spotlight: nisolo shoes

Second stop on Nísolo’s Holiday Tour? Baton Rouge! A festive party will be held at the home of Andrea and Wally McMakin this Wednesday, where guests will have a wonderful opportunity to get to know the shoe line and its remarkable story. Here are the party details:

When: Wednesday, Nov. 28 from 5:30-8:30 p.m.

Where: 2052 Estates Rd., Baton Rouge, LA 70808

Link: Nísolo Holiday Tour in Baton Rouge’s Facebook page.

If you can’t wait til Wednesday to learn more about this FAMAZING brand, check out the photos below as well as my Q&A with one of Nísolo’s founders, Patrick Woodyard.

Nísolo founder Patrick Woodyard and shoemaker Eliseo

The Mendez family and the Mendez flat

Bolivar sandal

Oliver oxford

Willan with suede oxford

Delicias sandal

Chavito Chukka with shoemaker’s Son and Chavito Chukka on slackline

*All photos courtesy of Nísolo Shoes. To check out the company’s website, click here.

BACKGROUND ON NÍSOLO SHOES: 

Nick Meyer and Patrick Woodyard spent two years working with impoverished women in Trujillo, Peru, empowering them to enhance their small businesses through microfinance organization Sinergia, an affiliate of Peru Mission. One morning, Patrick and Nick sat in the kitchen of Sinergia client Doris. As they helped Doris balance the books for her small convenience store, they noticed a steady hammering noise coming from the adjacent room. Detecting Patrick and Nick’s interest, Doris guided them into the room, where her husband Willan sat handcrafting a handsome pair of high-quality, leather men’s dress shoes.

Impressed with Willan’s fine craftsmanship, Patrick and Nick were surprised to learn about his struggle to find consistent work and make financial ends meet, but they were even more surprised to learn that more than 3,000 other small-scale shoemakers in the area shared in Willan’s struggle. It was at this time that the inspiration for Nísolo struck.

“Upon seeing their remarkable talent yet lack of access and inability to provide for their families,” says Patrick, “I was led to start Nísolo as a means of providing the access they lacked to grow their businesses (including capital, design, knowledge of established markets, training, etc.).”

And here’s more from Patrick and I’s Q&A…

REBECCA: Have you always been shoe guy? Or, did this simply strike you as a viable business opportunity?

PATRICK: I’ve always been somewhat particular about the shoes I wear, but I’ve certainly never had an affinity for shoes. I think that a sustainable way of going about work is to use the skill sets that are already evident. In our case, that happened to be shoes—thousands of extremely talented individuals who had been making shoes for generations. Our passion to start a shoe company was originally sparked by a vision of being able to help a lot of people help themselves, through the work of their own hands.

REBECCA: Has socially responsible consumerism always been a cause close to your heart?

PATRICK: A cause that has always been close to my heart has been poverty alleviation and economic development in general. That is what originally led me to Peru to work in microfinance and eventually start Nísolo. As far a responsible consumerism goes, it wasn’t until seeing the effects of Nísolo on the ground level in Peru that I was completely convinced that our little choices do make a big difference. Since then, we have become much more conscious consumers than ever before.

REBECCA: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced throughout this process?

PATRICK: The greatest challenge we face is striving to build a world-class footwear brand while at the same time facing the challenges of manufacturing in the developing world. Our products are not mass-produced in far off, low-wage paying factories. Our belief in empowering the human face behind each product prohibits us from operating through a simple point-and-buy process like many brands out there.

Rather, each handmade product is a work of art to the shoemaker who crafts it. And, behind each product, are hours and hours of thoughtful design, planning and, at times, difficult resourcing on our part leading up to the “perfect pair” you see on the shelf.

Operating a formalized business in an underdeveloped micro-economy in the developing world presents a plethora of difficulties that are impossible to foresee or understand until you have experienced them yourself. Nonetheless, our advice to social entrepreneurs hoping to do something similar to Nísolo: “Just do it.” You’ll learn a WHOLE lot in the process.