Surat-based siblings Parth and Karishma Dalal are making eco-friendly shoes from sugarcane residue and plastic bottles.
Do you think twice before discarding your old pair of shoes? The World Health Organisation estimates that 35 crore pairs of shoes are discarded every year globally. These non-biodegradable shoes end up in landfills and oceans thereby threatening our environment.
Parth and Karishma Dalal, two siblings from Gujarat, have come up with a brilliant idea to combine technology, sustainability, and social responsibility to redefine the footwear industry that has long been associated with excessive carbon emissions.
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In May this year, they launched ‘Reroute’ – a startup that utilises carbon-negative materials such as sugarcane residue and plastic water bottles to manufacture shoes.
“We aimed to develop 100 percent carbon-neutral products. Our concept was to first reduce waste such as sugarcane residue and plastic bottles from the face of the Earth and then give a second lease of life to this waste,” the 31-year-old tells The Better India.
Within a few months, these shoes have gained popularity among customers across metropolitan cities like Bengaluru and Delhi. In the last month alone, they sold 400 pairs of these shoes.
Taking lessons over legacy forward
Born and raised in Surat, Parth went to New York in 2016 to pursue his masters in pharmacy. Thereafter, he was working with pharmaceutical companies but in 2019, right before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, he returned to India.
A random conversation with Karishma and his father then motivated him to start a venture focused on sustainability. Parth recalls an incident that their father, who frequented Gujarat’s society circles, narrated to them about how many affluent families discard shoes after barely using them. “This just adds to the unnecessary pile of existing shoes in the landfills,” he adds.
This got the siblings thinking, if given a choice, would people shelling out money for high-end shoes make a sustainable and environmentally-conscious purchase too, if given a choice?
That’s when Parth and Karishma decided to manufacture shoes that are sustainable, eco-friendly, and also with a high finish. These shoes can also be recycled unlike the conventional leather or rubber shoes.
However, their father sadly passed away in the initial phase of the pandemic. Undeterred, the siblings decided to take the idea planted by their father forward.
In 2021, they started researching the gaps in the footwear industry which has been growing enormously over the years. “Currently, leather or synthetic rubber is used to make shoes. This material never decomposes and releases toxic chemicals in the environment which contributes to ozone depletion and global warming. It takes twice the amount of energy and water to manufacture them,” Parth explains.
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“Besides, people are using more shoes than everyday chappals (slippers) these days. They want the comfort of chappals in shoes without wearing heavy, leather boots. So we decided to make shoes that are lightweight and can be worn without socks,” he adds. Due to their natural makeup, these shoes won’t make your feet smell.
“Our idea could also save unnecessary piling up of shoes in landfills as waste. We would also end up giving life to them by another 3-4 years. Our father taught us the value of recycling,” he adds.
Sustainable & sock-free shoes
After the research and development process of two years, the siblings found a sustainable alternative to manufacture environment-friendly shoes.
“Sugarcane is widely used in India. When we drink ganne ka juice (sugarcane juice), we see the slag left behind as residue. Being in the pharmaceutical field, I came across Brazilian resin supplier which innovated sugarcane EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate) copolymer derived from sugarcane,” says Parth.
Intrigued to utilise the innovative carbon-negative material, Parth collaborated with the company to use sugarcane EVA to make the shoes’ outsoles soft and comfortable. Other than this, they incorporated renewable and recyclable materials like merino wool and plastic water bottles to 3D-knit the shoes.
Explaining how the shoes are made from recycled plastic bottles, Parth says, “First, we make pallets from plastic bottles which are then melted into yarn. We then blend merino wool into it to make propitiatory threads. So, while the outsoles made from sugarcane EVA provide durability and flexibility to the shoe, yarns made from single-use plastic bottles and merino wool with its natural antibacterial properties provide comfort for long-day use.”
Neha Parekh, who has been using these shoes for almost four months, tells The Better India, “As part of my corporate job, I have to drive and stand for long hours. The shoes I would wear were not comfortable and made my feet sweaty. I was trying to find some comfortable shoes or flats options which I could wear daily with minimal design.”
She adds, “When I first wore Reroute shoes, I did not feel like these shoes are made from plastic. They are very comfortable to wear. It feels like a feather on my skin.”
Priced at Rs 2,999, these shoes weigh 180 grams. Parth informs that between 95 and 110 grams of this comprise sugarcane residue. Interestingly, the duo recycles 11 plastic bottles to knit a pair of shoes. So far, they have turned nearly 40,000 plastic water bottles into Reroute’s proprietary knits.
True to their company’s motto, which is ‘Made Without Regrets’, Parth says,
“Our father would tell us that if you are not happy to purchase a product yourself, you won’t be able to sell it. We remembered this lesson while manufacturing our shoes.”
He adds, “Today, we make our products without any regrets, which is also our company’s motto. We aim to refurbish these shoes once they turn old and donate them to the needy or recycle them to make new products, just like our father envisioned,” says Parth.
Swachh Kadam: This Mumbaikar Is Recycling Shoes To Tackle The Problem Of Waste: Published by Anisha Bhatia for NDTV on 15 May 2017
Edited by Padmashree Pande. All photos: Reroute
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