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Malvika Agarwal: Better Sustainability and More Conscious Consumption in Footwear

Malvika Agarwal: Better Sustainability and More Conscious Consumption in Footwear

Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and an online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs, Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, and Changemakers who are advancing the UN SDGs. 

Spiffy here with the scoop on the entrepreneurial leaders of Planet Earth. As the only interplanetary journalist stationed on this blue planet, I’m thrilled to present this galactic exclusive with Malvika Agarwal, the founder and creative director of Chal Shoes (Schonfilt LLP). Let’s learn about what’s happening there and how Malvika is making a positive impact in the world.

Spiffy: Hi Malvika, thanks a million for talking to me today. Tell me, what challenge are you addressing through Chal Shoes?

Malvika: Thanks for having me, Spiffy! We are upcycling materials to make shoes and targeting better/conscious consumption under the shoe segment. Our product is not 100% sustainable, but as an organization we believe that sustainability is truly achieved when we work on creating better processes (that reduce the carbon footprint from an existing process) and use materials that don’t take too much from the environment. Our paradigms are using waste and biodegradable materials wherever possible. Tires have one of the most durability when it comes to travel and transportation; we are changing the norms of its usage from a machine to a human being. 75% of tire waste ends up in landfill which is roughly 750,000 tires. A single tire can produce up to four pairs of shoes!

Spiffy: Wow! What motivates you to do it?

Malvika: I have always been inspired by the frugal innovations that I come across on a daily basis in India. Studying in the West made me realize that we don’t value these enough or market them enough. If we simply incorporate even half of the frugal innovations that reuse objects and promote the culture of passing on precious things as a society, we can solve the biggest problem we are facing right now, which is sustainability. As I grew up, I realized that it is becoming more and more fashionable to use and throw things. Drinking water from a small plastic bottle, buying new clothes every season, updating to the latest phone/technology available in the market. I want to change the norms of what it means to be fashionable and be on trend.

Spiffy: I love that! Can you elaborate on the impact of your work?

Malvika: Our shoes are handcrafted locally using the age-old techniques of handicraft that are very indigenous to my country. From sourcing fabric directly from weavers to sourcing tires from the local garage, our shoes are a product of contribution from every segment of crafts that surrounds us. We are nurturing the local shoemaker who prefers working in their own space rather than building a factory for our shoes. Decentralization is at the heart of our system. From artisans to weavers and shoemakers, we pay them per shoe. Our shoes are made only after the order is placed by the customer—we don’t overproduce stock in a bid to save on costs, and the impact is truly what makes our shoe special.

Spiffy: Tell me about a recent organization milestone or initiative and the impact it makes on your community?

Malvika: As a brand we are not big on marketing. Our entire cost of production goes to the maker and some on packaging. I guess I would say that being approached by organizations to document and promote our process has truly been a validation in terms of the good design and good quality that our product offers. The customers we get mostly stumble upon us through social media or through one of the two pop-ups we do every year. Their delight on experiencing good quality when they weren’t expecting it is a good milestone for us. We are finally launching a bespoke shoe house where anyone can come in with their shoe needs. As a shoe company, we offer solutions for people with foot issues such as bunion feet and high arch. 

Spiffy: Is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?

Malvika: Aiming to perfect our process and product as we move forward is what makes us different from other brands. We address sustainability, good design, and aesthetics, and offer solutions to people with foot issues in terms of customisation. We are also trying to bridge the gender gap by making shoes for women that look pretty but are not a pain to wear. Our set guidelines are to not have a very high arch, in any shoe we make. We, as a brand, will never do extreme heels that make you arch your feet. Eventually, we want the customer who comes to us to be assured that they are buying something that is not only good design, but also very functional. A shoe is one of the most important aspects of an efficient work-life and we plan to be a part of it.

Spiffy: Thanks for speaking with me today, Malvika—it’s been an honor!

Malvika Agarwal is a 26-year-old industrial designer by qualification who pursued footwear design as a minor from the US. She hails from Rajasthan, the largest and the driest state of India, and aims to address the concerns of growing poverty in her country. She believes that incorporating frugal innovations in scale economies is an answer to solving the issues of global warming while also providing employment. She believes that reverse engineering the industrial age to making good quality products by hand is the answer to less pollution and reducing poverty. She currently runs a contemporary Indian footwear brand, Chal Shoes, that aims to reduce the carbon footprint produced by a pair of shoes. (First published on the Ladderworks website on March 13, 2024.)

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Ladderworks LLC.

© 2024 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Anushree Nande. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Launchpad: Creative Entrepreneurship Workshops for K-3 Kids and their caregivers here.