Post

Weaving Comfort; NID Graduates Innovate Water-Resistant Shoes for Farmers

In April 2018, three graduates of the National Institute of Design (NID) Ahmedabad set out to two villages named Wathar and Nanded in Maharashtra. To better comprehend the challenges the community faced, Nakul Lathkar (30), Vidyadhar Bhandare (31), and Santosh Kocherlakota (31) decided to spend six months among rural farmers and live like them.

They chose Nanded and Wathar because those areas experience extreme climatic conditions. Nakul and Vidyadhar had relatives in that area who were willing to host them for a few months. They did this after our graduation so that they could understand ground-level problems and innovate user-friendly solutions.

 

The group would get up early in the morning, accompany the farmers to the fields, and watch them work. The team had discovered 20 issues by the end of their visit, including inadequate water supply and subpar storage facilities, among others.

Finally, they narrowed it down to five major problems which they felt were unaddressed and started working on a solution for the first one — footwear for farmers.

During those six months, they spoke to several farmers and noticed one common problem — none of them had appropriate footwear. While working under the hot sun, or in a sloshy field, all the farmers walked barefoot. This caused deep cracks in their feet and made them prone to fungal infections and snake bites.

 

So, they established a Hyderabad-based business called Earthen Tunes in 2019. They have already given over 50 farmers comfortable shoes, and are manufacturing 1,000 additional pairs. Apart from this, they also sell their products through a website.

Finding the right fit

 

In 2018, the three realized that the footwear on the market was inappropriate for the farmers in those regions after additional investigation. Gumboots are one example of a leather-based alternative, however, they are not appropriate in all weather conditions. Further, the boots need to be worn over pants. Even if there are shoes suitable for some farmers, they are not durable.

 

The farmers required footwear that would keep their feet warm in the winter and cool in the summer so they could work comfortably in both conditions. The team had to make sure the product was affordable, which was another crucial consideration.

 

To obtain a natural material to stitch shoes with, they traveled to many states in the nation, including Kerala and Karnataka. They initially experimented with 20 different varieties of natural fibers, including banana and water hyacinth. Nevertheless, those were failures for various reasons.

 

By the end of 2018, while looking for desi fibers in a village near Hyderabad, the trio came across Deccani wool. This is used to make thick blankets or ghongadi. Apart from being a versatile material, it is also suitable for varying climates because the wool becomes thicker or thinner according to its surroundings.

 

After deciding on the material, the group once more ran into a brick wall because neither shoemakers nor weavers were interested in using this material to create shoes. So Nakul created a simple prototype using his expertise in crocheting.

 

Then, they were able to contact shoemakers in Ambur, Tamil Nadu, with that design, and they agreed to produce the shoes.

 

Exceeding expectations

 

In April 2019, the trio applied for incubation at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras. At first, three months of pre-incubation were made available to the startup. And, they had to demonstrate that the product was worthy of the market during this time.

 

So they had 30 pairs of desi wool shoes constructed with rubber bottoms. The wool was used to prevent sand or tiny rocks from infiltrating.

 

Although the material is water-resistant, prolonged contact with water will cause it to become sodden. Each of these variables was examined at the Central Leather Research Institute (CLRI), Chennai. The sneaker was taken to Wathar to be sold after receiving approval. Farmers were eager to purchase a pair of shoes after recognizing the material from the moment they first saw them.

 

  

Author

Roshini Muthukumar

Roshini Muthukumar, a native of Chennai, started her career as a content writer but made a switch to journalism to pursue her passion. She has experience writing about human interest stories, innovative technology, entrepreneurs, research blogs, and more. Previously, Roshini has done internships with The Hindu, Metroplus and worked as a correspondent with The Better India.