The techie turned shoemaker- The New Indian Express


Express News Service

In 2016, Taranjeet Singh Chhabra and his brother Amar Preet missed their train. They were travelling in Spain and like many Indians were lugging around loads of luggage. “I was carrying five pairs of shoes—one each of formal, casual, lounge, running and an extra pair, just in case. When we got stranded, it got me thinking: why can’t there be a single pair of all-purpose shoes?” remembers Taran. A 32-year-old nerd, he deep-dived into the footwear industry to find a significant gap in the Indian market. “Shoes made in India were either comfortable or stylish, but almost never both. I went around the world to research how shoes are made and found gaps when it comes to sustainability. After two years of research, I returned in 2018 and decided to set up Neeman’s. Our Merino wool sneakers are an industry disruptor,” says the entrepreneur, who featured in Fortune India 40 Under 40 in 2022.

Taranjeet Singh Chhabra

From transforming discarded plastic bottles into shoes to using recycled tyres in flip-flops and integrating recycled waste paper in packaging, the brand has gone the extra mile to make sure everything it does has “responsibility written all over it”. Neeman’s recently launched casual wear—T-shirts and polos—toe the same line. “We wanted to give consumers the choice to ‘ReLive’ (the brand’s name for recycled products) their love for clothing in the most responsible way that is comfort-positive for the wearer and carbon-negative for the planet.

Our clothes are created from materials like organic cotton and recycled polyester. We manufacture them at a facility that runs on solar and wind energy, where 95 per cent of the water is recovered, treated and reused. We want to extend the idea of conscious fashion,” says Taran.

The Hyderabad-based startup, which is backed by some of the largest consumer investors in the country—Sixth Sense Ventures, Anicut Capital and Stride Ventures—has just opened four stores, two in Mumbai and one each in Hyderabad and Bengaluru. By the next financial year, they are looking at opening 20 more outlets nationwide.

Taran admits, “I am not from the footwear industry. I learned things along the way. One of my challenges was acing the balance of responsible product with the right fashion quotient. We were entering an oversaturated market where the masses are in general ignorant of conscious choices in fashion, specifically footwear. So we had to work extra hard to build awareness around sustainability and trust for a homegrown brand,” he says. 

Six years down the line, the brand has recycled more than one million plastic bottles to date and is selling roughly 80,000 pairs of shoes monthly. Spreading the footprint of sustainability has worked well for Taran.

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