Today we’re thrilled to hear from Nisolo Co-founder, Zoe Cleary, on the many ways they are expanding their impact for good in the world. Not only are they continuing to evolve their beautiful, quality leather shoes, but keep asking themselves how they can be more sustainable, eco-conscious, and thoughtful in every aspect of their business. Hear more about the incredible projects Nisolo is up to in the interview with Zoe below!
For years, Nisolo has represented an excellent standard for all that a social enterprise can do: quality design, ethically made, fairly priced, and creating an impact of good for both people and the planet. What has been a driving force of making this excellence possible?
From a big picture perspective, our vision for Nisolo is to set a new standard in the fashion industry for the relationship between consumers, producers, and the brand that stands between them. The more we can grow Nisolo, the more we can grow our direct impact with our producers and our larger, industry-wide influence as an emerging brand within the fashion industry.
Doing this starts with designing a product that people want to buy, and considering the social and environmental impact of every product we make.
Tell us a bit about the story behind Nisolo. Why did you choose leather goods to be the medium for the impact you wanted to create?
The idea for Nisolo was born in 2011 shortly after Nisolo Co-Founder & CEO, Patrick Woodyard, took a development job in Trujillo, Peru. After meeting remarkably talented shoemakers in the city, Patrick learned that they shared common barriers to growth with entrepreneurs that he had met in other parts of the developing world. In this case, the shoemakers’ greatest challenge was gaining access to the global market where they could sell their goods.
Learning that the struggling industry in Northern Peru partially employed over 100,000 people, Patrick envisioned the impact that a revitalized shoe industry could have in Trujillo. That vision grew as Patrick considered the impact that could occur elsewhere if he started a fashion label that committed first and foremost to ethical production and the wellbeing of its producers. Recognizing a need for fashion industry expertise, Patrick contacted me, and I quickly decided to visit Peru and meet the shoemakers myself. After being blown away by their exceptional skills and desire for consistent work, I quit my job with a major fashion label in NYC and joined Patrick as his Co-Founder and Designer. Nisolo officially launched in late 2011.
What has been your biggest success thus far at Nisolo? Biggest challenge?
One of the larger challenges we’ve faced has been getting the right product at the right time. Even the largest brands out there struggle with receiving their production orders on time. This has been especially challenging in our case as a small business with a big impact and specifically working with traditionally artisanal communities. However, we persisted and hired a few experienced factory leaders over the years who have helped formalize our systems.
Becoming B-corp certified was a very exciting time for us at Nisolo! We love being amongst such an inspiring group of businesses.
We believe work isn’t just a career, but how you find and make meaning in the world. What did Nisolo’s process look like for integrating your values and mission into your company?
We set off from the start with a well defined mission to push the fashion industry in a more sustainable direction – where success is based on more than offering the cheapest price.
A direction that not only values exceptional design, but the producer and the planet just as much as the end consumer. We keep this top of mind with every business decision we make – from which factories we want to work with to how we dispose of waste in our office. I’ve been passionate about sustainability in fashion since getting exposed to the industry, and one of my main reasons for helping to start Nisolo was to challenge the fashion industry’s status quo and negative track record. In that sense, the process of integrating my values and mission into Nisolo’s was quite seamless.
This year, a major focus of yours is to save 60,000 trees from being uprooted in the Amazon Basin – saving one tree per pair of shoes sold. Can you share more about all the areas of impact this effort is making not just on the environment, but on people? Why were you inspired to make this such a major initiative in 2018?
We’ve been wanting to get more serious about our environmental impact for quite some time, and took action this year through partnering with Ecosphere+, a fellow B-Corp that works with businesses to create and implement nature-based solutions to enable them to succeed in a world aligned with global climate and development goals. Ecosphere+ approached us in 2017, and pitched us on collaborating to support their conservation project in Peru’s Cordillera Azul National Park and its buffer zone. We are helping to protect 1.5 million hectares of threatened forest (roughly the same size as Connecticut) through supporting their projects with people living in the Park’s buffer zone who receive training on sustainable land management and livelihood planning.
738 jobs have been supported or created through the project, 30% of which are held by women, and 27 sustainable enterprises are being supported.
We were inspired to do this initiative because it protects a landscape whose health is essential for our business, and the project impacts both people and the planet in a way we’re proud to be a part of.
This month at Yellow, our focus is Invest. It’s clear that as a company, you put time and resources into investing in people, the planet, and your product. Are there any areas in both Nisolo and your own life you are wanting to invest more in?
In my own life - while I have improved the amount of time I spend being active, this is an area that I never feel like I have enough time for. I’d like to work toward investing 60-90 minutes every day on being active in some way or another - whether that is hiking, doing yoga, swimming, or surfing! Adding activity into my daily life directly influences my mental productivity and therefore positively impacts the work that I do with Nisolo, so it’s a win/win. :)
For any women out there looking to launch or grow their social enterprise, what are three key aspects you would say are essential for growth?
1. Supportive community. There are many people out there who will discourage you and tell you why it won’t work. It’s important to have people in your life who will encourage your dreams and help you to achieve them. In the same vein, having a community who will go out on a limb and introduce you to potential mentors, advisors and other people who you can help learn from is critical!
2. Problem solving. This will not be a straight line journey from A to B. The journey, rather, will go up and down and backwards and forwards and your ability to problem solve and pivot when necessary is what will keep you going!
3. Hard work. Be prepared to work long, hard hours in the beginning. Hopefully you are doing what you love, so it will feel exciting and invigorating to see your business grow!
What else can we look forward to see from Nisolo in the coming year?
We’re getting more serious about mapping out our entire supply chain to better understand our impact at the deepest level. We recognize that everything we make has an impact on the environment, and to that end are starting to work more on responsible material traceability. We’re also planning to set long term goals out into 2025 that align with the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
We believe collaboration is critical for solving the social and environmental crises facing our world today, and therefore find it important to make sure our objectives are aligned with those at the highest level of development work.
Design wise - we’re adding some weather friendly, rubber-soled boots that I’m pretty excited about. :)
Photos courtesy of Nisolo