Nisolo Shoes: Why we need a fashion revolution

Patrick Woodyard, CEO and Co-Founder of Nisolo Shoes, shares his thoughts on why we need a fashion revolution and how this continually gears the direction of his business

Talented shoemakers in Trujillo, Peru, make every pair of Nisolo shoes by hand. Photo: Courtesy of Nisolo

Nisolo shoes made by hand in Peru

The deeper you dig, the more you’ll come to realise how broken the fashion industry is today. Yet, there is hope—even for the pragmatist. A fresh group of brands and manufacturers are on the rise, fighting to allow the industry to reach its hidden potential as a positive force for good. Since this movement’s recent inception, our team at Nisolo has remained proud to fight alongside these revolutionary organisations. Here’s a little bit about the “why” behind Nisolo and where it all began…

As an undergrad, I studied Global Economics & Business and spent a fair amount of my time travelling the globe learning how international business can have a very positive or very negative impact on the world. Shortly after graduating, I moved to Peru where I pursued an opportunity in microfinance with the goal of helping women grow their small businesses. Little did I know, my job was in Peru’s shoemaking capital, and I was soon introduced to the centuries-old, fascinating art form of shoemaking. Blown away by the skill that abounded, I was frustrated to learn that the producers I met faced unbearable obstacles to financial wellness and that even ever-so-slightly competing in the global fashion industry was a lost cause for them.

I knew things could be different, and I saw massive potential to drive transformational change in this community by starting Nisolo. I also knew I would need help, and thankfully, I was introduced to my Co-Founder, Zoe Cleary, shortly thereafter. While I found myself alongside these isolated shoemakers on the frontlines of a massively complex global supply chain, Zoe was thousands of miles away working in an NYC office for a multi-billion dollar fashion company that seemed to care very little for the planet or for the people who made the clothes they sold every day.

Viewing from very different angles, we were exposed to the same dirty truth that most consumers, blinded by the allure of cheap prices, are still completely unaware of today: the explosive growth of the global fashion industry has fared well for some, yet has been violently unjust for most everyone else. The truth is that low wages and poor working conditions are rampant, with 98% of garment workers around the world today not even receiving a living wage. And, the last five years have been some of the deadliest in history, with tragedies such as the Rana Plaza Factory collapse and Ali Enterprises fire alone collectively killing 1500 people and injuring thousands more.

Blinded by the allure of cheap prices, we as a society have chosen to ignore reality, failing to ask how the price of clothing could have ever become so low.
Patrick Woodyard

Due to exorbitant water usage, the irresponsible disposal of waste, the exponential growth of manmade non-biodegradable fibres such as polyester, and filthy carbon emissions from coal-powered factories in the developing world, the planet isn’t faring too well either. In fact, the fashion industry is now the second most pollutive industry in the world behind oil.

Recalling that business can have a very negative or positive impact on the world, our motivation comes not only from how bad things have become but from the opportunity at hand. This is an industry that employs hundreds of millions of the world’s poorest people. What would the world look like for future generations in these communities if, rather than systematically holding people in a never-ending cycle of poverty, proper treatment and a fair opportunity were guaranteed for all producers? I’ve seen firsthand the impact this has had on our shoemakers and the future of their children. I want to see this happen worldwide.

As consumers, we hold immense power through the demand that we create. There is a reason why the ethical fashion space is experiencing explosive growth. We all want a better industry. And, that’s why we encourage you to dig deeper into your favourite brands’ supply chains. If they are not visibly demonstrating a move in the right direction, we encourage you to ask them for an explanation or for more transparency where it is lacking.

Ultimately, this is a marathon, not a sprint, but by working together, we believe we can drive monumental transformation in the fashion industry within our lifetime. Now, let’s go make it happen!

This is an excerpt written by Patrick Woodyard as part of Nisolo’s Impact Report (PDF), published on The Kind Guide with permission. You can learn more about how Nisolo operates on their brand page.

Patrick Woodyard
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