(November 27, 2021) “Don’t just do it, do it right,” puns the Thaely slogan, taking a dig at an international shoe brand. Rightly so, as Thaely sneakers are 100 percent recycled, and made from plastic trash. In fact, truth be told, CEO and founder of Thaely, an ethically produced ecologically fashioned sneaker brand, Ashay Bhave, is as honest, sceptical and idealistic in life as he is in deed. This, and a talent for art saw him create a niche with his vegan sneakers which he shrugs off – “This is just the beginning of greater things to come.” Modest words. Interestingly, his first art installation at the Jameel Art Centre in Dubai, a show he curated too, got government attention, and he was given a UAE Golden Visa.
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Thaely has an ethos of sustainability as the 23-year-old Ashay upcycles plastic bags and bottles to create shoes. Named after the common place plastic bag’s Hindi word for it, thaely, the shoes use plastic waste with cutting edge design. “We are the only company that uses plastic bags to make shoes. When you look at their aesthetics and design, you would never know that they are made from plastic,” says the creator. Each sneaker uses ten plastic bags and 12 plastic bottles – an overall whopping 50,000 plastic bags and 35,000 bottles have been used so far.
The sneakers won the PETA’s Best Vegan Sneaker Award 2021. Head honcho Anand Mahindra tweeted his interest in funding and buying these ecologically attuned sneakers.
This is awesome!
A startup in India 🇮🇳 is making these sneakers (a $70 billion market) are made of garbage (12 plastic bottles and handful of trash bags). And for $110, they will be shipped anywhere in the world.@Thaely_inc
— Erik Solheim (@ErikSolheim) November 17, 2021
Today, Thaely sneakers are sold out. Behind the minimalistic and soft leather shoe is a boy with a curly shock of hair forming a whimsical halo around his artistic head, with an endearing schoolboy drawl. He rattles off the science behind the shoes, fabric, and his depth is clear to see. The boy who studied at DY Patil in Navi Mumbai, comes from a Maharashtrian family – his mother Sheetal Bhave is a counsellor, and father Sameer Bhave works in Dubai at an oil company, and he has a younger sister.
The birth of an eco-friendly sneaker
Thaely was initially developed as a design exercise by Ashay using recycled material from waste at the Eureka competition during his final BBA entrepreneurship semester at Amity University (Dubai) in 2019. “I wanted to find a solution to the 100 billion plastic bags used each year that use 12 million barrels of oil which kill 100,000 marine animals annually,” quips Ashay, who finished 12th and went to the Big Apple to study accessory design. A year into the course, unhappy with his progress, what work the alumni were doing, job prospects and the cost of the course, he signed up for a BBA in Dubai.
“I was doing a few design projects for fun – one was Thaely. Plastic bags are a huge problem, most marine animals confuse them for jelly fish. I experimented at home with different household appliances – irons and hair straighteners. I got familiarised with some industrial equipment during design school, and tried to replicate the tech used in t-shirt printing to form a texture called ThaelyTex with PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) used for coating, shoe bands, etc while the soles are from discarded tyres,” he explains. With a rough idea of the fabric that he developed over two years; a prototype was made at a neighbourhood shoe repair shop. That prototype and design, he pitched along with a business plan at Eureka as proof of concept. Ashay won the competition, was spotted by a judge, Matteo Boffa, a Dubai-based Swiss social entrepreneur, who funded and mentored Ashay who was only 20 at the time. “I definitely needed guidance when it came to business and enterprise,” says the designer who has since sold out his inventory.
“As soon as I heard Ashay’s pitch about Thaely I fell in love with the concept. Being a serial entrepreneur in the field of sustainability and social impact, I saw a great fit. The idea was great but the person behind was even better! The brand can compete with the giants of the industry. We have a real and concrete positive impact on hundreds of people in India,” says Matteo Boffa, Social entrepreneur, Forbes 30under30, and co-founder of Thaely.
Ashay identified Trio Tap Technologies, a waste management plant in Gurgaon for plastic bags. Then, the pandemic hit. All work came to a standstill. Beginning 2021, Bhave again started work and finally launched the recycled sneaker.
“It is difficult to create a sneaker with those specs, so we designed a process that is scalable and efficient. Thaely is a casual sneaker. I took inspiration from the many basketball and skateboarding shoes of the 80s – the design is timeless, minimalistic and easy to style. It looks like a leather sneaker,” explains the designer, who started off as a freelance designer creating album art, packaging, animation, toys, etc. A name in Dubai already, he now wants to impress the rest of the world with not just products but also his art.
“The installation show was a pretty important point – it helped me become more established. I got government attention, and was offered a UAE Golden Visa. I had designed a fake toy with a packing and gaming console – it was basically critiquing world leaders acting like children and sort of playing with our lives,” says the avant-garde thinker.
With funding, the second prototype was made, and the recycled “kicks” were on their way to make feet accountable and responsible. Thaely sneakers are currently sold at Level One, among the biggest shoe stores in the world at Dubai Mall, and online.
Tapping the market
“We were sold out on all the shoes produced – 1,600 pairs with 500 pre-orders – mostly from Europe, some from America and Australia. India is not a very big market right now,” says Bhave, who is grateful for the acclaim, and success, “It was my dream to be in design or a CEO of a fashion brand – now that it has come true, I am thrilled,” says the eco entrepreneur who wants to diversify, and add more colours too (Thaely sneakers are in white, white-brown and white-blue, and pre orders of all-black).
Like other 20-somethings, sneakers are an appendage and lifeline – his, he says, are comfortable and function like regular shoes. They are different though, “We are 100 percent recycled, completely transparent on production processes, our shoes have a QR code, and we are cheaper than other sustainable sneakers at $99 (others are $150, etc),” adds the Global Indian.
Proud parents, a sister who is a tad intimidated by attention, and impressed friends, Bhave knew they all had “pretty high hopes” (for him), and admits they expect much more now.
Mentor Matteo has been instrumental in giving Ashay a deeper perspective, “He is pretty young – 30, and (is) always inspiring me to stretch my boundaries,” says Bhave who loves sci-fi movies, art and fashion.
Not many know that Ashay was a national level rifle shooter from sixth to eleventh grade in Mumbai, and even today loves going to the range in Dubai when he visits his parents. His larger aspiration is to make Thaely a lifestyle brand – clothing, furniture, other accessories – recycled and sustainable. Sneakers done, now it’s back to the drawing board to create more from trash.