Being environment friendly is responsible. Serving a social cause is noble. How about both?
In early 2013 Jay Rege was looking for an idea for his second business venture, when he read about a person who imported scrap tyres from Indonesia, made chappals out of them and sold them in the US. He was instantly inspired and decided not only to adopt the idea but also to augment it with his vision of social empowerment of local cobblers. Thus was born Paaduks in mid-2013.
Jay is a Computer Engineer by training and worked with HCL Technologies in the US for a few years. He completed his MBA from Texas A&M University before he returned to India by end of 2004. In 2005 along with his wife Jothsna he started Academy One, a coaching and counseling center for students interested in higher studies in the US. Having successfully run a coaching business for eight years, founding Paaduks was actually an impulsive decision for Jay & Jothsna.
Says Jay, “More than an enterprise, Paaduks is a unique initiative that attempts making beautiful handcrafted footwear from used automobile tyres and sharing the profits with cobblers that make them”. It is a journey that begins from the constrained confines of the workshop in the slums of Thakkar Bappa colony at Chembur as raw material and ends as financial assistance for healthcare and educational needs of the cobblers and their families. The business model is simple given the ease and cost effectiveness of local supply chain, is scalable in sales volumes due to multitude of retail channels and has a robust potential to provide employment and fair remuneration to the cobbler community.
Apart from this cheerful team of husband-wife duo- Jay & Jothsna Rege, Paaduks is also managed by their associate Megha Rawat. Megha is primarily involved in product design and procurement, Jay manages marketing & sales and Jothsna takes care of administration & finance.
It’s about the shoe
Being eco-friendly and ethical is the core philosophy of Paaduks. According to Jay, “Every pair of Paaduks footwear produced uses up cycled or already used automobile or airplane rubber tyre as soles”. This is very beneficial for the environment. How? Well, used existing tyres obviate the need to produce new rubber at factories and thus help reduce the associated pollution. Intellectuals call this carbon footprint and Paaduks is helping decrease this footprint. Also the materials used for the shoe are not made from animal products. Vegan leather, jute, cotton fabric with vegetable prints and canvas are some of the materials that go into forming a Paaduks pair. All of these are sourced by them from different markets within Mumbai.
Every quarter Paaduks comes up with a collection of 7 to 8 designs. Currently Paaduks has lined up a collection of 9 designs- 2 for men and 7 for women, all made from jute or cotton fabric. They will be retailing these at some of the specialty retail stores in different cities. Apart from selling their shoes through their website- http://paaduks.com/ , Paaduks will soon be e-tailing them on Snapdeal and Fabpanda. Participation in consumer exhibitions is one of the key channels of promotion for them.
Caring for the cobblers
Eco-friendly shoes are just one half of the Paaduks story. The other half is about the cobblers that make these shoes. Currently Nagraj Singhadia is the chief cobbler for Paaduks who works with a team of daily wage helpers in his cluttered 8 x 10 workshop in the narrow lanes of Thakkar Bappa colony at Chembur. “Individual cobblers at the colony always remain in penury because they are forced to sell their shoes to local wholesalers or traders at very low prices, often not receiving their payments on time thus forcing them to borrow money from lenders at exorbitant interest costs” says Jay while explaining why he decided to turn Paaduks into a social venture. Since its inception, Paaduks has been working to change these terms of trade. It pays Nagraj and his cobblers 100-150 rupees per pair compared to 20-30 rupees they would have earned by selling to local traders. Paaduks realizes that it’s the cobblers that are the backbone of its business and deserve to be remunerated fairly for their work. Paaduks team also provides financial assistance to the cobblers’ families for their healthcare, educational and emergency needs. “Jay has always helped me with my family’s medical bills” says Nagraj recalling an instance when his son was hospitalized after a nasty fall at their home. It is this genuine concern for economic and social well-being of cobblers that adds compassion to the entrepreneurial story of Paaduks.
Challenges & way ahead
This entrepreneurial story now needs to expand. This means it needs to produce more, sell more, find a bigger place for its cobblers to work and offer avant-garde product choices to its customers. From the current production of 150 pairs per month, Paaduks wants to produce about 1000-1200 pairs a month in the next two years. Continuously sprucing up designs of their collections is also a necessity because ultimately aesthetics score higher than a social cause when competing for the customer’s wallet. Paaduks also plans to reach leading wholesalers in international markets with targeted products like the slip-ons in the next two years. All this requires money and Paaduks is definitely on a hunt.
Jay sums it up by saying, “It is this dual aim of being environmentally conscious and providing sustainable livelihood to the economically marginalized but skilled sections of the society that drives us to do things that we do”.