Sustainable Shoes and the Design Process

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When Julie Gilhart, fashion director at Barney's New York was questioned about sustainable fashion she said that "consumers respond to good design. Design and desirability must come first."

At Fortress of Inca we believe the same thing with regard to sustainability. We think that no matter how shoes, boots and accessories are made, without good design and a style that is suitable for fashion-conscious people to actually wear, the exercise of sustainability is an exercise in futility. This is why we purposefully focus on a few factors when we design our shoe and boot collection each season.


The first thing we consider when we design a shoe is wearability. A great majority of our shoes and boots are everyday. What this means is that we aren't focused on red-carpet or special occasion shoes. Our passion is to bring to you a pair of shoes that you can wear to work, out to a restaurant or to a bar or just running errands.

The next thing we consider relates to the above and that is comfort. It's important for our customers to feel comfortable in their shoes. We don't want to make a pair of shoes that is worn once and then never worn again. For us, that's contrary to the core principles of sustainability. Uncomfortable shoes are not likely to be worn and therefore they pile up in your closet. That's a waste of resources, money and time. So when we design a pair of shoes we try to figure out how to make it as comfortable as possible. This means adding double padding underneath the heel. Using rubber at the bottom of our heels and using shoe lasts that fit most feet very comfortably.

We also consider styling. To us styling means can the shoe be worn with multiple outfits. Can it last for multiple seasons or is the design too trendy? We aim for more classic and elegant designs. Designs that can stand out because of their simplicity and elegance and not because we are following the latest fashion trend. Fashion trends are in our opinion a key challenge to sustainability because when the trend is over, the product becomes obsolete. We hope that our shoes never become obsolete.

Last, and certainly not least is price. We work with fair trade workshops, factories and artisans in Peru. We use premium leathers and when we put together a shoe design we look at the price it costs us to make, add a small margin (much smaller than other brands that produce by hand and with the same materials as us) and that price is calculated automatically with a very simple formula. We do not make a big profit because we feel that it is unethical to charge $500 for a pair of shoes that we can sell for $200. Fair pricing is a core belief to us at Fortress of Inca and if the shoe we design is not able to be fairly priced, we scrap it. Our bottom line is our customer's bottom line. We believe that the whole process of making shoes needs to be fair - from the workers, the materials, the stores we sell to and the customers we sell to. We make the entire process as fair as we can. We sleep better because of it and we hope that everyone we come into contact with benefits because of it. Also, we hope the planet benefits too.