NOT a (espa)drill(e) - Beautiful, ethical, handmade shoes
I am easily impressed, so I wouldn't always say that my hyperbole lives up to the expectations, but today's blog post 100% not only meets it but surpasses it. It's mind-blowing and life-changing, and I can't wait to share it with you!
On Sunday, I was lucky enough to go to a Juta Shoes workshop as part of the CLUCKteam. Juta is a social enterprise focused on making beautiful, ethical shoes, with a positive impact on people and the environment. To this end, their team are all women who need flexible working hours, and the materials are either repurposed from scrap or sourced from small, personable, family-run businesses who make them with love.
And, like all good ideas, it started with a crazy dream. Joanna, one of the co-founders, had just started making espadrilles because she'd had a job interview and couldn't find any shoes she wanted to wear. So of course, the natural answer was YouTube tutorials, which guided her along taking apart an old leather bag and making the first ever pair of Jutas. I mean, already, you're feeling the go-get-em world conquering vibe, aren't you? This idea transformed, and Joanna got in touch with Sabeha, the now other co-founder, who's based at St Hilda's East Community Centre as a project co-ordinator running social and financial inclusion activites for women. Out of the blue, she suggested they teach the women how to make shoes. After a self-proclaimed lengthy period of ignoring what she thought was just sheer lunacy, Sabeha agreed - and Juta was born!
Juta shoes are currently in a classic espadrille or summery slider style - though there are straps and buckles and a trainer style in the pipeline - and are made from completely repurposed material. They work closely with upholstering factories in the East London area they call home (and so do I!), to take their scraps of beautifully coloured quality leather and transform them into something wearable. Not only leather, they repurpose treated suede too, giving the shoes a versatility, and the ability to mix and match combinations. Although they like to think of Jutas as 'freegan', as no animals are killed for them (the leather used was intended for a different purpose and would always have been made regardless of whether it ended up as a Juta shoe), there also are vegan material options. The soles are made in a traditional Spanish family-run business - so traditional, in fact, that when Joanna and Sabeha tried to set up the business in August 2016, they had to stall their entire business plan til September 2016, as when they tried to order their first ever soles, they were told the business don't work in August. They're made of jute - owing to the name, though this is also a play on the Bengali word for shoe, juta (জুতা). Jute is fast-growing and environmentally friendly, meaning that the shoes are also super ethical - held together by waxed linen thread, it means three quarters of the materials are biodegradable.
With a business that's achieving incredible things in so many different ways, it's so hard to pick just one favourite moment, but like the terrible person I am asked founder Joanna to pick one anyway - "we started out with a Kickstarter campaign and without any real idea of if we'd get any interest or sales. Well, we ended up meeting our target on day two, and ending sales early as we couldn't meet demand before Christmas - it was such a rush of confidence and excitement! Our first shoemaking workshop was so much fun, and a real rush to know that people really enjoyed the experience and were keen to do more. Then when our first retailer approached us asking if we sell wholesale, and it was such a huge confidence boost."
My favourite part of my Juta journey was Sunday's workshop, and though it's by no means been a long journey for me I hope it will be in the future. I absolutely adore Juta and everything about them - not only do their shoes look amazing, but they're so comfortable on, plus I learnt a new skill. On top of that, the company's built on flawless foundations, helping loads of different causes, and the lovely ladies behind it couldn't be nicer!
If you're interested in some Jutas - or even better, the most fun workshop ever! - check out their website www.jutashoes.com. Happy saving the world, kids!