Stephanie Nicora hardly stumbled into the footwear business by accident; the 3rd generation shoemaker simply followed suit with her family's history in the field—but with a twist. Nicora and her business partner Reyes Florez, a former finance professional on Wall Street, were both concerned with creating conscious clothing. Their resulting vegan line, Nicora, uses the designer's masterful old-school techniques as well as the latest technology in materials that never harm animals.
Not utilizing animal products isn't the only way the brand stays mindful of our environmental resources. Because each pair of shoes is made from start to finish right here in Los Angeles, Nicora's carbon footprint stays minimized. And besides all the ecological benefits, the boots, booties, and flats found in the line also happen to be totally cute and vintage-inspired. Leather who?
We got the chance to speak to co-founder Reyes Florez about the importance of being customer-direct, the surprising source of some of Nicora's vegan materials, and why it's important to keep their factory here in LA.
Why is creating a vegan product important to you?
By now the widespread negative effects of intensive livestock farming have been very well documented, so to us it’s really a "no brainer" not to use leather. It's a matter of evolution. Our approach to sustainability is very holistic, encompassing people, animals and the planet. By not using animal products we are not only eliminating demand for animal suffering, but also dramatically lowering the strain on the earth’s natural resources. The advancement of textiles in the last decade is fascinating! A lot of media has centered on wearable technology and the integration of software and hardware into clothing, but a lot of people don’t understand that today’s manufactured textiles are more durable, more comfortable and better looking than traditional materials that come from animals. By marrying tradition with technology we are creating the next generation of footwear.
Tell us about your involvement in the actual manufacturing process, including the selection of such materials.
We are different from other brands because one of our founders and head designer is also a master 3rd generation shoemaker. Stephanie oversees the entire design and production process with high attention to building universally flattering classics. All sizes and shapes of people look good in our shoes. Materials are all hand selected from USA makers. There are a number of recycled plastics and eco-textiles, all of which are created on US soil. This method supports US jobs and it makes it possible for us to fully vouch for our materials' sustainability without a complicated and far-reaching supply chain. The Spring line features shoes made from mustard bottles, ketchup bottles and beer bottles to name a few!
Nicora shoes are produced in LA. What are the benefits of creating your product locally?
Hand building our shoes here in the US is central to who we are as a company. It is something that we are unwilling to compromise on. In today’s global economy it is often the first reaction of a product-based company to look for the cheapest available option, and in footwear specifically it is a commonly held belief that there isn’t a way to manufacture in the US and grow a business. We didn’t accept that assumption and instead said things like local job creation, fair wages, and good working conditions are really important to us, so let’s find a way to make it work. Our factory here in is filled with the most amazing artisans, some of which are multi-generational shoe makers. They have a passion for what they do and make, and we believe they should be able to live enriched lives by practicing their craft.
What is on the horizon for the brand?
We are growing quickly and we couldn’t be more excited for the future. We're working hard to really create a community around our brand. We have exciting plans to engage our customers in the design process, offer factory tours, and even become investors in our company, so that everyone involved shares in the gains.
We are purposely a direct to consumer brand and are focused exclusively on delivering our product to customers via our website right now. Our dream for the short future is to open our own brick-and-mortar location in Los Angeles. We are working tremendously hard to realize this goal and everyday it looks like more of a reality. We would love to be able to interact with our customers in person, on a regular basis and help them experience on another level how special this company is.
What are some of your best-selling designs?
Tough question! Our customers are so diverse and have many different demands of their shoes on a daily basis. Right now with it being boot season people are in love with the Sinclair. It’s an amazingly versatile boot. We have seen customers dress it up with a skirt or blazer to go out for an evening, and we have seen them rocking their Sinclairs when they want to look like a "badass" and ride their motorcycle.
What celeb would you love to see wearing a pair?
The Obama girls of course!