Thaely: The Inspirational Journey of a 24-Year-Old Turning Plastic Bags into $100 Sneakers

Thaely: The Inspirational Journey of a 24-Year-Old Turning Plastic Bags into $100 Sneakers

A pioneering company has introduced a novel line of sneakers, constructed entirely from discarded materials. This innovative approach involves incorporating 10 plastic bags and 12 bottles into each pair, according to the manufacturer. For a price of $110, these unique sneakers can be delivered to destinations worldwide. This development marks a notable entry into the thriving sneaker industry, which is valued at over 70 billion dollars.

In July 2021, Ashay Bhave, a 23-year-old entrepreneur, introduced 'THAELY' to the world. The brand's name is derived from the Hindi term for plastic bags. Despite the widespread issue of trash disposal in India, Bhave faced challenges in sourcing materials for his venture. His assumption that obtaining innovative plastic bags would be straightforward proved to be inaccurate.

Collaborating with a waste management firm that employs individuals known as ragpickers (those who collect recyclable materials for income) proved to be a strategic move. Trio Tap Technologies, through this partnership, not only provides ragpickers with consistent wages but also an indoor area for sorting.

Thaely's Trash-to-Trend Transformation

The plastic bags collected are subjected to a meticulous cleaning process using a water-filled hot tub, devoid of any chemical additives, followed by air drying. Within the confines of the warehouse, a specific routine is followed, involving the stacking of eight to ten layers of bags before they are subjected to a heat press. This results in the creation of a finalized product that will serve as the primary material, aptly named Thaely tex, to envelop a substantial portion of the sneaker, as referred to by the company's founder. To facilitate this intricate process, Saira Dean undertakes the responsibility of transportation, ensuring the completed materials reach the new Touché Footwear factory located seven hours to the North, where the shoes are assembled.

The manufacturing process kicks off with the precision cutting of Thaely tex sheets using metallic molds, alongside patterns carved from PET fabric—a material synthesized from recycled bottles and woven into a canvas-like texture. The assembly procedure involves the integration of the two distinct materials through skilled stitching. The shoe soles are ingeniously crafted from industrial rubber remnants, requiring meticulous grinding by a worker to achieve the desired texture. The top surface of the sole is coated with a transparent adhesive, with its adhesive properties enhanced using specialized UV light.

A series of heat treatments and protective coatings follow, designed to fortify the bond between the sole and the upper portion of the shoe. The final stage involves another round of meticulous stitching. Even the laces are derived from recycled plastic, keeping in line with the sustainable ethos. This manufacturing facility boasts a workforce of 170 employees and manufactures shoes for three separate companies simultaneously.

The packaging includes a tote bag crafted from four repurposed plastic bottles, while the shoebox, constructed from recycled paper, contains embedded seeds. By planting the box in soil, customers can nurture a basil seedling to sprout within approximately two weeks. In its inaugural month, the company successfully marketed and sold 300 pairs of sneakers, asserting the durability of their product. Recent times have witnessed multiple corporations launching footwear crafted from recycled plastic. Nike introduced the "Space Hippie," a shoe manufactured from reclaimed materials, in June 2020. Similarly, Adidas has developed shoes incorporating ocean-sourced plastic, with plans to manufacture a substantial 17 million pairs in 2021 alone. This stark contrast indicates that global giants like Adidas likely outsell Thaely in recycled sneaker sales within an hour, compared to Thaely's total sales since its inception.

Undeterred by these figures, Ashay Bhave remains steadfast, highlighting that the business has already achieved profitability. He envisions this project not only finding its footing but also creating positive impacts on the lives of sanitation workers and factory employees with whom they collaborate.

The inception of Thaely sprang from Bhave's business school experience. He recollects, "During a competition at my university, I had the chance to turn my design project into an actual business concept." The launch of his enterprise was supported by private investors. The Y2K Pro shoe, an ode to the early 2000s, was inspired by vintage basketball and skate shoes from that era, even though Bhave himself had toddler-sized feet at the time.
Thaely's concept of adding value to discarded bags seems to resonate well. Commencing in September 2021, Indian authorities mandated that plastic bag manufacturers produce sturdier bags, with the intent of facilitating easier recycling and increased collection by ragpickers.

Once a customer's daily sneakers have fulfilled their purpose, Bhave offers an eco-friendly solution—a return-to-company program for a discount. This innovative approach facilitates recycling, refurbishing, and even donation to charitable causes and refugee camps.

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