A couple of years ago I was on the hunt for a pair of nice looking heels that I could pull off at a fancier affair, like a wedding, but that would also get a lot of use of for more casual occasions.
The catch? This was one of my very first purchases after having gone vegan, so I wanted something that was free of leather made from animal skin, but I also wanted something that was high-quality and made well. This was also around the time I really started considering how and where the things I bought were made…And while it was certainly true that there were plenty of non-leather options around, they were cheap in both construction and in price, so I couldn’t be sure of where they came from or what they were made of.
After a doing some research I came across the Priscilla heels, by Nicora Shoes. I loved their natural wooden heel, the elegant strapping detail, and the fact they were American made by a brand committed to social and environmental responsibility and a love for animals.
I reached out to the e-mail address on their website as they were out of stock, and Stephanie, one of the co-founders, was kind enough to e-mail me back and connect me with a shop in Chicago who carried the heels. If that’s not commitment to your customer, then I don’t know what is! A couple years later, the heels are still looking great and I wear them often.
In any case, founded by Stephanie Nicora, a third generation shoemaker, and Reyes Florez, who left Wall Street to pursue something that would enable him to have a positive impact on the world, Nicora Shoes has grown quite a bit in a short couple of years, now supporting approximately 35 American jobs.
Their commitment to people, animals, and the planet is stronger and more evident than ever.
Stephanie Nicora, the namesake and head designer of Nicora, was gracious enough to answer some questions and tell me a bit about the brand, their production, and the values that drive them.
WHAT’S YOUR BACKGROUND AND HOW DID YOU COME TO START NICORA SHOES?
I am a 3rd generation shoemaker. I began apprenticing in shoemaking in 2012 and practiced making shoes in my home. I used repurposed furniture upholstery and any materials I could get my hands on. Simultaneously, I began researching materials. It was evident right off the bat that traditional materials, namely leather or foreign produced plastics did not align with my ethics. I source only USA made eco materials and as I started moving along in my shoemaking, I realized I was the only person doing so. The interest for my designs grew through social media – and before I knew it I was selling online and now we are a fully grown brand, making shoes out of Los Angeles.
CAN YOU PLEASE DISCUSS WHERE YOUR MATERIALS ARE SOURCED AND WHY IT WAS IMPORTANT FOR YOUR TO KEEP PRODUCTION IN THE USA?
We are committed to US production because we are committed to people.
We decided we wanted to build communities and impact people’s lives in our own backyard. Our teams of artisans are absolutely amazing! We feel really good that they are able to live an enriched life practicing the skills they have honed for generations. We don’t have to rely on audits or reports to tell us whether our artisans are being treated the right way. We know they are, because we are in the factory with them, side-by-side, making great looking shoes.
On the supplier side we have found that because many of our vendors can’t compete on price they compete on quality and sustainability.
So by sourcing American materials we are getting the highest level of quality you can imagine.
It is the craziest thing to travel to an old mill town community in South Carolina and find companies that are utilizing the latest advancements in textile technology to produce some of the most sustainable textiles in the world. Who would have thought!
From Stephanie of My Kind Closet: Fashion Revolution week focuses on empowering consumers to help make positive change within the industry for the people who make our clothes, many of whom are sadly underpaid and work under poor conditions. There are people who view veganism as a movement only for the animals, when it really is so much more – I’d like to discuss how veganism is a choice that helps people too- even in fashion:
The leather and tanning industries are among the most toxic and harmful industries in the world (in 2012 Human Rights Watch published a 102 page report documenting the health repercussions for individuals working in a leather factory in Dhaka and the implications for the entire community.)…
CAN YOU TOUCH UPON THAT AND WHY YOUR VEGAN MATERIALS ARE BETTER AND SAFER FOR THE PEOPLE WHO WORK WITH THEM (AND THE ENVIRONMENT)?
You hit the nail on the head in saying that vegan is much broader than animals or diet. It really is about a worldview that says, “I am going to be thoughtful and aware about the impact my choices have on the world around me.”
Leather, as you mentioned, is not only incredibly harmful to people working in the tanneries, but also to neighboring communities. Our materials are better in a number of ways. First they don’t require anywhere near the amount of natural resource inputs that leather does. Second we use the latest in engineered textiles, so our materials are premium quality without all the nasty plasticizers or off-gassing that is often a part of other engineered materials. Lastly, the bulk of our materials have some recycled component to them. For example fabric dyes used to color our latest release, the Goodall, actually comes from the use of recycled ketchup bottles and old x-ray film.
It is very much part of our mission to continue researching, learning and collaborating with textile manufacturers to find a better and smarter way to do things.
We believe there is always room for improvement. We are excited about what the future holds in this arena.
DO YOU FEEL AS THOUGH THE DESIRE TO BUY LOCAL AND/OR ETHICALLY MADE PRODUCTS IS BECOMING MORE MAINSTREAM?
Yes we do. Whether it is due to a desire for quality or out of support for a social mission – or some combination of both – we see more and more people choosing locally produced / ethically produced products. Today’s consumer is incredibly connected with the products they buy and as a result they want to get behind something that shares their values. It has never been easier to research companies to understand production processes and supply chains and consumers are really taking advantage of that. It is an incredibly positive movement.
FAST FASHION HAS GIVEN MANY CONSUMERS THE FALSE NOTION THAT CLOTHING, SHOES, AND ACCESSORIES SHOULD BE CHEAP, SO THE STICKER SHOCK FOR ETHICALLY MADE PRODUCTS CAN INITIALLY TURN SOMEONE AWAY FROM MAKING THAT PURCHASE – HOW DO YOU THINK WE CAN APPEAL TO THAT CONSUMER?
Being American made, obviously our inputs are more expensive than someone who is sourcing globally. But we are ok with that. While the extra production costs results in higher sticker price, we like to think about things in terms of cost per wear. We build our shoes to last, every NICORA shoe is repairable and resoleable. We also think about sustainability from a design angle, and create pieces that are meant to be versatile and cross seasonal. So when you buy a pair of NICORA’s you are buying life partners. When you consider that the cost of each pair is spread out over years of wear our shoes are actually a better value. This also translates to a win on the environmental front as well, by creating high quality heirloom like pieces we keep more waste out of landfills.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE ETHICAL BRANDS?
Shops: Bead and Reel*
*All photos belong to Nicora Shoes.