Hyderabad-based Neeman's startup manufactures shoes made from merino wool for men. The shoes come with a promise of comfort and sustainability and are currently sold online.
On a trip across Spain, Taran Chhabra almost missed a train because he was mulling over what footwear to take along. “I needed running shoes, a pair of casual shoes, lounging shoes and an extra pair, just in case! I thought, ‘Why do I need a different pair of shoes for each activity? Why don’t I have one pair to wear all day long?’,” he recalls.
After the trip, Taran (34) sat with friend Amar Preet Singh (37) to figure out a solution. That, in turn, led to the creation of Neeman’s in 2017. Conceptualised in the US, the Hyderabad-based company makes men's shoes made of wool, specifically Merino sheep wool, a particular breed that can only survive in the extremely cold conditions of New Zealand and Australia.
Walk the talk
First, Taran and Amar spent time figuring out how shoes are made, and then how to go about selecting the right raw materials. They travelled to different shoe manufacturing hubs across the world to learn how shoes were made. What surprised them was that most shoes were made with materials that were not eco-friendly.
The duo went on to explore natural materials for shoes. And Merino wool from Australia topped their list. “The fibre is soft compared to traditional wool and can be worn all year round. Sheep produce new fleece every year making the fibre natural and renewable,” Taran explains. It took around 22 months for the founders to go from concept to design, and finally manufacturing and the launch.
“Our focus is to create a culture of comfort and sustainability in India by creating truly comfortable shoes with the best of natural fibres,” Taran adds.
Neeman’s has collaborated with Australia’s ‘The Woolmark Company’ - a global authority that develops and designs Merino wool fabric suitable for footwear.
Innovation in the footwear space
Taran is a business analytics leader specialising in data strategy, technology and analytics have been living in the US for the past decade. He has helped many pharma and life sciences companies like Blue Cross, Flexion, Coherus, Pfizer in their operational strategies.
Amar, on the other hand, has over 15 years of experience in running various startups. He currently leads the operations at Neeman’s. Having no experience or background in footwear, design or manufacturing, Taran and Amar found learning about the industry from the ground challenging but a great opportunity nevertheless. “It was a boon because we have broken the mould of using traditionally used synthetic materials and identified the gap within the footwear space and innovated by creating a new category in India,” Taran says.
The founders note that they use fabric that ensures the wool shoes are odour-resistant, breathable, abrasion-resistant and can be worn without socks and washed in the washing machine.
Priced between Rs 6,500 and Rs 6,800, Neeman’s wool shoes come in three variants - joggers, sneakers and loafers.
On their target audience, Taran says, “Our products are for anyone seeking comfortable footwear. Our focus is to educate the consumer on why our shoes are different, how they help the environment and why they should care about truly comfortable shoes in everyday life.”
The sole is made up of recycled rubber, while the shoe itself is 80-85 percent natural. “We are planning to make it 100 percent natural in the coming days,” Amar says.
All the Merino wool is sourced from family-owned farms in Australia. “The wool we use is sheared by experts. No animals are harmed in our wool-shearing process. All the Merino wool used in making our fabrics is traceable right down to the farm we source it from.”
Neeman’s has a network of 50 people across four countries: the wool is shipped from Australia to the UK (London) for design, then goes to South Korea for fabric creation and the wool shoes are assembled in China before the final product reaches India. Neeman’s currently caters only to the Indian market.
The selling point of wool shoes
Neeman’s started off by selling exclusively on its website. “We will start a few pop-up locations later this year for our customers to experience our shoes. We also have a seven-day trial policy for all our shoes to ensure our customers get to try and feel the comfort and difference we bring,” Taran says.
The team launched its website in October 2018 in Delhi with all the three variants. Though Neeman’s has not started its offline business, it caters to events, exhibitions, fashion shows, etc, in cities like Bengaluru, Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai.
Bootstrapped Neeman’s in the last three months has sold around 1,200 units. It plans to sell around 800-1,000 units every month going forward.
Neeman’s is planning to launch a women’s line of merino wool shoes this year.
According to Statista, revenue in the footwear market amounts to $18,712 million in 2019 and is expected to grow annually by 10 percent.
Neeman’s collaboration with The Woolmark Company and its focus on the Merino wool fabric is what differentiates it from the other global wool shoe companies such as Le Mouton, Baabuk, Allbirds.
Startups like Fashos and Rapawalk are bringing innovative methods to the shoe manufacturing industry, but the Neeman’s founders say that they do not hinder their prospects.
“We are approaching the footwear space in India with a unique approach and strategies wherein our focus is to spread the vision of pure comfort and sustainability along with the other aspects our shoes have and others wouldn’t. We are thrilled to see a lot of interest around Neeman’s and that is a great sign for us,” Taran says.
Neeman’s now hopes to keep improving the product manufacturing phase by choosing better natural fibre. It also will be looking to add shoes made of other natural fibre to its collection.