How sustainability factor is redefining the shoe industry?

In an exclusive conversation Taran Chhabra, Founder, Neemans talks about growth opportunity in sustainable shoes segment.
How sustainability factor is redefining the shoe industry?

How did Neeman's start? Also shed light on your entrepreneurial journey?

It all started with a struggle like most ideas do.During my trip to Spain two years ago, I almost missed a train due to overpacking. The reason: I was travelling with five pairs of shoes. I “needed” a running shoe, a casual shoe, a lounging shoe and an extra pair just in case. I thought, “Why do I need a different shoe for each activity? Why don’t I have one shoe for all day?” I started looking for it didn’t find it. This led to the birth of Neemans.

With very little background in footwear and design, I traveled to different shoe manufacturing hubs around the world to learn how shoes were made and I was surprised to see that they were made with synthetic and chemical-heavy fibers that arebad for the environment. The question in my mind was, “We look for better, nutritional and organic food, why don’t we look for similar qualities in our shoes?” I started searching natural alternatives and Australian Merino Wool was on top of my list. After two years of hard work, Neeman’s is here.

What is the thought process behind eco friendly shoes? What is the market size as far as eco friendly shoes are concerned?

Neemans was born on the premise of creating truly comfortable shoes that look good, make others feel good and do good for the planet. The thought process has been to break the mold of using synthetic materials and look for natural sources and in turn select the ones which provide maximum comfort for our customers. We wanted to take the undervalued ‘Comfort’ for wearers/customers to the epitome of the shoe industry by following nature’s path of environmental sustainability using natural fibers, recycled and renewable materials.

There aren’t many players operating within the ecofriendly shoes in India. We are the first to do so.

What is your current distribution in online as well as offline space. Also, going forward, what would be the strategy to scale up the distribution?

We have started our operations online through our website to begin with. We will organize a few pop-up locations for our customers to experience the products in major cities and also have plans to launch a few stores across the country in next year.

What are the major retailing challenges as far as this category of shoes are concerned?

Brand establishment and General awareness are the two major challenges any startup faces when they begin with.Our focus has been to create as much content as possible on our website and other sources to educate our consumers on why our products are better and how they offer great comfort for various activities.

Who do you see as your potential competition within this space?

We do not have a lot competition in our category in the Indian Footwear Industry. We work with the best design companies, manufacturing units and spinning mills of the world to create our ultra-soft Merino Wool Shoes. Our products are completely different in all the aspects, especially in terms of materials, design, comfort, and quality from the other brands.

Kindly shed light on your price points.

We have priced multi-functional lightweight ‘Wool Joggers’, ‘Classic Sneakers’ with a modern twist, and simple yet ‘Elegant Loafers’at INR 7,200.

Do you also operate in kids' space? if yes, kindly provide the details?

We have launched with Men’s to begin with. We do plan to roll our Women and a kid’s line next year.

What are the manufacturing challenges as far as eco friendly shoes are concerned? Also, does your products come with limited shelf life?

Our core team has little or no experience in footwear and manufacturing. This kinda helped us question the existing process and break the mold of using synthetic fibers. Not all-natural fibers can be used to create shoes and can withstand the abrasion resistance needed for a shoe.After looking at several different sources we have started with Merino Wool because of all its amazing benefits. We have collaborated with ‘The Woolmark Company’, a non-profit organization that serves Australian farmers and is the global authority on Merino Wool to develop our fabric. Our shoes don’t have limited shelf life, as our research and development division has devised shoes that can withstand all conditions.

Have you raised any sorts of funds so far or plan to?

Not yet. We are bootstrapped.

At last, kindly highlight your growth plans?

We have just started our journey on creating a culture of comfort and sustainability in India.Our focus right now is to ensure our customers love what they wear. We are planning to start women’s shoe line next year and also work on using other natural sources to our shoes .



Taran Chhabra