Published: 09th July 2018
This bamboo footwear, designed by IIT Roorkee grads, will let you run without injuring yourself
Prateek Sharma, Co-founder, and CEO is a Sports Engineer from Center for Sports Engineering Research, Sheffield, UK and a Materials Engineer from Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee
What if your shoes or socks did not have that awfully unpleasant odour or leave your feet swollen when you get done with your daily run? Activity, no matter how hectic or relaxed, always causes our feet to exert and naturally sweat. Well, the sweat and pain doesn't need to be a problem anymore, thanks to this awesome initiative by two IIT Roorkee graduates — Bamboo Athletic Socks.
'Heelium' is the brainchild of Prateek Sharma and Siddharth Jain, two sports enthusiasts and engineering graduates. Both the founders, Prateek and Siddharth, are big sports fanatics and have been avid sportsmen. The duo are active runners and play sports regularly including football, tennis, and badminton. Additionally, Prateek is a sports engineer by profession which is a relatively niche area of work. He did his Masters in Sports Engineering in the UK and worked in the sports industry for a couple of years before moving to India to start their firm. They figured that injuries in running is a major problem area and have been focused on solving them since early 2017.
Bamboo in your boots
Heelium launched the 'Bamboo Athletic socks' as its first product. Made from bamboo fibre, these premium socks are designed to save the feet from bacteria and odour growth. The socks are also made to protect the heel and forefoot to absorb impact forces during physical activities. They come in different colours for men and women. Bamboo has several advantages over cotton, being more breathable, durable and thermo-regulatory.
Bamboo Athletic socks: It saves the feet from bacteria and odour growth
Their flagship shoe product will help to curb occurrences of impact injuries in runners who can’t afford high-end custom-fit running shoes like professional athletes.
"Also, our focus is on the elderly and overweight people who need better impact protection so that they can walk without worrying about injuries. It will also help people with foot abnormalities like flat feet, high arch, and more to improve their gait. Most running injuries happen due to insufficient impact protection. When you use your body multiple times, there is extra exertion. So if you’re not absorbing a lot of pressure in the foot, then it translates to your hip, ankle and knee joints. And there are a lot of injuries that happen in those areas. While researching, we realised that shoes alone aren’t sufficient to protect the feet. They are perfectly complemented by socks. So, we developed our bamboo socks with the right material and cushioning to support the feet and protect it from bacteria," says Prateek.
From IIT to overseas to the homeland
Heelium was officially launched in July 2017. Both the founders were working overseas and after toiling with the problem-solution process for a bit, they decided to take the plunge and move back to India. Before the official launch of Heelium, the founding duo received a grant from the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India under the Nidhi Prayas scheme. This grant specifically enabled Heelium to work on their technology by giving them access to facilities and test centres. In March 2018, Heelium won the Power of Ideas challenge held at IIM Ahmedabad.
When asked how they come up with such an amazing name, Prateek said "Heelium is a mix of the words ‘helium’, the lightest element and ‘heel’, the part of the foot that bears the most pressure. Our aim is to bring innovation, safety, design, and sustainability to athletic wear."
Perfect fit: Heelium's new shoes' focus area is injuries
How Heelium can keep you light and safe
What's next? Shoes, of course. "We are the only footwear brand from India that is centered on technology and innovation as opposed to just the aesthetics of it. Our focus area is injuries. There aren’t enough brands working on injury prevention. We have to work on the needs of the customers. While designing shoes, you have to test them on people, especially those who are physically active. A shoe is designed according to the benefits it provides to customers. The shoe we’re working on is more impact absorbent, high-performance and well-designed. We’re also working to bring in new material and customise the shoe for the customer," says Prateek.
It's easy on the pocket....almost
The retail price of the socks is around Rs 320 while a pack of 3 retails at Rs 799. The shoes aren’t out yet but they will cost anywhere from Rs 3000-5000 depending on the level of customisation the user would require. "So far, more than 2600+ pairs have been sold in India and internationally in countries like Singapore, Switzerland, and the UK. Heelium is presently selling through online retailers like Flipkart and Amazon," adds Prateek.
He adds that it’s a very competitive market and their focus is to keep innovating and bring out a better product every 6-12 months. "As a young enterprise, we are promoting a healthy lifestyle by incorporating running as a regular activity that is also safe. We measure the runners’ requirements, assess their areas of concern and then provide footwear and wearables that are best suited to their running style and foot anatomy. This helps reduce the likelihood of injuries significantly," he concludes.