In early January, Plaeto, a multiplay footwear brand of the Bengaluru-based Plaeup Pvt. Ltd, launched the inaugural edition of its Pioneers Physical Education (PE) Teacher programme in the garden city’s world-class PadukoneDravid Centre for Sports Excellence to “train PE teachers to spread the joy of play among schoolchildren in India”. Over 50 PE teachers from schools across the country were trained through a specially curated curriculum to deliver enjoyable sports and fitness activities to children.

Promoted in 2020 by Ravi Kallayil, former head of Nike Ideation in Portland (USA), the Plaeto range of school footwear for children is specially designed by the “finest designers and footwear engineers from India, USA and Italy to suit the unique features of Indian feet”. Amid Covid-19 pandemic uncertainty in April 2020, Kallayil decided to give up the “best job in the world” with sportswear behemoth Nike and relocate to India to realise his dream of designing world-class, affordable and healthy shoes for Indians especially children.

After thoroughly researching gaps in the Indian footwear industry, Kallayil forayed into the niche children’s footwear segment with the twin objectives of producing customised shoes for Indian children and raising awareness among parents and educators about the critical importance of play and foot health in the life of growing children. “Unfortunately in India’s schools, sports and games have traditionally taken a back seat with the greater focus on academics and exams. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the lack of outdoor play opportunities for children became more pronounced adversely affecting their physical and mental health. Plaeto’s mission is to spread awareness about the importance of foot health; shoes that fit well and are comfortable; and their relevance in encouraging regular play habit,” says Kallayil.

An engineering and double business management alumnus of Trivandrum University, Wharton Business School and IIM-Bangalore, Kallayil acquired over two decades of rich working experience in innovation, business development, supply chain, manufacturing and strategy across footwear, apparel, engineering and consumer product industries in the US, India, Africa and Nepal.

In October 2020, to spread this message of children wearing scientifically designed footwear as well as the critical importance of play in children’s lives, Plaeto roped in former cricket superstar Rahul Dravid as its brand ambassador and mentor of its innovative footwear and PE teachers program. Former captain of the Indian cricket team and currently its head coach, Dravid is acknowledged as one of the greatest batsmen in cricketing history, having scored over 24,000 runs in international cricket.

“When Plaeto approached me with their idea, vision and product — all made to serve Indian children and proudly made in India — I was very impressed with the thorough The centrepiece of the book is a radical re-evaluation of the crucial concept of trusteeship, which according to Rao contests the conventional view that Gandhi was opposed to capitalism research and development effort they invested in designing shoes suited for Indian feet. And when I used it myself I was convinced of its quality,” says Dravid who recalls that “finding comfortable footwear in India was a challenge from childhood”. In his early cricket career, he would request senior players who travelled abroad frequently to bring back branded athletic shoes for him. Even for his children, he found that school shoes lacked in comfort, fit and design.

As Plaeto’s brand ambassador and mentor of its PE Teacher program, Dravid supports the company’s mission “to provide Indian children with world class shoes at an affordable price”. He believes that by bringing foot health and well-being to mainstream discourse, the company is shining a strong beam of light on the importance of ‘play’ in children’s lives.

The USP of Plaeto shoes is that they have been specially designed to suit the unique features of Indian feet after extensive research and development. In early 2020, the company conducted the Plaeto Foot Morphology Research study covering 500 school children which revealed that children walk and run over 2,500 km in an academic year wearing the same school shoes, making footwear “the single most used product in the life of an Indian child”. This was the motivation to design and develop “the world’s first Multiplay school shoe” that enables Indian school children to play joyfully while boosting foot health.

“Our footwear accommodates broader Indian feet and with Tilt Lacing, allows optimal flexibility for children as it follows the natural bend of the foot. Also Plaeto 365, the shoe’s long lasting cushioning system, allows children to play comfortably on any surface through the day. We add maximum value by providing quality that matches athletic footwear of global brands like Nike, Adidas, Puma etc at a more reasonable price,” says Kallayil. Plaeto shoes are priced between Rs.1,800-2,500.

Plaeto is very conscious that our children will inherit the planet we leave behind and to this end, the brand has kept sustainability as one of its key pillars. Therefore, Plaeto footwear is made with sustainable materials. “We are one of the first companies to commit to sustainability in the global footwear industry. Plaeto shoes have a 50 percent lower carbon footprint as compared to the average athletic shoe,” adds Kallayil.

Beyond its Plaeto footwear products range, the company is investing time and resources in spreading awareness among the parents and educators’ communities about the importance of play. Though physical education is an integral part of the curriculum of every school in India, it is not given the priority it deserves nor is it delivered professionally. Most children dread joyless PE classes conducted by inadequately trained sports teachers. School sports curriculums are outdated, age-inappropriate and non-inclusive.

Through its Pioneers PE Teacher program, Plaeto intends to train PE teachers to implement programmes that will enhance opportunities for children to play and grow holistically. It is also working on providing specialist coaching programmes for gifted children who want to pursue sport professionally and exploring collaborations and partnerships with sports training academies such as the Anju Bobby George Academy and Padukone-Dravid Centre for Sports Excellence.

The two-year-old company has built up an impressive clients list. Over 30 primary-secondaries across the country have signed up with Plaeto to cover the footwear needs of 40,000 children. Among them: Bangalore International School, Kumaran’s School, Gear International, Delhi Public School (DPS), Bangalore, National Public School Group – all in Bengaluru, GD Somani School, Mumbai, Atmiya School, Surat, and Oasis School and Selaqui School – both in Dehradun.

Comments Mansoor Ali Khan, member, board of management, DPS Bangalore and Mysore: “I strongly believe that school children should be physically active and play sports and games. Therefore, I have invested heavily in providing enabling sports infrastructure at all DPS Bangalore campuses. Plaeto’s product and philosophy resonated strongly with me – I loved that their shoes are scientifically designed for Indian school children, for multiple sports, and made in India. We have also signed up for Plaeto’s Pioneers PE program with Rahul Dravid where physical education teachers are trained to mentor and develop students’ sports and fitness levels.”

Deepa Shridhar, director, academics of the Kumaran Group of Schools, Bengaluru concurs. “We had our children wear Plaeto shoes for a few weeks before deciding to sign up. Since sports and physical education is a priority for us, it was a good decision to opt for Plaeto’s multipurpose shoes which children can wear both in the class and on the playground. I was also impressed that their packaging was in hand-stitched cloth bags instead of cardboard boxes, which aligns with the concept of sustainability our schools practice. Moreover the product is athletic, and its off-centered lacing system is excellent. Their ‘Made in India’ tag also helped us in our decision-making.”

With Plaeto having quickly built a good reputation for its specially designed range of athletic footwear, Kallayil is optimistic about the future. “By 2026, we will cover the footwear needs of 3 million school going children in India. We are also encouraged by the overwhelmingly positive response to our launch in the UAE. Simultaneously we are committed to spreading awareness about foot health and the critical importance of play in the lives of children,” says Kallayil who adds that through its range of sports footwear products and programmes, Plaeto hopes to enhance children’s opportunities and abilities to play and grow holistically.

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“To become a top sporting nation, we need to first become a physically active nation”

EW interviewed Rahul Dravid, coach of the national cricket team and Plaeto’s brand ambassador. Excerpts

What is your assessment of the quality of sports education provided in schools and colleges countrywide?

Physical or sports education in schools and colleges has come a long way. The quality of trainers/ coaches has improved massively though there is much left to be done. We often neglect physical education (PE) teachers’ critical role in a child’s growth given that the values inculcated through them are beyond classroom learning. We need to ensure that trainers are qualified and equipped to enable students’ holistic development.

Do you think sports has evolved from a hobby to profession?

Sport has gradually evolved over the years from a hobby to a profession. The apprehension that came with choosing sports as a career in my time was much higher; today there are far more opportunities in the sports industry. I think the pandemic played a huge role in the realisation of the importance of sports and physical activity for leading a healthy life. Today, if you are not a successful athlete, you could still attach yourself to the game by being part of the ecosystem. With multiple career opportunities in sports like sports sciences, management, technology and many more coming up every day, it is no longer a hobby.rahul dravid

A country of 1.4 billion people has managed to produce only a handful of Olympic medalists. What do you think we need to do to change that?

I think it’s incredible what we have achieved as a nation in recent years. The Olympics and Paralympics movements have created enormous awareness about the importance of sports and games. However, to become one of the top sporting nations, we need to first become a physically active nation. We need to be physically active as a society and increase participation across all levels and age groups. Sport is beyond winning medals and this mindset must be set in society, starting with children in schools.

What in your opinion is the key to nurturing a generation of physically fit and sporting young Indians?

Sustainable infrastructure and accessibility are key; however, our lifestyle is equally important. Physical activity should be a family event where all members are playing a sport of their choice while spending quality time with each other.

What’s the importance of sports in your life, from school onwards? Who was your inspiration in choosing a career in cricket? How supportive were your parents and school?

For me, sport has played a huge role in shaping my personality. In my school days before I got into cricket, I used to play hockey but soon enough I realised I was not cut out for it and luckily had cricket to fall back on. I have been very fortunate that throughout my career, I have had an enabling ecosystem. Whether it was my school or family, they encouraged me and created a positive environment that allowed me to focus on my career. The one thing about my school that stood out was that they always gave equal weightage to academics and sport which naturally made me believe that one was not above the other allowing students to flourish in both.

Your advice to budding child sports athletes?

In today’s day and age, the pressure on budding athletes is far more now than what it was a couple of years ago. I think more than the athletes, my advice to parents is to avoid putting pressure on their children while they pursue a sport. Let them have fun while competing and most importantly, allow them to fail. We put so much focus on success that we often forget the importance of learning to fail graciously, at a young age.

Why did you choose to associate with Plaeto?

From my childhood, I have always struggled to find good, comfortable footwear in India. In the early days of my career, we would request our seniors to bring back imported branded athletic shoes for us. Even for my children, I always found school shoes were lacking in comfort, fit and design. So when Plaeto approached me with their idea, vision and product, I was very impressed with the thorough research and development effort they put into creating the shoe, and when I used it myself I was convinced of its performance.

As brand ambassador and mentor of Plaeto, I’m happy to be a part of a mission that aims to provide Indian children with world-class shoes at affordable price. By bringing foot health and well-being to the mainstream discourse, Plaeto is shining a light on the importance of play in children’s lives.

Any Plaeto programmes close to your heart?

The Plaeto Pioneers PE Teachers program is very close to my heart because I strongly believe in treating play as an integral part of school life. India’s youth can learn as much from play as they can from their regular subject study. Something that has always resonated very strongly with me is building confidence and character through play and sports. The medium, when used correctly, can be one of the most significant teachers in your life.

Currently PE teachers aren’t trained with the required skill sets or given the right training to enhance a child’s growth, but given proper opportunity, they can be the key to enriching their students’ lives with play and joy. I believe this program will make a difference and build an environment for India’s children to flourish.

What is the objective of the Padukone-Dravid Centre for Sports Excellence? And how satisfied are you with its progress?

The centre was created to provide athletes world-class facilities to enable them to compete at all levels. In its fifth year of operation, the centre gives me a lot of joy to see how far we have come in promoting sports. It has not only produced some of the finest athletes competing at the international level but has also catered to the development of sport at the grassroots level. We hope to continue the momentum of promoting sport at all levels.

July 19, 2023