The Good Company: Lechal and Paaduks – 2 Indian shoe brands that are creating sole revolution

We all have our shopping weaknesses, and for many it’s footwear. Lechal and Paaduks are turning our shoe desires into a sustainable strongpoint.


This edition of The Good Company Series is aimed to support the strides of conscientious techies striving towards a better future. In this technology era, it becomes increasingly important to constantly innovate and use technology to not only increase the standard of living but also address some of the difficulties that have been plaguing us for ages. We direct your attention towards two startups that show us the way forward starting with our footsteps. After all, footsteps eventually becomes footprints.

Lechal: Buzzing footwear

To accomplish his missions, James Bond required guns, homing beacons, and daggers in his shoes. However, our daily missions only require some guide to navigate the labyrinth of streets and gullies, and also a tool to help us burn the calories we pick-up along the eateries in these lanes. This is where Lechal comes in handy (well, technically footy).

Origins: A Wearable tech challenge at MIT

Started as a an MIT Challenge to provide an inclusive haptic tool to help visually challenged navigate, Anirudh Sharma has taken Lechal a long way forward. Sharma along with Krispian Lawrence, a University of Michigan graduate whom he met through mutual friends, started Ducere Technologies in 2011 to realize “one crazy idea after another” in wearable technology arena.

Lechal releases in September and is the premier and first product in the line comes in the form of universal insoles or exclusive shoes with interactive haptic (fancy term for sense of touch) technology, supported by a dedicated app and a USB charger. The world’s first haptic footwear (insoles/shoes) comes with a bluetooth device coupled to an app in your smartphone (Windows/Android/iOS based).

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The actuators in the shoe provides an unobtrusive yet clearly discernable vibratory feedback to help you navigate. It is just as an informed friend would take you along with a tap on your shoulder. Lechal excels in many avenues, but the focus remains in being an amazing accompaniment to the white cane for visually challenged and also an awesome must-have for gadget and/or fitness freaks.

Toes with eyes for the visually impaired

Ducere technologies have initiated the “Lechal Initiative” to make Lechal shoes accessible and affordable to visually challenged people world over. For the public, the insoles are to be priced in the range 100–150$, and shoes in the same ballpark. But for every pair bought, a share of the profit goes to subsidize footwears for the visually challenged.

Ducere has presently tied up with  L V Prasad Eye Institute in Hyderabad to provide shoes at subsidized price. The subsidy depends on the health and economic condition of the person, but they are striving to provide shoes at as low as 1$ for the deserving. Ducere is also negotiating tie-ups with associations abroad. Further, they are constantly striving to make the experience as friendly as possible. For instance, you can find features like voice recognition, complete control using just the two volume buttons, and really innovative solutions such as audio feedback to inform you the charging status of your batteries. All these features are tested at each stage at the L V Prasad Institute to assess their feasibility.

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Shoes that are too sexy for your feet

Yet there is no compromise on the ergonomic and aesthetic aspects of the products. “We focus more on the fashion aspect than the technology… The technology is something that you should experience,” says Krispian Lawrence. Ducere boasts an impressive team of 53 and counting. The chunk of the team enrolls designers and engineers from the most prestigious institutes. The Vice President of the Design team, Mr. Venkat Rao is a winner of the prestigious Red Dot design award in 2012. Sonia Benjamin, General Manager, Communications and Business Development quips in that the driving philosophy is “Would we buy these products as customers?”

The pre-orders started in March and Ducere has received close to 25000 orders as of now, some even from unexpected quarters such as Botswana and less-heard-of Scandinavian countries. Shoes will be dispatched from this October. With the overwhelming response received, their initial sales target of 1,00,000 units before March 2015 seems very conservative.

Check out this trailer and www.lechal.com to find out the full range of impressive features. The Grapevine is that an updated features list will feature in another week on the website.

While Lechal is ready to take off, Paaduks has just landed, with upcyled aeroplane tyres.

Paaduks: Upcycled soles for soul

On an average, we produce close to 5 million tonnes of tyres every year (Source: ETRMA) and many of these go to fill landfills. Some of these landfills have accumulated vast amounts of used tyres that they are said to be seen from space as well. There are efforts now taken to recycle these tyres into rubber sheets or asphalt or even fuel oil. However, in resource-scanty nations, scrap tyres have been used for ages to make sturdy footwear. Even in India, scrap tyres are being preferred to make footwear to be used in rural areas, to withstand the uneven terrain and protect against ingress.

Aerial view of tyre landfill

Aerial view of tyre landfill

Global ventures like Indosole and soleRebels are taking this a step further. It was one such effort that inspired Jay and Jothsna Rege to start Paaduks in India in 2013. Paaduks make handmade work of arts with scrap tyres as soles and other eco-friendly materials such as cork and jute as base and flaps. They prefer to use the term upcycled tyres rather than recycled, as the footwear provides great quality and environmental value.

Origins: The laws of scrap tyre attraction

Jay Rege worked for 5 years in HCL and then decided to study MBA. The entrepreneurial spirit soon took over and he started his first venture: Academy One. Through this, Jay and Jothsna, have been providing counselling services for students keen on studying abroad. However, owing to the seasonal nature of the service, they decided to look for other ventures to hone in their energy.

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Spurred by the idea of scrap tyre footwear, they went in search for people who could help them in Thakkar Bappa Colony in Chembur, where close 70-80% of local footwears are made in India. Mr. Nagraj, a cobbler, in the colony came forward to work with them to produce what is now the amazing series of footwear by Paaduk.

The idea of Paaduk is sustained by two concerns: one is to reduce our carbon footprint, and the other is to promote fair trade.

Fair livelihoods for shoe makers

When Jay and Jothsna went in search of cobblers in Chembur, they were disheartened by the condition prevailing in the neighbourhood. Nagraj, their principal cobbler, for instance lived with his family in a 10 by 10 feet room.

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Jay says, “If you buy a shoe for 1000 rupees, the cobbler makes 20 or 30 rupees, which keeps them in constant poverty.” So, when they set out to start Paaduks, they decided not to make it a completely for-profit organization. “We pay the cobbler definitely a fair share for their work and efforts,” assures Jay. In addition, Jay takes care of the medical expenses and the tuition fees of the children of the two cobblers he employs.

At present, Paaduks makes footwear in the price range 500 to 700 rupees on a demand basis. However, they wish to enter the retail market soon, selling at least 800 to 900 pairs of footwear a month. The designs on offer are completely the brainchild of the cobblers. They procure used tyres from the scrap market in Kurla at 20 to 25 rupees a sole. Initially, they faced a lot of problems in handling used truck tyres; hence, they have now moved on to using aeroplane tyres, procured at 40 to 50 rupees per kilo. The cork or jute base and flaps are also procured locally, and are beautifully crafted into amazing yet unassuming pairs of footwear.

Untyring sales efforts

Paaduks, like Lechal, also face difficulties in negotiating the startup arena. They have managed to sell 750 to 800 pairs in their first year with efforts from just the two of them and 4 friends, who lend hands when needed. But they are really looking forward to drastically improve their sales. They are in negotiation with designers and also plan to employ marketing personals to take their products to shelves around the country. Their online store is yet to pick up momentum, as bulk of their sales seem to be happening through word-of-mouth communication.

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Likewise, funding remains a huge concern, as there is no steady inflow of profit yet. They manage through personal investment and crowdfunding; recently, they raised close to Rs. 75,000 through the crowdfunding platform Indiegogo, and are looking to source Rs. 2 Lakh by the end of the year.

Handling tyres is hard work and requires patience and skill. Hence, not many cobblers set forth to come for help. However, looking at the improving conditions of their cobblers, Jaysingh and Nagraj, Jay is confident that more cobblers would soon join the team as sales build up. “And of course we will bear the medical and education expenses of all Mochi families.”

The Good Company is a running series that chronicles the backstory of sustainable businesses that are bringing products and services to the modern urban consumer.

Also read: ‘Lechal’ these smart shoes wherever you go!


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