Conversations in Ethical Fashion: Soft Star Shoes
Transparency is all the rage. When I was in fashion retail, learning the stories behind the brands I was representing was one of my favourite parts of the job. I loved knowing the details that drive designers to create, what they as a person/corporation stand for, and what it's like to work for the company. It adds a human element to the work.
As consumers, one of the biggest roles we can rock towards full-on fashion sovereignty is owning our awareness. We already know this about food. We talk to farmers, we question our butchers, and we hopefully never do this in a restaurant:
We have a broader role in creating demand for ethical merchandise. There is a logistical structure in place that impacts how we reconcile with our purchases. Say the average consumer wants to by a pair of shoes at a fast fashion retailer. What is the driving influence behind the purchase? Many times, it's the "cute-factor" above all else. If the shoes swiftly appeal to our style and sentiments we are really good at disconnecting from the social and physical impact that those cheaply manufactured shoes may have had on the person who made them (click here for a fantastic interview on the Hidden Brain with Neeru Parahia on our use of money for self-expression).
That being said, what is going on behind the scenes of your favourite brands?
Are you comfortable finding out this information? Where do you look and who do you contact if you can't find the information yourself?
I want this series to be a window into some of my favourite fashion brands to the artists behind the design. The products that I personally wear and support myself. This is about the people that are making waves in the industry --and not just in the name of style-- but for functionality, wearability, and sustainability.
Softstar is a company that I was drawn to just over a year ago on my quest to find ethical shoes that met my movement criteria. I want shoes that do not have an elevated heel, don't squish and deform my toes, and are sustainably manufactured (for more on shoes and feet, check out this podcast with Dr. Ray McClanahan, The Barefoot Podiatrist). I have a pair of ballet flats from Softstar that I wear religiously. They took me across the world to Buenos Aires and are incredibly high quality. Here is my chat with Larkin Holavarri, C. 'Elf'. O. of Softstar.
1.What is the ethos of Softstar Shoes?
Softstar strives to embody our values of being a fun, respectful place to work; making healthy, beautiful footwear; and walking lightly on the earth. We take a lot of pride in the shoes we make and try to have fun doing it.
2.How is sustainability reflected in your work?
Sustainability is always in the back of our mind with decisions we make. Everything from how to design shoes that maximize the leather utilization to having comingle recycling cans throughout the shop. Here in the shop we do what we can to make sustainable choices easy. And we try to support our employees in making similar choices in their personal life. For example, we provide free bus passes and a ‘biking benefit’ to encourage people to use alternative forms of transportation.
3.Is fashion and wellness intertwined for you? If so, how and why?
For me personally, yes! I admit that I do buy and wear non-Softstar shoes, but I can’t wear the sort of shoes I did in my younger days. Comfort used to be lower on the list when I was making a decision about purchasing an item. Now I feel that comfort is just as important as fashion. Luckily, I’m not the only one that feels this way as it seems many fashionable items are comfortable now days.
4.What are the top wellness practices that are priorities for your business?
We want our employees to be healthy. We are very focused on good ergonomics at Softstar and have invested a lot in chairs, gloves, and other tools to minimize repetitive motion injuries. We have companywide stretch breaks twice a day to get people up and moving. We also offer a wellness benefit to encourage people to do something active outside of work.
5.What are your personal top wellness priorities?
Doing what I need to do to keep up with my three active boys! While I find it hard to focus on myself given my busy family and business, I definitely live an active life style. I also have a bit of a food snob for a husband so healthy food is always on the table at our house.
6.What do you draw the biggest inspiration from when it comes to design?
Healthy footwear is of prime importance. Of course our understanding of what makes a health shoe is evolving as we learn more about the foot. This is one of the reasons we are working on our ‘primal’ sole shape; a sole with a very wide toe box to accommodate our customers who have a wide toe spread. We also tend toward classic, timeless styles. We don’t see the value in developing and investing in a style that nobody will want to wear next year. We want to make shoes that people want to wear for years. We aren’t afraid of technology innovation where it is serving the health and wellness of our customers but don’t expect Softstar to ever promote super high-tech, cutting edge, space-age technology for technology’s sake.
7. What does conscious consumerism mean to you?
It is being aware of the complete impact of what you are buying. I feel it is fine to buy what you want, as long as you are really making a conscious decision about it. Strawberries don’t grow here in December but they are always available at big grocery stores. It’s fine to buy them, but you should realize they have traveled half way around the world to get to your table. At Softstar we try to be fully aware of the impact of our purchasing decisions and work with our vendors to source materials that minimize impact on the environment and support a healthy work environment. We want to make a product that people can feel good about buying. I think many of our Softstar customers appreciate that about us.
8. How do you approach the fragile balance between consumerism and sustainability?
We try to make shoes that will last for longer than a year by selecting quality materials and investing in classic designs. We often hear families tell us that they had a pair of baby moccasins get passed from child to child. We’ve also had runners tell us about the hundreds of miles logged in a single pair of our shoes. These stories makes us very happy.