Over 350 million pairs of sports shoes are discarded by their owners every year, while shoe manufacturers throw out a whopping half a million pairs annually, owing to manufacturing defects. As runners who frustratingly burned through their own expensive shoes every few months, Greensole’s Shriyans Bhandari and Ramesh Dhami uncovered this statistic and used it as inspiration to start working on the company in December 2013.

They figured that since it was largely the sides of the shoes that showed tears, the intact soles could be refurbished in the form of sandals. As an experiment, Bhandari fished out a utility knife and cut his worn out shoe’s sole off. An insole was stuck on and a discarded bicycle tire was used to make the straps — the first prototype was ready.

While Greensole would sell some of the shoes they refurbished, the socially-conscious duo decided to donate footwear to those who couldn’t afford it — barefoot adults and kids in developing countries. In 2014, Bhandari and Dhami took the idea to a business competition through the Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India. With the Rs 5 lakh funding they won for impressing the panel, and contributions from their families and via crowdfunding, Greensole was launched.

dsc_0511

“We currently donate about 2000 pairs a month, and 500 are sold. The footwear we sell in the market costs anywhere between Rs 600-2000 and has PVC recycled soles and used soles, which we repurchase in the ladies’ range. We expect our numbers to go up rapidly with our imminent relaunch,” says Bhandari. “We will tie up with third-party e-commerce platforms as retail channels. Also, we are working to improve the design as well as aesthetics of our products.”

Two years on, Greensole works out of a Navi Mumbai office/factory and follows a far more sophisticated process than the one employed in creating the prototype. A short course in footwear design and development in Mumbai boosted their knowledge and gave them the impetus to approach industry veterans for backing.

The India Incubation Center has shared valuable inputs, and financial advisor Kunal Kapadia has instilled in them the importance of a sound business model. But, the biggest boost for Greensole came in August 2015, when they tied up with the Bhasin family of Ram Fashion Exports — suppliers of over 1.4 million pairs of shoes to Aldo, H&M, Zara and more. While Rishi Bhasin spent hours on end researching the best process to recycle shoes, his brother Nitesh chipped in on the policy-making, design and merchandising front. Company COO Karan Bhasin helped with marketing, customer acquisition and PR.

dsc_0586

Bhandari and Dhami went on to win Rs 8 lakh in funding at two more college business competitions and, teamed with donations from corporate partners, they have managed to refurbish and donate 10,000 sandals across Maharashtra. “By the end of this year, we plan to donate 50,000 pairs of sandals, and eventually, expand sales to customers around the world,” adds Bhandari. Expansion plans will also have to include more than a handful of additions to the present team of nine employees and 30 volunteers who help with distribution, since shoes don’t rank high on the list of commodities that lend themselves to automated manufacturing.  The duo is chuffed by contributions they have received from a few local companies, which Bhandari hopes will only increase.