Caroline Back and Steve Honest succeeded in making vegan shoes in the purest British tradition in terms of comfort and quality. They offer a range of 4 gender-fluid basics in their showroom in Shoreditch, London. Steve likes to repeat that their shoes are the most beautiful vegan shoes in the world.
To listen to their interview, click on the image below.
The recording is in English with French subtitles. The script in English is available at the end of the post.
Caroline: My name is Carolyn Back, not to be mistaken with Black, which people do all the time, I was born in Guildford but I moved to London in 1984 and I have been here ever since.
Steve: Hello I’m Steve Honest and I work here at friendship vegan shoes. I used to be in the music industry but now I am a fully committed vegan shoemaker
Caroline: I have always been interested in fashion. We are from that generation actually that always dressed up. When we were young we dressed up even just to go to Sainsbury you know. Everything was about dressing up in those days as part of the new romantic movement which was great fun and all about clothes so really it comes through there, I’ve never stopped to dressing up.
Steve: My mother had terrible feet. When I was a boy she went every weeks to the podiatrist because she wore the cheapest most badly made shoes she could buy and they ruined her feet. I remember vowed to myself as a boy I will never as an adult have the same problem I will never have bad feet so as soon as I could afford them I bought the best quality shoes I can afford and I stay with the best quality shoes all my life.
Caroline: I’ve never designed shoes before but when I was much younger I stood working shoe shops as Saturday jobs and I’ve sort of dipped my toe into working in retail shoe shops for many years actually through university. I don’t know. It was just in my blood. I think shoe for women are such a specific thing. We have very individual needs for shoes. Some ladies like to wear high heels. I did when I was much younger but it was for a very short time. As soon as I was introduced to Doctor Martens my life changed forever in terms of shoes. So I’ve always kind of like that, unisex shoe look and you cannot always get in and suddenly you know with vegan shoes we struggle that is how we came to doing this really.
Caroline: Well, when we had the idea to do vegan shoes we wanted to stick with the very classical kind of look so we just took 5 different styles which is the brogue, the monk, the dealer boot and the brogue boot. In fact we had a low foot boot we didn’t end up going through with that. Although we’ll still be going back to that idea at some point. So yes we just wanted a very traditional well-made shoe. We wanted to cover a sort of all bases really; the animal friendly side of things and also the environment.
The gender fluid idea it’s because we just really like that look I think and it works you know. As a small business the set-up cost is really expensive so this was perfect in keeping the cost stable as well. It was a look we liked and it worked for us.
Steve: The fabric we use is a micro fibre. It’s quite a developed product. It’s unique to us. The company we are supplied by developed this particular microfiber specifically for us. It’s a much better fabric than using leather on many factors. Of course every shoe we sell means that a leather shoe isn’t sold. The tanning process for leather uses horrific chemicals to process leather into a state where it can be physically made form and also the way animals are treated. People always let to believe that the skin and hide is a bide product of the food industry and of course that is not true because animals are treated in a disgusting way whether their food or whether they are being used for fabric.
So the micro fabric we used involves a lot of less water than the animals grown to make leather and a much more better use of environment resources generally.
You cannot guarantee the ethical treatment of your workers if there are six or seven thousand miles away. So we were concerned by that, we were concerned that we can buy fabric out there for much less than you can buy in Europe but we were worried about the ethics involved, the way workers are treated, their rights as human beings.
Some of the best faux fabrics are made in Japan, the problem faces with that particular company on that particular product was the carbon foot print in flying hundreds of kilos of fabric to UK where our manufacture is. So we had to source a supplier as close as possible to our manufacturing plant in Northampton.
I believe you cannot buy a pair of shoes for £40 where somebody somewhere along the supply chain has not suffered. It ‘s just not possible. The fast fashion doesn’t work as an ideal.
We wanted UK manufacture. Northampton in the UK is the straightest home for shoe making. It’s full of factories, it’s full of crepe machineries and it’s full of skilled workers who have lifetime skilled. The person who forms the toes on our shoe is performing toes on shoes for 42 years. The person who cuts the pieces for us before they sewed them into an upper is doing that his all adult life, over 30 years of cutting pieces. When we work with our fabric supplier in Milan we had a very specific set of things we needed fabric to be. Because the traditional workers and the traditional technics we wanted to use the fabric had to behave like leather in terms of its bias so just like leather our fabric pull more on one direction than it does on the other.
We wanted breathability. Some vegan shoes we had in the past make your feet very uncomfortable in a very short time by hot weather. So our lining is made for us specifically, our upper is made specifically for us, and they have breathability so your feet don’t get hot and uncomfortable.
We wanted a high degree of water repellence. We wanted our shoe to need pretty low maintenance so you don’t have to polish the shoes, you don’t have to apply a cream or lotions. The other really important factor was we wanted the Goodyear welted sole. The Goodyear welted sole is a very traditional way of making shoes. Generally the upper of the shoe will have lived the sole of the shoe by factor three some time four.
Modern shoes tend to be a bounded sole. The sole is glued to the upper. When the heel or sole is out you cannot repair it, the all thing is wearlessness, more stuff in landfill.
We wanted to offer the reparable sole and heel, you can either get it repair in our factory where we resole for you, we re-heel for you or we can source a repairer close to the way that we resole for you.
And you know, in the old days, your father and your grandfather when they bought shoes, they would expected to resole them three or four times before the shoes were threw away, so they expected long life. This’s why we offer better value for our customer, less stuff going to landfill and also more comfortable walk. The Goodyear welted sole is a beautiful walk. It feels great on. So we wanted that, it’s a very traditional British thing and we wanted our shoes to be a very traditionally British comfy shoe.
So this summer we are doing a range of bags?
Caroline: Well, we’ve got a couple of very exciting collaborations coming on. The first one is a vegan bag we’re launching. It’s wearable art. There is a panel in front of the bag, which is a canvas painting by Iva Troj who is a fantastic award-winning artist. So we are really excited about that. She has done a special range of very animal influence paintings for this project.
We will also need launching belts because listening to our customers, belts is something that they just cannot get the override as quality belt. They will have our signature, silver lining on them.
Steve: Everything in friendship has a silver lining!