Like many small businesses, the artisans of Murtle, a sustainable footwear brand, are struggling to make ends meet during the pandemic. "I keep the artisans busy with work and believe that it is our responsibility to take care of them. They stretched themselves for us during the lockdown, so we have to help them out during this time of distress. I give them an advance if needed," says Shashank Pawar, founder of Murtle.
Murtle, which makes detachable straps that go with its renewable cork soles, is only over two years old and is yet to break even. Therefore, the pandemic adversely impacted it. "In the first lockdown, it was okay. With the cash reserves I had, I paid the artisans and cleared the rent dues. Now, in the second wave, we're feeling the heat," says the Hyderabad-based entrepreneur. "Until March 2020, sales were fine, after which they plummeted. By the time business picked up again in a few months, another lockdown was imposed."
His old customers came to his rescue by getting their old soles repaired and kept the business afloat. While crediting them for the surprising rise in sales in September, he says, "Some of my customers referred Murtle to new ones, and that kept money trickling in. While word-of-mouth is a priceless resource, it is unpredictable." He also believes that it's not the right time to spend on marketing.
Before he started Murtle, he was the owner of WhoZHigh which manufactured customized merchandise such as shirts for various brands, including Baahubali and Aam Aadmi Party. Although it saw success, he was disappointed that all his products contributed to the rising landfills after being worn a handful of times. This "tryst" he had with the fashion industry compelled him to develop a sustainable product that could also keep his customers happy.
Murtle not only produces varieties of straps and soles but also upcycles old pairs of shoes. Give Murtle an old shoe and get back a wholly transformed one. "Any pair dumped in the landfill will affect us someday," he says. While his DIY (Do it Yourself) workshops have halted, he is working on diversifying his brand to include apparel and cosmetics.