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Meet the men who make sneakers from recycled plastic bottles

Footwear brand Neeman's founders talk about the art and science of creating shoes that are green, comfortable and stylish

Each pair of Neeman's shoes has been designed using eight recycled PET bottles.
Each pair of Neeman's shoes has been designed using eight recycled PET bottles. (Courtesy Neeman's )

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Finding a pair of made-in-India shoes that's comfortable as well as stylish is not an easy task. That's one of the reasons shoe enthusiast Taran Chhabra started Neeman's, a Hyderabad-based footwear brand, along with his brother Amar a couple of years ago. The other reason was the need to produce footwear that addressed the problem of plastic waste. 

“Research shows (according to Quantis, a sustainability consulting group) sneaker production accounts for 1.4% of the global greenhouse gas emissions. And let's not forget that India is the 15th highest plastic polluter globally. We couldn't ignore these stats while creating a product,” says Taran Chhabra, the chief executive of Neeman’s. The brand raised a debt funding of 7 crore from Stride Ventures last week. The result was a range of shoes made using bamboo insoles, castor bean oil, natural and recycled rubber and PET bottles. 

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Neeman's latest collection of lightweight sneakers and slip-ons, ReLive Knits (price starting 3,299 onwards), are made using 100% recycled PET bottles. We spoke to the founders about the science of creating the all-day footwear. Edited excerpts:

Neeman's co-founders Taran Chhabra (left) and Amar Preet
Neeman's co-founders Taran Chhabra (left) and Amar Preet (Courtesy Neeman's )

Why PET bottles only?

We founded the company on the principles of sustainability and innovation. So, we are always looking for natural, renewable materials that can be converted into a clean fabric. It's no secret that the amount of plastic waste generated and dumped into oceans and landfills is increasing by the day. India alone generates over 10 million tonnes of plastic waste annually. That's a scary number. That's why ReLive Knits came into being. 

Selecting PET bottles as a fabric was important because we wanted to bring back a material that had lost life. We wanted to reshape it in the form of super comfortable sneakers. Our focus is completely on circular economy because the Indian customer is gravitating towards options that are both sustainable and comfortable. 

Could you explain the process of creating these shoes?

All the materials we use are either natural or made from recycled waste. So working with recycled materials is not an alien concept for us. 

The process of converting plastic into a fabric was done by collecting discarded plastic bottles, recycling, washing and then shredding them into small flakes. The chips are then melted, cooled, and pressed through a dye, forming long strands of yarn that are further refined and spun through a 3D knitting machine to form the shoe.

How many bottles/bags have you recycled till date?

Every pair of ReLive Knits uses eight PET bottles. We have so far recycled over one million PET bottles.

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