Eco-friendly shoes were inspired by people's environmental awareness during the Covid-19 pandemic, says Iftekhar Mallick.
He says the pandemic has made people feel the importance of the environment anew.
"Many now exercise by walking regularly. People eat bread made of red flour. They have also added greenery to factories and homes. Bangladeshis not only care about environmental protection these days. They feel proud if they can do something for the environment," he explains.
This led to the idea of manufacturing eco-friendly shoes. Bata was involved in various green initiatives during the pandemic. It also distributed face masks and food through non-governmental organisations.
"It is our duty to do something for the country," Iftekhar said.
He said the upper material of eco-friendly shoes is 100% recycled from PET bottles supported by Refiber while 30% recycled EVA has been used in the outsole.
"The insole is 98% recycled and powered by Ortholite to ensure the signature Bata comfort. All these are done right here in Bangladesh."
The shoes can be used both indoors and outdoors. The company has a recycling plant and is capable of recycling the shoes after expiry though the raw materials are imported.
To encourage customers to recycle shoes, discounts may be offered if they buy new pairs in exchange for old ones, Iftekhar said.
Last year, Bata incurred losses for the first time in its 69 years of operation in Bangladesh. Losses are increasing this year. The company is also facing losses in India.
Iftekhar said Covid-19 was a key reason for the losses as retail sales during Eid had been heavily impacted both this year and last year while footfall halved in outlets in Ramadan this year, which also affected sales.
A fall in sales increases stocks and stock maintenance costs then add up, he said.
When asked about low export figures, he said the company primarily focuses on retail instead of exports because of its specialty in that segment and products are usually exported to other companies.
He said rawhide prices cannot be compared with that of footwear as shoes are not manufactured directly from untanned leather.
"Rawhide processing involves several steps and costs go up in those stages. Besides, not all shoes can be made from local rawhide."
Unlike Bata, brands like Nike, Hush Puppies, and Adidas sell their shoes in other companies' stores. Bata wanted to do this in Bangladesh but could not decide which stores it would select. It may proceed with the plan if opportunities come up in the future.
Its online sales jumped after the coronavirus outbreak. Most businesses followed the omnichannel approach during the pandemic and Bata did the same. Omnichannel commerce is a multichannel approach to sales that focuses on providing seamless customer experience whether they are shopping online from mobile devices, laptops or in brick-and-mortar stores.
Iftekhar said Bata had been working on omnichannel commerce for several years and now has the largest such channel (batabd.com). "The delivery of any Bata product ordered online is free while its e-commerce business increased manifold in the last one year and a half."
In developed countries, retailers set up outlets in small spaces where they take orders from customers according to the sizes of their feet and then deliver shoes to buyers' addresses. This reduces companies' costs.
Iftekhar said Bata is also working on such an approach named Bata Home.
"If a customer goes to an outlet and places an order, we will deliver it to his home. Besides, if someone orders in one outlet, we will deliver from another outlet close to his home."
He said the company is still experimenting with this and it will take some time to make it final.