It takes more than 9,000 litres of water to make one pair of leather shoes. While on average, a family of four uses a little over 500 litres of water each day for their various uses. These statistics and numbers do not cross our minds as often as they should.
If you have more than two pairs of shoes, then you have just contributed to using more than 18,000 litres of water, which was used to get them made.
While the Indian footwear market is flooded with both domestic and international brands, not many are focussed on building a brand based on sustainability. Neeman’s is India’s first footwear brand that uses natural, renewable, recycled and biodegradable fibres in its shoes.
Established in December 2018 by shoe aficionados Taran Chhabra and Amar Preet Singh, Neeman’s was born out of a personal quest to find an all-purpose all-day shoe.
The Better India caught up with the brother duo who have recycled over 1 million plastic bottles into shoes to date.
“We are both not just believers in sustainability but also active advocates of it. When we entered the footwear industry we wanted to keep this as the core of Neeman’s. Traditionally, shoes are constructed using plastic, toxic dyes, leather from animal skin, and contaminated synthetic materials that are harmful to the environment. With Neeman’s, we didn’t want to add to the already existing pollution caused by the sector and, therefore, we decided to bring a change by opting for materials that would reduce carbon footprints,” says Taran.
Market For Footwear Brands in India
In 2016, while planning a trip to Spain, Taran found himself carrying an entire suitcase just dedicated to various shoes. “I had packed more than a couple of pairs of shoes for different purposes and occasions. On top of all this one extra pair in case something happened to any of the others I was carrying. This led to searching for one pair that would suffice all my needs.”
But, he couldn’t find one. This led Taran to speak to people in the US and India to understand what stopped them from carrying only one pair of shoes. “The underlying thread that came forth in all these conversations was comfort. People were looking for comfortable shoes that they could use throughout the day,” he says.
This seemed like a huge problem and the duo decided to come together to try and solve it. They decided to bridge this gap by manufacturing comfortable footwear for all-day wear, but with the added attribute of making them eco-friendly. Taran describes himself as the person who meticulously looks at the nutritional label before consuming any product.
“I wanted to develop a footwear brand that could also boast of its sustainability,” he says. Thus started the journey of Neeman’s. In December 2018 the brand came into being. Interestingly, the brand name, Neeman’s, is a combination of the founder’s parents’ names — Neelam and Manjeet.
Taran, founder and CEO of Neeman’s leads R&D to launch some unique and unexplored fibres such as Merino Wool, Recycled PET bottles in the Indian footwear industry while Amar is the co-founder and COO at Neeman’s.
All the sneakers use varied fabrics, all of which are renewable or eco-friendly, and in case it’s neither, the company converts them into sustainable components.
Explaining this, Amar says, “For instance, materials such as Merino Wool, recycled PET bottles, recycled tyres and natural cotton are used to make shoes. The use of planet-friendly material was only possible by blending it well with innovation; hence, sustainability and novelty became the driving force behind the brand. Furthermore, all the materials used from the uppers, insoles, soles to packaging, are high-quality and eco-friendly.”
To establish a brand in an already overcrowded market was not easy. “Raising capital in the initial phase came with its challenges as the overall footwear market of $10.6 billion in 2019 was already crowded with both established and non-branded products. But with growth predicted at $15.5 billion by 2022, and India expected to grow eight folds by 2030, the space was ready for additional players,” says Taran.
Neeman’s raised $1M of funding in their seed round from Anicut Capital in March 2020 and subsequently raised another round of capital from Sixth Sense Ventures in August 2021, and in November 2021, Stride Ventures, a leading venture debt firm in India, also came in as an investor with Rs 7 crore inflow.
“These investments demonstrate support for our vision and product portfolio. We are geared to scale new heights by further strengthening our commitment to the planet by continuing to launch innovative fabrics. We already have an impressive unisex line of four fabrics — Merino Wool, Natural Cotton, Recycled PET bottles and Recycled Tyres,” says Amar.
A few things that the brand has consciously focussed on include adopting a Direct to Consumer (D2C) route, and the launch via their website, which made it easy for customers to purchase the product directly.
Taran went on to say Neeman’s has been well-accepted by the customers and is regarded as the pioneer in creating the ‘sustainable footwear’ category in India. “We have seen a 15X growth in just the last 12 months of business and sold over 3 lakh pairs in three years,” adds Taran.
Adding to this, Amar says, “We were recently awarded the ‘most promising startup’ in the Telangana Region and with Startup of the year by Small Business Awards 2022. We aim to continue pushing the boundaries and staying true to their ethos.”
“Ensuring that our customer is 100 per cent satisfied with the product is imperative to us,” says Taran. While traditionally one would go to a store to buy footwear, the pandemic changed a lot of that. In making it conducive for customers to buy online, Neeman’s offers a very flexible buying process. “We have a ‘no questions asked return and refund’ policy. Even if after use you are not satisfied with the product, we will take it back and ensure that we find a good fit for you. We are offering unlimited exchanges until you find your perfect size,” says Taran.
“These small tweaks have helped in removing the apprehension that a customer usually has when buying a shoe online,” adds Amar.
In 2021, the company introduced its first completely made in India product called Eco-flip (slippers). “Building a sustainable supply chain within the footwear ecosystem in India was the driving force behind this. We wanted to resolve very specific pain points that our customers were facing and therefore started looking for vendors within India,” says Amar.
Having worked extensively with merino wool, the company has now started using cotton blended with other recycled material. A natural rubber sole has also been added to make it completely made-in-India. “We also pride ourselves on being the first Indian brand to make sneakers that can be worn both in summer and winter without socks. The shoes don’t just regulate temperature but also adapt to your skin and outside temperature,” says Taran.
All the innovations made by the company are geared towards achieving 100 per cent customer satisfaction, says Amar. “We want each customer to feel a sense of pride and immense comfort when they buy and use our product. We have had Harsh Mariwala of the Marico group tweet about our products saying our shoes are the best and most comfortable pair of shoes he’s ever owned.”
“These are all small victories that keep us going,” he adds.
Made from #natural and #sustainable materials, these shoes from @NeemansOfficial are the best & most comfortable pair of shoes I’ve ever owned! #MadeInIndia #HarshRecommends pic.twitter.com/mrcnP1jdmB
— Harsh Mariwala (@hcmariwala) April 28, 2019
While the Eco-flip (slippers) are priced at Rs 699, the wool joggers are upwards of Rs 4,500. All products are shipped for free within India and should reach within four to five working days. For international shipment, there is a shipping charge levied.
Click here to place your order.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)