BANGALORE: This January, when Pankaj Khabiya and Piyush Lunia launched a range of accessories made from a patented leather-like material they were combining compassion for animals with business sense. The Bangalore-based duo are part of a growing number of entrepreneurs who are making shoes and wallets without using leather.
"Our target audience is people who want to wear non-leather apparel, but do not find a quality alternative in India," said 27-year-old Lunia, who quit his family business to set up a new venture with seed capital of Rs 25 lakh. After a two-year search, his company i-Ethos has developed a patented product that he said offers the durability and comfort of leather. Lunia declined to share details about the composition of the material. "My mother was asked why she was wearing leather shoes despite being a Jain," said Lunia, who regards that incident as the spur to his entrepreneurial foray. In the next 18 months, he expects his company to earn revenue of Rs 1 crore.
With shoes priced around Rs 5,000, i-Ethos's products are in the premium range. Experts estimate the current market for artificial leather in India at less than 2 per cent of the $10-billion leather industry, or about Rs 59 lakh crore. "The artificial leather industry complements us and we have now taken them as members," said Sanjay Kumar, regional director at the Council for Leather Exports.
One of the earliest to enter this market is Mumbai-based Nina Lekhi, 46, who started Baggit, which sells only 'vegan' bags. Initially set up as an online store, the non-leather brand is now available across a number of retail outlets. The company, which started with a seed capital of Rs 7,000 borrowed by Lekhi from her mother, now earns revenues of Rs 12 crore.
Globally, a number of brands such as Beyond Skin, Zalando, TOMS and MooShoes use polyurethane, polyvinyl chloride and cork oak as alternatives to leather. "Being a vegetarian, I always felt that there was lack of quality animal-free products available in India," said 27-year-old Ritu, who teamed up with her brother Neelesh, 23, to set up Senso Vegetarian Shoes last year.They manufacture a premium range of shoes made out of polyurethane, a leather alternative. Beginning with online sales, their company has now set up two stores in Mumbai.
While durability of non-leather products is a challenge that these entrepreneurs face, they feel a growing awareness about animal rights is helping their business grow.
In Pune, Pradeep Taneja, 42, whose family has been in the footwear manufacturing business for over 50 years, has now set up his own brand Compassion Avenue, which sells only non-leather apparel.