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Shoes made from wool, for all seasons

economy | Jan 11, 2019 4:09 PM IST

Shoes made from wool, for all seasons

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Neeman's is India's first start-up to make shoes from natural fibre.

Just three months into existence, Neeman's has caught our attention. Neeman's is India's first start-up to make shoes from natural fibre. They use Merino wool, which comes from Australian Merino sheep. The founders, Taran Chhabra and Amar Preet Singh, say Neeman's is a product born out of necessity.

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“Two and a half years ago, when we were travelling to Spain, I almost missed a train as we were over packed. I had about five pairs of shoes. I was debating with my co-founder, Singh, saying there is got to be a better way to do this. There's got to be one shoe that takes you from start till the end of the day and he said, why don't we create something like this?” said Chhabra.
An idea was born, to create an all-purpose shoe. But, manufacturing shoes was not their forte. Chhabra comes from a pharmaceutical background and Singh was into launching start-ups. They travelled around the world, visited numerous manufacturing hubs to learn the unknown. During the process of gathering knowledge on shoe manufacturing, Chhabra and Singh noticed some disturbing facts.
Chhabra said, "Everything that goes into a traditional shoe is made from synthetic fibres or leather, which comes from animal skin. Synthetic fibres required tonne of energy in production. All this energy comes from non-renewable sources and it required a lot of petroleum-based oils in production, which release tonnes of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. In fact, about 10 percent of carbon dioxide released is released by the footwear industry alone."
Chhabra and Singh wanted to find a better, environment-friendly way of manufacturing shoes. They not only wanted to create an all-purpose shoe, but wanted to use natural fibres and renewable sources. They tested many natural sources in order to find something suitable for Indian weather conditions. After two and a half years of research and development, Chhabra and Singh  settled on Merino wool. “We use Merino wool, which comes from Australian Merino sheep and wool is nothing but sheep's hair. They grow the hair regularly, every other year. It's just like the sheep is getting a haircut,” he added.
Merino wool is used in the fashion industry for clothing, but using it for shoes is unheard of. “We reached out to the Woolmark Company, a global authority of Australian wool. They were surprised that we wanted to use Merino wool in India,” said Chhabra.
Neeman’s claims their shoes are soft, temperature regulating and allow the feet to breathe. The shoes absorb the body's moisture and release it back in the air. They help keep the feet cool during warm weather and warm in winter season. Chhabra said, "The shoes are socks-free and odour resistant and lightweight. They bend about 20,000 times more than any other material. So, the shoes are more durable. They are also machine washable."
A self-confessed fitness freak, Chhabra says they wanted to go the distance when it comes to sustainability. Mostly insoles of shoes are made with petroleum-based oil, but Neeman's has replaced this with a plant-based source, castor bean oil. They also use recycled rubber for cushioning and all the packaging is made with 85 percent recycled waste paper.
Neeman's manufactures three types of shoes - joggers, sneakers and loafers - which are available on their website www.neemans.com. You can pick any pair for Rs 6,500 and the company also offers a 7-day trial. The designs are unisex, but Neeman’s plans to launch exclusive variants for women soon. "We also plan to make shoes for kids in the coming future as Merino wool is anti-bacterial and good for skin,” said Chhabra. The company is looking at opening stores in New Delhi, Bengaluru and Mumbai.
Though Neeman's is a bootstrapped start-up with a 10-member team, Chhabra says, within three months of launch, the company has garnered a lot attention from venture capitals.
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