Sole-ful Steps

Upcycled Rubber Footwear from Mumbai’s Cobbler Community

Who knew that amid the dingy alleys of the Thakkar Bappa Colony, a cobbler inhabited community in Mumbai, India, would lie a revolutionary idea to change how this labor and its people were perceived and to what heights their street-side labor could reach in the technology-driven world moving forward right outside their milieu. It all began in 2013, when husband and wife Jay and Jothsna Rege read about a person importing scrap tires from Indonesia and turning them into footwear. Inspired by the concept, they decided to implement it in a unique form that involved making the creators a part of the journey and helping them achieve both financial goals and benefits of healthcare, education, etc.

Convincing cobblers to join them wasn’t easy. “After being turned down by a few cobblers, we met Nagraj Singhadia who enthusiastically agreed to work with us, and thus began the journey of Paaduks”, recounts Jay. The name Paaduks is derived from the Sanskrit word Paadukas, which is the name of India's oldest and quintessential footwear, literally “the foot”.

Having begun working with cobblers, the duo soon realized that various socio-economic problems plagued the community. They were often exploited by retailers and wholesalers who paid them meager sums for their hard labor and this payment was usually delayed. This, coupled with unhygienic living conditions and lack of quality education for their children only compounded the problems. Hence at the outset the couple decided to address these issues and make it a priority for the venture. "We envision a healthy, prosperous, and educated cobbler community as we all take a small step towards a cleaner environment,” states the vision of Paaduks.

Paaduks footwear is made of natural cotton fabric, jute, and the soles are made from up-cycled rubber such as discarded tires, used conveyor belts, old rubber mats, etc. Upcycling of discarded rubber to make soles does not involve any chemical processes. The process involves buying scrap pieces of rubber of tyre from scrap dealers, cutting them to size to make soles out of them. Some of this is done by hand, while the final punching to get the exact shape is done by machine.

Cobblers are truly the backbone of this venture and the company claims to pay them nearly three times the average standard to stabilize their financial condition and reduce exploitation of this specialized profession. “We also ensure that the payments are made on time and we don’t expect our cobblers to invest in the raw material. Most other retailers expect cobblers to put in their own money and make shoes. Also payments are often delayed. In our venture, we purchase all the required material and give them to our cobblers,” elaborates Jay.

In addition to the timely payments and superior working conditions, children within the community are provided access to quality education and in due course the company hopes to employ its profits in meeting healthcare needs for a sustainable life of the cobbler community.

The venture hopes to attract young design talent to better their offerings to the customers and they are also looking at wider e-tailing opportunities to expand the exposure given to the cobblers’ hard work. What has begun with stylish footwear is likely to continue in diversifying into different categories of products as resources, talent and customer engagement continue to provide proof to this humble concept.

This upcycled rubber footwear is available at



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