If you haven’t heard of Nicora Johns Shoes yet, you’re truly missing out. Not only does this Agua Dulce, CA based company produce the cutest shoes I’ve ever seen, but they are also vegan, eco-friendly, and 100% handmade in the USA! I’m not talking outsourced materials put together here…I’m talking down to every last thread was made in America.
After a fun little game of phone tag this past week, I had the chance to chat with founder Stephanie Nicora and was left completely inspired and even more in love with the company, what they stand for, and of course- their shoes!
Meet Stephanie Nicora
Stephanie is originally from San Francisco, currently living in LA where she runs the day-to-day operations of Nicora Johns. While she started the shoe-making process in her home workshop, the company has evolved significantly. She teamed up with a traditional, father-son owned factory for co-op style production with a core staff of 12 people (and growing)!
This 32-year-old dream-boat has repairing own shoes since age 10. She would thrift beat-up, vintage footwear then take them to small, local shoe repair shops to get them looking brand new. After a while of hanging out in the shops and watching the repairs, she started borrowing supplies, and trying her hand at the trade. Eventually she went on to do an official apprenticeship for more formal training.
When going through some health complications and being hospitalized for a while, Stephanie’s friend Millicent (the Johns to her Nicora) would often visit her. The two talked about what they wanted to do with their lives, and came to the realization that they both wanted to make shoes. The idea for Nicora Johns was born!
As Stephanie began designing, testing and researching materials in her home workshop, she realized just how “messy” the shoe industry really is. Since shoe-making is primarily human labor (as opposed to mechanical), many companies outsource to cut overhead cost leading to ridiculously unfair wages for a trade that takes many years to perfect.
One of my favorite parts of our conversation was hearing about the work environment they maintain at the factory as well as the appreciation and respect she had for each person working there. Rather than making all of the decisions herself, they work as a team. They have fun, get to know each other and she gets input from each team member on how they can be better.
Another unique aspect of the company is their material sources. Many people see leather as a more “natural” option (as opposed to faux leather), leading to the illusion that it is eco-friendly. However, not only does 1/2 the cost of the cow go towards leather (which we know has a huge negative-impact on the environment), but there are so many chemicals & processes used to make wearable leather (that won’t rot)- including formaldehyde. Side note that she shared: Google “regulations formaldehyde in children’s shoes” and you’ll think twice about putting leather on your little one’s feet
While leather obviously wasn’t an option, it’s extremely difficult to find quality faux leather that’s manufactured in the United States AND environmentally friendly. In order to ensure she was choosing the best materials possible, Stephanie went above and beyond expectations. She researched the origin not just the fabric, but each and every component of the fabric to ensure she knew where it was coming from and the environmental impact. The manufacturer even runs on primarily solar power!
Nicora Johns currently offers 15 different options + any customizations imaginable. If you have an idea for a shoe you’ve been dying to have, send it over and they’ll come up with a one-of-a-kind creation!
We can expect to see a store-front in 2014. While it won’t be open every day starting out, the factory show-room will start hosting custom fittings & will have some shoes in stock for on-the-spot-purchasing.
They are also working on adding to the men’s line. They currently offer the Leroy and take custom orders, but shoe making for men is much more difficult so takes a bit more time to perfect.
“Don’t cut corners on your integrity. Make sure you know where everything came from.”
Stephanie is easily one of the most humble and inspiring women I’ve ever had the pleasure of talking to and I’m so thankful to have had the opportunity! Whether you’re looking for every day shoes or a custom creation, she is your girl! Companies like Nicora Johns are bringing fare-wage jobs to our country, without harming our environment and showing the world how incredible vegan fashion can be!
PS: If you’re wondering which pair of Nicora Johns Shoes are her favorite, it’s the Sparkle Sally’s. They’re made with vintage fabric so there is a limited quantity…13 to be exact…until I ordered mine last night! Merry Christmas to me!