Nisolo Shoes occupies a special place in our heart– not just because they produce painstakingly handmade oxfords and chukkas, but because the story behind how each item is crafted is so incredible, running the gamut from heartbreaking to hugely inspiring. We spoke with Nisolo to learn more about the people who make their incredible products, and to get a sneak peek at what the future holds, as well.
RYE & RIVET: First thing’s first– can you tell us a little about how Nisolo got started? And how it works?
PATRICK WOODYARD: Our story begins in November of 2010 with a talented and very passionate group of people in Northern Peru. Members of the Nisolo team spent a combined two years working with Sinergia, a microfinance organization associated with Peru Mission in Trujillo, Peru. Spending time in and out of the homes of impoverished women, our focus was on empowerment, and our objective was to help women grow their own small businesses so that they could better provide for their families. What we found here did not differ from similar experiences in other parts of the developing world: we saw hope, determination, and loads of potential. As we worked side-by-side with this large group of remarkable women, an urge continued to grow inside of us to tell their story to the rest of the world. Fate took over one morning as we sat in the kitchen of one of the women’s homes. While helping to balance the books of her small convenience store, a steady hammering in the adjacent room challenged our ability to hear one another. Noticing our interest, she guided us to the next room of her dirt-floored, metal-roofed home where her husband, Willan, sat handcrafting a handsome, high-quality men’s leather dress shoe. Intrigued by the fine leather craftsmanship in the midst of such poverty, we were even more surprised to find that despite such a quality product, Willan struggled to make ends meet or find consistent work. As the desire grew to help Willan and his wife, we did our research only to find that his situation was not unique. We found out that there are more than 3,000 other small-scale shoemakers in the region who faced similar circumstances.What was needed was a vehicle of opportunity, and that is exactly what Nisolo intends to be. We have assembled a strong team of social entrepreneurs ready to take on the challenges of the U.S. market and all that goes into building a solid brand. Our hope is to influence a growing culture of conscious consumerism here in the U.S. as well as to offer job creation and access to opportunity for this Peruvian community and others around the world.
R&R: What three words would you use to describe the Nisolo brand?
PW: It is difficult to narrow Nisolo down to three simple words, but I would have to say “empowerment,” “quality,” and “style.”
R&R: There’s obviously a lot of tradition built into the way that these craftsmen and women do their trades– how long have the individuals you partner with been making shoes? Is it a skill set that’s passed down?
PW: Decades of experience make each one of our shoemakers an artisan. The master craftsmen making our handcrafted Nisolos have a lifetime of experience in shoemaking, having been raised in the center of the shoemaking capital of Peru. To them, each product is a work of art that brings a lot of pride and dignity to their persona.
R&R: We often forget that many people beyond ourselves are affected, whether positively or negatively, by the things we choose to purchase. Why is affecting positive change through Nisolo important to you?
PW: A cause that has always been close to my heart has been poverty alleviation and economic development in general. That is what originally led me to Peru to work in microfinance and eventually start Nisolo. As far a responsible consumerism goes, it wasn’t until seeing the effects of Nisolo on the ground in Peru that I was completely convinced that our little choices do make a big difference. Since then, we have become much more conscious consumers than ever before.
R&R: What else is on the horizon for Nisolo?
PW: This fall, you can expect to see a beautiful line of men’s wing-tip and traditional dress Oxfords. Future styles will expand to include mid-calf men’s lace-up boots, a women’s traditional pump and full length women’s boots. Over the next few years, we plan to continue to develop our line of leather shoes and accessories while creating more jobs in Peru in this sector. In addition, we plan to empower more artisans by developing further high-quality handmade products such as a line of alpaca wool sweaters and scarves as well as line of handmade jewelry.
Thanks again to the folks from Nisolo for answering our questions. To shop their current collection, or to learn more about their cause, visit them here.