres (aerosols)”, claimed Pooja.
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By doing so, NEMITAL is solving three major issues, such as creating a positive impact in the environment, as they never use leather or plastic in their products, creating job opportunities for cobblers, and customized footwear for customers. To date, NEMITAL has up-cycled around 500 kgs of waste tyres.
How to make shoes with tyre scraps?
“Initially I started with local rag pickers to find tyre scraps, but now, we also have a tyre scrap vendor”, asserted Pooja on how she sources raw materials. To give a finishing artistic touch to the footwear, Pooja worked on the design part alone, along with related topics during the initial stages of making. But now, they have a designer who works with NEMITAL.
She further added, “We have mudra loan approved for this venture (Funding by a loan provided from GOI). I have not taken any technical courses/studies in footwear making. The best teacher we have got is our cobblers.”
Moreover, Pooja has also shared the step-by-step process of conversion from tyre scraps to durable footwear.
Procure the tyres and cutting them into strips.
Clean them properly, as they are already used.
Cutting them into different shapes with the help of machines
Bottom making with cushioning material
Upper belts with the help of tailors
Assembling at the cobbler's place
Despite startup enthusiasm, there are some of the challenges that came across Pooja’s way like for every entrepreneur during their nascent stages. She said, “coming out of my comfort zone and leaving my job was a personal challenge.”
The other challenge she faced was the newness of the footwear industry. “It was new for me. So making our first prototype (sitting on the road with a cobbler for 4 -5 hrs) to set up the whole production process was quite a challenging task”, professed Pooja.
However, amid tough times, Pooja has received several achievements. “I participated in the competition called Startup India Yatra held by Maharashtra State Innovation Society & Startup India, involving 3 levels of competition. 1st level pitching in Baramati (Oct 24) and 2nd & 3rd level pitching in Nagpur (Nov 1 –Nov 2, 2018)”, said Pooja.
After the last level, she has received the best upcoming woman entrepreneur award worth Rs 50000. To kick start her business, she invested the award amount in buying raw material for footwear and doing R&D for the same.
So far, NEMITAL has not collaborated with any companies. Their mission and goal are to reduce tyre scrap from landfills through their startup. Currently, in 2021, they decided to explore the whole global market, and by 2023 they are planning to launch some new upcycled products.