Meet the Woman Behind the Shoes: Stephanie Nicora By Wendy Herman

If you’re reading this, chances are, you give a damn. You give a damn about the way animals are tortured and killed for fashion. You give a damn about how toxic chemicals used in fashion are destroying our planet. You give a damn about how factory workers in the fashion industry are abused and exploited.

“Processing animal leather is highly toxic, creates massive pollution, and requires the slaughter of over 30 billion animals annually to meet market demands,”

Fortunately, you can give a damn about all of this while still wearing expertly-made, comfortable, damn good looking shoes. Because nowadays, the shoes you wear tell a story to everyone around you. They not only reflect your style—they reflect your ethics too.

Stephanie Nicora, founder of Nicora Shoes and the visionary behind their designs, is a third-generation shoemaker. But she didn’t always want to follow in the footsteps of her grandmother and great-grandmother. She studied art in college, graduated with an accounting degree, and worked as a financial manager. Then in 2012, in an effort to have a “fulfilling creative hobby,” she signed up for a shoemaking apprenticeship and quickly realized that this “hobby” would become her full-time obsession.

Stephanie Nicora founder of NICORA shoes.


Inspired by the women in her family, Nicora set out to make ethical shoes that honored their memory and represented strong women everywhere. Her first-ever design—the Sylvia—was actually named after her great-grandmother who Nicora describes as “cool and tough.” She had an abusive husband and suffered a difficult life raising several children, but managed to raise strong women (Nicora’s grandmother and great aunts) who broke that cycle of abuse. “The whole company honors the women who came before me,” says Nicora. “They all had really challenging lives. The memory of these women, and the women they raised, were instrumental in my childhood.”

Nicora’s second shoe—the Sally—was named after her great aunt, a businesswoman in San Francisco in the mid-20th century. “She was a banker before women could become bankers. She was androgynous before people knew or embraced what that meant. She was tough,” says Nicora. “These shoes are an homage to where and who I came from and an appreciation for what’s changing for women today.” In fact, her Priscilla and Virginia designs were named after women in her family as well, and she continues to name her shoes after impactful women around the world.

NICORA shoes sally flats in black, vegan shoes


As Nicora began to dig her heels into the shoemaking world, she quickly realized that fast fashion wasn’t going to be a good fit for her business. “The fast fashion shoemaking process is rife with pollution, human rights abuses, and animal abuses,” she says. “I couldn’t believe that these atrocities were allowed and that nothing was regulated.” Traditionally, a single pair of shoes takes at least 30 different materials or components, consisting mostly of animal leather, plastics, and heavy chemical glues. As an environmentalist, Nicora started questioning her own shoe purchasing habits and was determined to find a better way.

“Processing animal leather is highly toxic, creates massive pollution, and requires the slaughter of over 30 billion animals annually to meet market demands,” she says. “There is no way to make animal leather safely for humans or for the environment.” That’s why Nicora set off on what would become an eight-year search for the perfect leather alternative. During that time, Nicora investigated several innovative materials including pineapple leather, mushroom leather, and lab-grown leather, but ultimately decided that they were still too resource-intensive and required plastics or chemical coatings to work. Finally, she found the right combination of materials and production requirements to meet all of her strict criterions. She calls it Kind Leather™.


Kind Leather™ is a material that meets Nicora’s ethical and ecological requirements and stringent supply chain standards in three key areas: animal ethics, human ethics, and ecology. Because for Nicora, intersectionality in ethical shoe design is an absolute must.

NICORA shoes uses KIND LEATHER which is a highly ethical vegan leather for shoes and boots

 

Fortunately, there’s a lot more Kind Leather™ eligible materials coming to the marketplace. In Fall 2018, Nicora Shoes will be launching a brand new collection of designs made with these revolutionary materials.

Up first will be the Leela Ballet Flat which comes in black, coral red, silver, and black cap toe. “It’s not a pointed or a round toe. It’s something in between. It’s the type of style that’s right for every woman,” says Nicora. “You can slip them on at any time. It’s the most convenient and most universally flattering style, it’s extra comfortable, and it has padded insoles. I’m really happy to have it.” And of course, the Leela is named after another amazing woman—a lion conservationist that Nicora greatly admires.

NICORA shoes, LEELA flat in black, VEGAN SHOES

Also in the new lineup is the RBG, a white dress sneaker with a black tongue accent. “It’s the most versatile shoe of the season,” says Nicora. “It’s inspired by the badassery and gender equality work of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.”

RBG FLATS by NICORA SHOES all VEGAN and white flats

Clog lovers will have a lot to celebrate with the release of the Vegan Swedish clogs and platforms which come in three different styles. Nicora Shoes happens to be the only vegan company making them, and they’re made in the U.S.A. by women.

ANGELA platform clog by NICORA SHOES all vegan and made in the USA

Other designs to look forward to include the Emma Boot—a new take on the chelsea boot, which was inspired by Emma Gonzalez, the activist and gun reform advocate who survived the 2018 Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida. Nicora happens to have Parkland alumni in her family, so this tragedy hit particularly close to home. There will also be the Eugenie—a western ankle boot with a pointed toe that’s built to comfortably fit wide feet. It’s named after the late Eugenie Clark, a shark conservationist, marine biologist, and pioneer in the field of scuba diving, who was known as “The Shark Lady.”

While Nicora does extensive research into the shapes and cuts of her shoes, she intentionally doesn’t follow traditional trend forecasting. “It’s my opinion that chasing trends only works if you’re making fast fashion,” she says. “Instead, I take the classic silhouettes, make sure the shape is perfection and that it’s super flattering for all sizes.” Not only does this fit into her aesthetic, but it’s part of her brand identity too. “I don’t want to create shoes that will ‘go out of style’ after a season and end up in a landfill,” says Nicora. “I want them to be timeless. I want them to last.”

NICORA SHOES vegan repair shop

As her business grows and transforms, Nicora is always searching for the best way to blend her ethics with her business goals. “How can I have a brand where success is dependent on the ‘sell, sell, sell’ mentality?” she says. “How can I merge that with my own anti-consumerism beliefs? To reconcile that, I make higher quality shoes, fewer designs, and make shoes that have a longer life cycle.” She even takes it a step further. Nicora Shoes offers the only official sustainable and vegan shoe repair service in the United States, offering the best repair services for shoes and boots using quality, vegan materials. Plus, any waste resulting from the repair will be recycled, and all glues and materials are certified vegan and follow Nicora’s strict guidelines for environmentally clean production. The best part? The shoes can be from any brand, anywhere. The goal is to just slow down consumerism in general and keep as much waste out of the landfills as possible. “Don’t throw away your old shoes,” says Nicora. “Let us repair them.”

If you want to get on the waitlist for one (or more!) of Nicora’s new 2018 designs, click here. If have you have an old pair of shoes that deserves a new life, click here.

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