Recently, I’ve been obsessed with this makeover show called Queer Eye, starring these five gay guys: Antoni, Karamo, Tan, Bobby, and Jonathan. A little different from other makeover shows, Queer Eye is empowering but balanced with some sassy humor coming from a group of very bubbly folks. Before, the teenager version of me would watch these shows and think, “Oh, another ugly person converted to a beautiful swan?” I know—cringe worthy of me, right?! It took some growing up on my end to realize that beauty is inherent in all of us—a common message in Queer Eye—but it simply takes a fresh, crisp haircut, an ironed shirt, and a pair of polished shoes to reignite that inner sparkle and confidence. And that’s the transformation I felt when I flipped open a dark, blue shoebox from Nisolo and slipped onto their polished, brandy-colored Isa Boots. Wow. I’ve never felt more elegant wearing any pair of shoes than I did with these boots because not only were they classy and chic—they came with a personal thank-you note written by the shoemaker and the Nisolo producers! *Smiling for days*
Never have I seen this in all the shoeboxes I’ve opened. What Nisolo brings to a shoebox is sentimentally touching and provoking. It makes me wonder why businesses ever stopped being personal in the first place? If you examine most transactions today in the shoe industry (or any type of industry), there are jarring differences—the product’s life span is shorter, market price is cheaper (or extremely expensive), and the relationship with the owner is briefer.
With the emergence of shoemakers in the 15th century, the trade was considered skillful, time-consuming, and highly revered by many. When we compare it to today, we often talk about things we own coming from this or that brand, and the shoemaker is often overlooked—and as a result, severely underpaid. Advertisement is much more central around the aesthetics, features, and benefits, which isn’t bad—but it isn’t enough. When there’s a severed connection between a pair of shoes and the human element used to create them, we treat our things differently.
Founders to Nisolo, Patrick Woodyard and Zoe Cleary, clearly (hehe) understood and witnessed these issues themselves on a daily basis but they also knew these circumstances could be resolved with mindful, ethical solutions and implementations. When Patrick finally graduated with his major in Global Economics & Business, he travelled to Peru and stumbled upon their centuries-old tradition of crafting shoes. Their talents and work ethics were visible and inspiring, but where were their opportunities? Unfortunately buried under current harsh job conditions and lack of access to the market.
Situated right between this worldwide issue and his practical knowledge after graduation, he teamed up with Zoe Cleary to build a certified Fair Trade and B corporation business called Nisolo. Tracing back to the time Nisolo was initially launched, they’ve created countless of opportunities for thousands of shoemakers in different regions: Trujillo, Peru (home to the Nisolo factory); Leon, Mexico; and Nairobi, Kenya.
These opportunities for these shoemakers not only include witnessing their masterpieces shipped globally, but they also include:
- An 125% increase in their savings
- Banking education and ownership (some of these folks have never owned bank accounts before!)
- A chance to start anew when they have the extra means to pay off their debts
- Since they’ve alleviated most or all of their debts, they’re now able to prioritize education for their children and themselves (some Nisolo producers attend school at night after work!)
- More time to spend with their family (before their conversion to Nisolo, most of the parents would work 12 – 14 hours, preventing them from bonding with their families and newborns)
- Learning how to better communicate and collaborate with those at work and home through the workshops that Nisolo offered
What Nisolo does has a rippling effect on every family. Their work is phenomenal, and it’s normal to see companies like this stop here, but Nisolo has been taking a step further to sustain the Earth that their boots and sandals lay their soles on.
Certifying Fair Trade was the first step to holding themselves accountable for the fair wages and healthy working conditions they’re providing for their producers; certifying B Corporation pushed Nisolo to measure their own environmental and social impacts even more. When B Lab certifies a business as B Corporation, they “take a deep look into a company’s leadership, governance, suppliers, employees, communities, etc. in order to determine (and ultimately score) the social and environmental impact an organization has on all of its stakeholders.” The assessment is extremely rigorous and difficult to pass!
Prior to this, it was rare for companies to be transparent in their production processes and bottom line, but I’m starting to see new emerging businesses talk about their successes (and failures) because more consumers are curious and adamant on purchasing from a company that is more ethical to their workers and mindful of the environment. Nisolo’s Impact Report gives a detail list and description of their producers, partners, and the communities they’ve transformed. It’s engaging along with informative, but mostly, you’ll get an understanding of what is inside the the minds and hearts of the Nisolo producers and team.
If there’s anything I want you to leave with is we all want to spend more time with our loved ones, friends, and good company. But sometimes, work gets in the way of that, and Nisolo wants to reverse that norm. The meaning of Nisolo is, “Neither alone,” because they believe people are meant to work together, live together, and support each other. Because of that mission, now every Nisolo producer can feel more fulfilled expressing their talent with dignity and spending more time with their children.
It’s easier than you think—but I wish you acknowledge that your purchase does impact many, many individuals, and that there’s always a human being just like you behind every item you consume.