Shriyans Bhandari is an athlete, loves photography and has also published two books, ‘Birds of Aravallis’ and ‘Lessons of a Curious Sole’.
What started by participating in a competition by Shriyans Bhandari with his friend Ramesh when they were 19 and 20 years respectively, to working with corporates for their CSR activities and launching themselves as a retail shoe brand, Greensole has created an environmental impact, and they are here to stay.
Abhishansa Mathur was in a conversation with Shriyans Bhandari, CEO, and co-founder of Greensole to know about his journey of successfully running this eco-conscious footwear brand.
Where did it all begin for you?
So, it was 2015 when Pramesh and I were athletes, we were running together under the same coach, and I had published my book. I was thinking of what I could do next, and that’s when we came up with the idea of Greensole. I had seen Ramesh doing some repair work on a shoe because he did not want to throw it away. That image made an impression on my mind. Later that week in my college, people were applying for a competition known as Top 30 innovators of India by EDII Ahmedabad. So, I happened to recognize that maybe something can be done with shoe and shoe recycling.
Can you tell us something about yourself?
I am an athlete, and running is one of my hobbies. Another hobby is photography, which led to the publishing of the book ‘ Birds of Aravallis’. Later I also published ‘Lessons of a Curious Sole’, a book on Entrepreneurship, and then I founded GreenSole with Ramesh. I also run a girl’s boarding school in Udaipur known as Heritage Girls School. So, I run a start-up and a family business both together. I learn from both of them, being a start-up that is innovative and an organization that is more stable and processed.
Shriyans Bhandari, Please share the What, When, & How of starting your brand Greensole?
I was aware of the problem that we have to go with multiple pairs of shoes during a year, but there is no proper way to discard them and utilize them. So I applied for that competition and did a lot of research about the idea, implementation, and problem statement. So, I met Ramesh and discussed the competition and can we get together on an idea to recycle shoes.
We sat down with the shoe, tore it apart, tried different things, checked how it can be utilized, and after many attempts, we found that we can easily transform them into a pair of slippers. So, from there, we took it to that competition, and won it, and became the top 30 innovators in India just after months of getting this idea and freshly applying for this. We got capital from the IIT Bombay Eureka competition, Rai Soni Idea, and had about 10 Lakhs to start the company. After that, the government had launched Corporate CSR in 2013, and we were in 2015. In our running groups, we found corporates who could support us like, JLL, India bulls, and we approached them if we can do CSR for them, and they agreed, and it was indeed a big support and starting point for us.
The recycled slippers could not be donated, and the corporates will be sponsoring them. So, over the years, we have had 65 partners, and we are recycling apparel now. We are also recycling for major footwear and apparel brands. We are doing retail also with sustainable footwear and other products. So, we have come a long way since our inception in 2015 to 2021. Despite COVID-19, it has been growing well.
Can you walk us through your journey so far? Any early challenges before founding Greensole.
We were not from an Entrepreneurship background. I was 19, Ramesh was also 20+, so we were very young. We did not know much about recycling, entrepreneurship, or anything like that. So, we had to face technical challenges and financial challenges, but we were in a very good spirit. We were very passionate about this idea, so we continued to solve all the problems one by one and moved forward without thinking much. We did not take anything as a challenge and kept moving forward.
As it was a niche product when you started, did people around you support your venture? Was it hard or easy to raise brand awareness?
People around us did support this venture, and there was a lot of brand awareness also in terms of CSR because we were doing something very noble. We were collecting shoes, we were recycling, and donating so many media outlets also covered us. As of now, more than 200 media outlets have covered us including BBC, History TV, TOI, The Hindu, NDTV, CNBC. So, there was awareness when we started, and it really grew over time. Our idea even went viral, the messages were being forwarded to us again that there is a brand that is recycling shoes and donating. So, it really caught on at that time. Now we are working hard to get traction in the retail field.
Tell us how you source your raw materials for your products?
The raw material for the slippers we donate comes from corporates, their employees, as we have collection centers at their offices. We also collect shoes from schools, colleges, volunteers, and there are various sources from where we get these old shoes, which is the main raw material behind recycling and donating footwear. Other than that, we also have a retail range that uses many sustainable materials like a wine cork, pineapple, cactus that are freshly sourced, but that’s the sustainable range. So, we do these things parallelly. Recycling as a service, donation, and retail are done together.
Shriyans Bhandari, What are some challenges that you faced while running Greensole?
I think the start was really tough because how do you get started with an idea which has not been implemented before, or how to find workers who would make you the first few samples, so that was difficult. After that, the 5 years have been a growing phase. Now, we have another stepping stone, where we really need to scale up this idea and make it nationwide, and do well in retail, and continue with the recycling part. So now we are at a stepping stone, but we will definitely cross that and move further into becoming a mainstream brand.
What according to you makes Greensole stand out amongst other brands? Tell us about your initiative.
Greensole is an initiative that goes very well with the needs of today. It’s a brand that does good for the environment by recycling or using sustainable materials. It donates slippers and also employs the right kind of people in its skills centers which creates jobs, and it does all these by being profitable. So, it is a brand of today, and that’s what makes it stand out. A brand has a much larger role to play in society, the environment, and we do that.
How are you using Social Media to promote your homegrown brand?
It is playing a good part, and there is a lot of awareness in terms of what GreenSole is doing. Volunteers are also very active. We also use influencers to spread the word. We use a lot of content, videos in terms of the retail part and the donation part. So, that really motivates people.
What is your 5-year plan for Greensole?
We want to be a mainstream brand and want to recycle about a million pairs for different brands. We also want to be a retail brand in a way that if you think of footwear you want to buy from GreenSole, or when you think of school shoes and accessories, you buy from GreenSole. To grow as a vegan sustainable brand that also does social and environmental good. A brand for today, a brand of the environment, and a brand for the people.
Can you share your business model with us?
We charge a fee for recycling. We charge consumers for the retail products, and that is our main business model. Also, we do CSR that is more towards no-profit-no-loss.
One advice/suggestion you’d like to give aspiring entrepreneurs out there.
The aspiring entrepreneurs should step into the game. Sometimes people have ideas, but they do not implement them. So, to be an entrepreneur, you really need to test your ideas, develop a prototype, and take it to the market. There’s a lot of work that goes into entrepreneurship. So, I really suggest all entrepreneurs be active, to be on the field, on the ground, working hard. If you put in the effort, things will turn out to be good.
Shriyans Bhandari recommends you to buy Alfa slippers from Greensole as their upper is made of old shoelaces and the base of the wine cork, and he says you will not find it elsewhere.