An occasional feature about the people making big strides in the shoe industry
For this post, I interviewed Stephanie Nicora, founder of Nicora Johns, which offers “eco-friendly, cruelty free, and affordable handmade shoes” manufactured in Los Angeles, CA. Stephanie was named PETA’s 2014 Most Talented New Designer.
In her spare time, she takes apart vintage shoes to study their construction. Why not study modern shoes, I asked. She explained that much of today’s footwear is designed to wear out quickly, a form of planned obsolescence, to fuel demand for new styles. Vintage shoes, on the other hand, were engineered for durability and wearability.
When I asked her why go to such lengths – such as using textile-based “leather” to ensure the provenance of her shoes – she replied simply, “I like doing things better.”
Here are excerpts from our interview.
According to your LinkedIn profile, you have a B.S. in Accounting. What’s that about?
I’m pretty sure that’s why the business works. It’s a pain in the ass, but creative folks need to learn the business side first. 95% of making a living as a shoe designer is not design.
How will the Gofundme campaign help your business?
We are a humble shoe factory, and when we meet our goal of $220,000, we will be able to increase our production by 800% and decrease our costs by half. My goal is for 44,000 people to donate $5 each. More people contributing in smaller amounts simultaneously spreads the word about sustainable manufacturing and promotes community.
What have been the biggest obstacles to starting an eco friendly footwear company?
The whole shoe making infrastructure in the US is gone. There are no suppliers left for the industry in this country. Since there are hundreds of components in shoes, it’s impossible to trace the origins of the materials and guarantee they were sustainably produced.
When I decided to start my own company, I committed to knowing what went into the shoes. The only way I could achieve that was to make them myself from materials I sourced myself.
In short, over-farming and pesticides, or something I call “the toxicity of fashion.” Apparel production is worse than oil production, environmentally speaking, because of all the things you have to do to produce the goods. The steps in changing an organic compound (an animal hide) into a non-organic compound (tanned or dyed leather) expose people to toxic chemicals, water waste, and air pollution.
The desire for more and more shoes is driving demand for leather, which means an increase in cattle production in China and India. The society demanding these goods doesn’t see the blatant disregard for life. Nor do they see the impoverished people whose land and rivers are being tainted and consumed to make those goods.
One of your goals is to bring shoe manufacturing back to the U.S. Is that a realistic, achievable goal?
Absolutely! The US used to manufacture its own shoes here at home, and we can again! If minds changed once, we can absolutely change them back. I believe positivity vibrates stronger than its opposite force; good will win.
Full disclosure: I have leather shoes in my closet and have no immediate plans to discontinue wearing them. I am posting this article because I have the utmost respect for what Stephanie is doing.