Fashion footwear finds sole mate in up-cycled truck tyres
After Leaving a stable job in the information technology industry, 27-year-old Puneite Pooja Apte-Badamikar set out a year ago to pursue her passion in recyclable energy and upcycling. The result of her year-long struggle was affordable and fashionable footwear made with soles from discarded truck tyres and other eco-friendly material.
From two footwear prototypes in October 2018, she now sells upcycled women footwear under the brand name BlinkGreen and has received a good response from buyers.
She completed her graduation in electronics and telecommunications from Savitribai Phule Pune University and took up a job in an IT company where she worked for four years while pursuing a distance learning master’s degree in renewable energy from The Energy and Resources Institute, New Delhi.
“I quit my job in July 2018 and hooked on to research in up-cycling. The first and obvious option was plastic but I got thinking about discarded tyres. Recycling tyres is difficult and expensive. I started looking for options in day-to-day goods that can be created from rubber. I wanted something that does not have direct contact with the skin nor needs to be carried in hand. Footwear fit the bill in all aspects,” she said.
In October 2018, Badamikar readied two prototypes — one made out of discarded aeroplane tyres and the other out of discarded truck tyres. “I enrolled for a competition organised jointly by Start Up India and the Maharashtra State Innovation Society. I won the second prize in the competition in the woman entrepreneur category and thus began the Blink-Green journey. I started studying in-depth about footwear. I approached cobblers to share the idea but they said no one uses rubber soles any more as other materials were available in the market. I persisted with my quest,” she added.
Badamikar invested the Rs 50,000 cash prize into more research and product development. She visited the Kurla market in Mumbai to study raw materials and started production this February only to launch formally in April, after several experiments. “I did face challenges in finding the raw material and then in getting it cut properly. I was sourcing the tyres from waste pickers but there was no certainty of supply. They still supply to me but I have to sometimes turn to a company in Mumbai which recycles tyres. I got cut tyres and handed it over with other raw materials to a cobbler who had come on-board. He handcrafted the footwear. Two more cobblers came on board but there were issues with finishing. Finally, I turned to a craftsman in Mumbai who had a die-cutting machine. Now, he cuts to soles into shape and sends it to Pune for production of the footwear,” Badamikar said.
In her endeavour to remain ecofriendly, she has shunned leather and plastics in her products. “We use sponge and rexine for the upper layers of the footwear while the belts are made from cloth and other embellishments. I procure all the material and design all the footwear myself based on latest trends. I have tied up with two women from a self-help group who stitch the belts. All the material, including the rubber soles and belts, is handed over to the cobbler who produces the final product,” she said.
BlinkGreen could perfect a market salable product in June. “We have priced the footwear between Rs 500 and Rs 600 as we want to establish the brand. We are focusing on getting customers and their feedback before scaling up or increasing the prices,” she added.