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Published on: Sept. 6, 2021, 4:07 p.m.
Perfect PETwear from Neeman's
  • Since its launch in 2018, Neeman's has become a popular choice for those looking to create a statement

By Suman Tarafdar

Shoes made of recycled PET bottles? The immediate query on hearing this – is this another fad in the name of recycling, or truly a new benchmark in making footwear more sustainable? If Neeman’s, already known for pushing the boundaries with their merino wool footwear that has gained a substantial following among the discerning, has its way, their just launched 'ReLive Knits', India’s first shoe designed and created with 100 per cent recycled PET Bottles, is once again set to disrupt the Indian footwear market. You may have caught actors Mandira Bedi and Bhumi Pednekar in the new campaigns.

“With this planet-friendly collection, we have taken another significant step towards creating footwear that cares for the environment without compromising comfort and style,” says Taran Chhabra, Founder, Neeman’s. “As per the research by Quantis, a sustainability consulting group, sneaker production accounts for 1.4 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. In stark contrast, each pair of the ReLive Knits is made with eight PET bottles, and so far, we have recycled more than one million plastic bottles for this new sustainable collection. We are determined to change how Indians wear shoes, one step at a time.”

It’s working, for in August, it received $2.7 million (Rs20 crore) from Sixth Sense Ventures as part of its Series A Funding round. It has earlier raised $1 million of funding in its seed round from Anicut Capital. “We will direct the recent influx of funds towards intensive product development, launching in international markets, expanding categories, and further strengthening our commitment to the planet by championing the cause of sustainability through research and development of eco-friendly technologies,” says Chhabra.

Of course, the Indian footwear sector is highly fragmented, and still largely in the unorganised sector. According to a white paper on the footwear industry in India, released by the MSME ministry in October 2020, the annual production of footwear in India is around two billion pairs with 95 per cent being sold in the domestic market. The retail value of the footwear sector is estimated at $11.4 billion in 2019 and is expected to increase to $20.6 billion by 2024 with a growth rate of 12.6 per cent, says the same paper.

  • Chhabra:   making footwear that is better for humans and the planet

    Chhabra: making footwear that is better for humans and the planet

Discovery down under 

 Neeman’s journey to change the way Indians wear shoes is not a long one. “I took my first step towards Neeman’s in 2016 when I was in New Jersey, USA,” recollects Chhabra. “As I was a shoe enthusiast, I knew footwear was my calling. So, I travelled to several countries to learn more about them and soon realized that the footwear business is more of an art than a science. I moved back to India in 2018 and discovered a significant gap in the segment – footwear was either stylish or comfortable but rarely both.

This led me towards fulfilling this void and crafting footgear that was also high-quality, sustainable, and all-day wear, and launched Neeman’s. Our first launch was the Merino Wool Joggers, and the reception was phenomenal. That’s when I realised that the demand existed, and our footwear was there to accomplish it.”

Chhabra opted for Merino as it is “one of the world’s softest, lightest, all-natural materials, unlike traditional wool. This fleece had natural temperature-regulating qualities that made it usable year-round. This was the basis of our inspiration, and we collaborated with The Woolmark Company, the Australia-based global authority on wool, to design and develop a fabric of only the best quality for our shoes. This fabric has several exceptional features, durability, breathability, and, most importantly, is renewable. These traits make it an ideal yarn for tropical weather.” 

The most significant advantage of Merino wool is that it is a natural and renewable fibre, adds Chhabra. “In addition, its insulating properties help to regulate the body temperature, which keeps you warm in cold conditions and cool in warm, hot conditions. It wicks sweat like a sponge to keep you cool. Moreover, it is also strong and durable, ie it’s eight times stronger than cotton and about ten times stronger than silk, odour resistant, lightweight and flexible.”

  • Neeman's use of merino wool has been a gamechanger

The typical Neeman’s customers are men aged between 28-40 years, points out Chhabra. “They reside in metro cities and belong to the mid-high income. So, typically the Sec A group, looking for something new to create a statement in their circle. They also prefer to travel light especially, with fewer shoes and go sockless. The Merino Wool Joggers have, since launch, done well for us and are definitely our bestseller. Even our slipper, Eco Flips, are extremely popular amongst the consumers.”

Besides its product, Neeman’s also stands out in doing things differently. “Our distribution strategy from the beginning has been D2C,” stresses Chhabra. “It has worked well for us because we tried to reach them rather than asking them to come to us. Neeman’s footwear is available on our website, social media and other online platforms like Amazon, Nykaa, Flipkart and CRED. It has worked wonderfully for us because, rather than asking our customers to come to us, we tried to reach them by being available at a click of a button. Maintaining good customer relations is of utmost importance to us. Neeman’s has given precedence to transparency, especially when it comes to our customers. Knowing the pulse of the customer and working in line with it also helps in retaining them. For us, social media is a strong connector, and we use our various channels to build, inform and listen to customers. Moreover, we are one of the first footwear brands to offer a no-questions-asked return and refund policy, making it easier for customers to purchase without worry. So, for now, we are happy with D2C, though in times to come, we may look at an omnichannel presence. We hope to expand to international markets too.” 

Neeman’s is still basking in its success, especially as in its niche, it has hardly any competitors. Chhabra says there is a plan to “start international operations, but as of now, we don’t have any concrete plans. Meanwhile, the immediate goal is being a champion of sustainability and making footwear that is better for humans and the planet!  

  • The journey from PET bottles to shoes

ReLive Knits: Bottles to shoes

 ·        It is India’s first shoe made with 100 per cent recycled PET bottles. Other materials used in crafting this shoe include bamboo insoles, castor bean oil, natural and recycled rubber.

·        Eight PET bottles are used per shoe. 

·        In India alone, over seven to 10 million tonnes of plastic waste get generated. So far, over one million plastic bottles have been recycled for this collection.

·        The journey of transformation starts with the bottle becoming flakes, which are made into chips that get converted to yarn that forms the base material for these shoes.

·        The focus is on the circular economy and reusing materials that already exist and can be used to better the environment.

·        It is lightweight, flexible, breathable, sustainable and comfortable footwear crafted for all-day wear.

·       The collection is available in two styles - Sneakers and Slip On.

·        It is designed to fit the anywhere-anytime fashion realm as it effortlessly transitions from AM to PM and boardroom to bar.

·        The unisex ReLive Knits Sneakers and Slip On are available in seven and five colours respectively, employing a vibrant colour palette.

·        Priced at Rs3,299, the collection will be available on Neeman’s official website, neemans.com.

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