How to buy a quality shoe

February 25, 2015

shoe illo 2 (1)

When it comes to ethical and sustainable fashion, shoes, for me, are tricky. I don’t want to purchase shoes from a company that sources leather from poorly treated cows, and I want to know that the leather was a by-product of the beef industry so as to avoid waste. I don’t want to support just any beef industry though, I try to only eat locally raised, grain-fed beef, you know, from happy cows who were treated with respect in life and in death. It’s this too much to ask!?

It’s difficult to find shoes made out of such leather. There are some great online shops that sell high-quality, vegetable-tanned leather shoes, Mallorca-based Coclico being one of my fave, but most other eco-shoe brands are vegan, so they use “pleather” or plastic leather and this material has its own environmental issues.

Many people will argue that I shouldn’t buy leather shoes at all, and a part of me agrees. Why do animals have to be killed at all? We don’t really need meat and we certainly don’t need to wear their skin or their fur. But from a sustainability perspective, many argue that leather is better than plastic. And so long as cows are killed for their meat, might as well use their skins to minimize waste.

This is an entirely separate post, one that I’ve wanted to write for a while now on leather vs. pleather. Until I tackle that beast, I thought I’d approach shoe buying from one type of sustainability, one that involves craftsmanship, quality, durability and timeless design. I turned to shoe designer, Zoe Lee, for a simple how-to guide on buying quality shoes.

Zoe is a rising star in high-end shoe design who opened up a shoe boutique in the Marais quarter of Paris in 2014. She studied at the prestigious Central Saint Martins and the Royal College of Art and then went on collaborate with the likes of Alexander McQueen, Erdem and Vivienne Westwood before she went rogue and launched Zoe Lee Shoes in April 2011. The Zoe Lee Shoe is not your average shoe, nor your average high-fashion shoe either, as we’ll soon find out. Zoe sources from the highest quality leathers and works with a family-run shoe factory that has been in business for many years.


Zoe Lee, shoe designer, and her Marais boutique, Paris, France. Photo courtesy of Stefania Yarhi,


Side note: Now that she has her own shop, Zoe is soon launching a bag collection made out of scrap leather from factory floors, a great way to reduce waste. If they’re anything like her shoes, I’ll have to put one on my “save for” wish list.

Zoe Lee Shoes are just like Zoe, straight-forward, exotic, understated, no-fuss and beautiful. If you want to see what a quality shoe looks like, dissect one of her shoes. But instead of sacrificing one of her creations, I worked with the talented and adorable illustrator, Becky Murphy of Chipper Things, to break it down for you here (see below).

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EF Magazine (EF): What are the basic parts of a shoe?
Zoe Lee (ZL): The upper, insole, shank and heel.

EF: What are the conventional materials used for those parts?
ZL: Leather for the upper, insole and shank. Suede is so fragile, so you wouldn’t want to wear it as an upper. The top part of the heel as well as the rubber on the tip of the heel, they’d be cork filled on the inside. The insole board, which is what the sole goes onto, is usually made out of a very dense, cardboard-like paper, almost papier-mâché. The front part of the insole is made of the same material but less dense. Built into this sole is a metal shank that goes throughout the shoe. A shank is primarily just in heels and anything over two inches. Men’s shoes have a metal shank in them too.

EF: What should buyers look for in a good shoe?
ZL: Good fit, comfort, made of leather, leather-soled and stitching. Different designers use different shapes. If you find a designer who’s shape you like, the likelihood is that the designer’s other shoes will fit you as well. Certain bits have to be glued but there shouldn’t be much gluing either.

There is a good amount of craftsmanship that goes into a good shoe. High-end fashion shoes are seasonal, they’re not investments. They’re more frivolous. So my advise is to buy something classic. Trendy shoes date quickly no matter the quality. Go for what you like as opposed to styles that you’ve seen in magazines. I like to wear my own shoes.

EF: What makes a bad shoe?
ZL: A shoe that’s trying to be something that it’s not. Trying to look expensive when it’s cheap. Something that looks cheap when it’s actually very expensive. Bad stitching, poor quality leather, resin, plastic soles instead of leather soles.

EF: Does price reflect quality?
ZL: Fashion shoes, no matter how high-quality and expensive have a lot of glue in them because most women who buy high-end shoes don’t care about the actual craft of shoe making. Women’s high-end shoes are most often than not, a bad example of quality.

They are no comparison to high-end men’s shoes. Price wise, high-end men’s shoes are more expensive than women’s high-end shoes. A man’s well-made shoe will start at 2,000 pounds (more than $3,800 CAD).


Ruston, Zoe Lee Shoes, SS 2014 collection. Photo courtesy of Stefania Yarhi,

EF: How long does it take to produce one of your collections?

ZL: Each shoe has a different process for production. It depends on the factory’s capacity too. Some can produce thousands of shoes a day. Italian, family-run factories produce 200-500 pairs a day, but that is at full capacity and with just one style of shoe.

Most small factories produce 600 pairs a season, across 25 styles. My production is longer because the factory I work with has to change the factory line for each style of shoe. One shoe might be white so they have to use white paint, etc. You can’t mix stuff up too much because it’s damaging to the materials.

You put shoes through various processes by hand and by machines and you have to set the machines to the particular style, heel height and width and some times this take a few hours to setup. I work with one factory in Italy. It’s quite small but they’ve done shoes for different brands, big shoe labels too for generations.

EF: Why is Italy the shoe capital of the world?
ZL: Italy has a good history of shoe making in the sense that it has tanneries and everyone who supplies all of the shoes parts have all been making and delivering those parts for a long time. It’s more about the communication and logistics really. Italian factories and suppliers all know each other and this makes planning the execution of a shoe a lot easier.

When making a shoe, everyone has to know what they’re doing and it all has to come together and if you’re, for instance, working with a shoe factory in China, the likelihood is that the factory doesn’t have the history of working with its suppliers and they don’t have the infrastructure so you, as a shoe designer, have to organize more on your end to make sure that you order the right material for your design and that everything comes together properly and on time.

In my case, organizing isn’t my specialty. My factory (located in the Venice area of Italy) knows which supplier produces wider cloths, etc. This is so important because if one thing doesn’t fit, nothing fits. You’re starting from scratch if you work with China and there’s no knowledge of what makes up a shoe. Large, Chinese factories don’t develop, they like to copy.


Zoe Lee, shoe designer, taken outside of her Paris shoe boutique. Photo courtesy of Stefania Yarhi,



Shoe designer Zoe Lee wears a pair of her own Bonita line. Photo courtesy of Stephania Yarhi,


EF: Who is your favourite shoe designer? 
ZL: I like Robert Clergerie and a designer, Kisa Takada, from Japan. She died a while ago but she made some really nice shoes in the 70’s and 80’s. I don’t really like very many shoes that are out there. I don’t shop, I’m not a consumer. I’m more interested in making shoes than buying them.

EF: What kind of shoe would you never wear?
ZL: An elevated platform, I think they’re ugly and cheap looking.

EF: Fun fact?
ZL: My shoes are named after towns and cities in Louisiana. They’re not masculine or feminine, sometimes European and there are so many, more than 10,000 so there’s no risk of me running out of collection names.

Gifts for your (vegan) loved ones

December 10, 2014


By Sarah LaBrecque

While there are lots of food options for vegans, those who abstain from wearing clothing which may have harmed an animal in its production, might have a tricky time finding suitable threads, or have questions about what constitutes a vegan closet in the first place. Leather, fur, wool and even silk (because it’s made from silkworms), is out. So where does a vegan fashionista go for ideas?

Vegan Cuts, an online curator of vegan products, recently produced a vegan fashion guide and lookbook which, according to Vegan Cuts co-founder Jill Pyle, has something in it for everyone. “From glimpses into the industry to inspire the vegan curious,” she says “to quick speaking points for explaining why cruelty-free matters to you when you face inevitable questions about your animal-friendly stance,” the guide is there to help.

One of my first questions after perusing through the guide was, where can I get these items and are they going to cost me an arm and a leg? (not ideal for a vegan). Says Pyle, “We feature a whole range of items in the lookbook, but these specific brands are mostly available online. Generally, it’s possible to pick up vegan pieces no matter where you are, you just have to know what you’re looking for.” Enter the pocket guide (included in the lookbook) of fabrics to avoid, their “Label reading like a pro” tip sheet and a full vegan shopping directory.

Common fabrics like cotton and acrylic are animal friendly but there are a host of others which should be avoided, such as pashmina, suede and shearling. Knowing which materials to be wary of means that a simple check of a garment label makes it possible to shop vegan, without blood, sweat or tears (literally).

And the common impression people have that it’s expensive to be vegan (both in diet and attire), isn’t necessarily true. “For those pieces that are on the expensive side, I’d recommend looking at them as an investment,” continues Pyle, “a pair of Nicora John’s and a Vaute Couture jacket will last way longer than a cheap pair of flats and a jacket picked up at a big box store.” It’s not only an investment for your wardrobe but also for these ethical designers and companies, whose designs will only become more affordable if they can reach a wider consumer base.

So as Christmas approaches — and consumerism inevitably heightens — and you’re stuck for gift ideas for your vegan friends and relatives (or anyone really), look to Vegan Cuts and their fashion guide as a springboard for inspiration.

My picks


Cork clutch – $70.00


Transformative serum – $55.0000003386_l

Deodorant cream – $13.0000003693_l

Chickpea Magazine one-year subscription – $60.0000003965_l

Mala beads – $36.0000004071_l

Hand-crafted bar soap – $11.0000004074_l

Lip balm – $9.5000004115_l

Gourmet chocolate bar six-pack – $20.0000004367_lCanvas bag – $33.00

A cornucopia of holiday shopping events

November 20, 2014

I can’t get over how many fantastic holiday shopping events are popping up this season in Ottawa. From clothes swaps for charity to craft shows and everything in between, my hometown is really kicking it into high gear. Ottawa has a reputation for being a boring town, a reputation that in my mind has definitely run its course. Not only are people putting on creative events, but these initiatives are all focused on supporting local designers, promoting Made in Canada, recycling clothing, giving back and keeping gift giving simple and close to home.



Click here for more information on The Closet Collective

Start the holiday shopping season off right with a cocktail in hand at The Holiday Market & Cocktail

It’s time, downsize that wardrobe!


The pop-up show of all pop-up shows!

In the DIY mood? Try your hand at crafting your own batch of natural beauty products

These crafters are anything but idle

Come with me to this 3rd anniversary party, or as the French say, Viens Avec Moi

urban craft

The darling craft market of the season is urban

northern lights

Ottawa’s very own Northern Lights invite you to shop their creations


November 1, 2014

madesmith main imageThis blog of mine is a hobby, a creative side project that has been the one constant project in my life for the past seven years. For someone as flighty and indecisive as I can be, EF has always been there, the one tool I use to share my passion for ethical and sustainable fashion, new designers, ideas, concepts and more.

One of the many advantages of running this blog is the chance to meet (mostly virtually that is) and collaborate with my favourite companies. Madesmith is no exception. Madesmith is a storytelling platform that helps people discover well-designed, sustainable objects made by hand in the USA. It features exclusive collaborations with artists and makers that create fashion, beauty and home goods in their own studios or small manufacturing facilities.

Most recently, Madesmith launched Madesmith Academy, an online school where product designers, makers and your average “Joe/Joanna” can learn sustainable craft and business skills from top experts who have built successful brands.

Since I wanted to put together a Christmas gift guide using their products, they’re showing their gratitude by giving all of you 25% off of your Madesmith craft and business courses. I really can’t think of a better gift than the gift of learning, can you? Well, OK, so the products below would be pretty schnazzy too. Yes, I made that spelling up but I’m going to say it’s probably similar to something Yiddish?


madesmith gift guide-small


Tapestry | Rachel Duvall Textiles
Pot | Wind & Willow


Skateboard | Loyal Dean
Pouch | Specialty Dry Goods


Oil | Blackcreek Mercantile
Knife | Chelsea Miller Knives


Clogs | Bryr Clogs
Portfolio | Katrine Reifeiss


Hat | Derby Hats
Barrette | Canoe


Earrings | Aili Jewelry
Necklace | Gamma Folk


Room + Linen Spray | Oille Naturals
His + her soap | The Greater Goods

Colour code: black + white

October 28, 2014

need supply edited

Need Supply epitomizes the curated closet I am chipping away at building this year. I definitely have more colour in my wardrobe than in these pictures, and I always will, but ask my boyfriend – black prevails. It’s just so easy to wear with everything and it instantly looks chic. Case in point the image above.

FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: Clare Vivier clutch | Studio Nicholson coat | Cameo jacket | Ganni dress | Eytys sneaker | Won Hundred sweater | Shakuhachi dress | Ahlem sunglasses | Wood Wood bootie | Which We Want pants | Which We Want jacket | DIGDOGDIG necklace |

The business of baskets: UASHMAMA

September 8, 2014

When I was 12 years old, my mom (ever the entrepreneur and creative lady) worked for a bit as a “Welcome Wagon” representative. The company would hire reps to welcome new neighbours to hoods all over the country. New residents would open their doors and be greeted with a smile from my mom and a little red wagon of products from chocolates to cleaning supplies. It was a neat concept.

How nice would it be to be welcomed into your next neighbourhood with such a gift? Whatever happened to being formally welcomed into a new residential family anyway? Well, there are two new basket cases in town by the names of Rachella and Melissa of ella & issa who might bring the tradition back. ella & issa is a unique new business here in Ottawa that makes exceptional gift baskets of all kinds and for all occasions.

These aren’t your ordinary baskets though. ella & issa gifts are delivered in UASHMAMA® bags, sustainable bags made out of paper by a family-run business in Italy. These bags are soft, crinkly, durable, light, versatile and come in a variety of earthy colours and fun, metallic ones too. I won a raffle prize not long ago for the first time in my life and one of the gifts was a grey UASHMAMA® bag that now sits on my desk as my handy catch-all.

Other uses for these bags? Plant pots, magazine holders, laundry baskets, purses, lunch bags, clutches, pantry bags for dry goods, potatoes, etc., beauty supply containers, towel holders, and I could go on!

Rachella and Melissa and I have some fun projects in the works but in the meantime, get to know these great gals, learn how they got their start in business, and about their rad product. By the way, these ladies are the first to distribute UASHMAMA® bags in Canada.

EF Magazine (EF): At what point did you both, individually, begin thinking about starting up your own business?

Ella & Issa (EI): Well for one, both of our fathers are business owners as a chef and a musician, so we both had a very creative and entrepreneurial upbringing. As friends, we would dream about having our own business together that centered around our knack for finding unique and ‘beautiful’ products and gifting them to each other and our family and friends. We actually came up with the concept of gifting beautifully for ella + issa co. while sitting by the pool in Mexico in March 2013. From then on we really put our minds to it! Things just naturally fell into place and we also became the distributor for one of those favorite finds UASHMAMA® washable paper. We officially launched both sides of our business on April 30, 2014.

EF: What is it about being entrepreneurial that appeals to you and why?

EI: We are people people. Since launching our business, we have had the opportunity to connect with so many creative, young, like-minded people. We feel so lucky every day that our business gives us a platform to do some of the things we love… shop, design. The best part is that we now get to share our passion with others. We love the challenge of entrepreneurship. Every day is different.

EF: Tell me about your friendship, where did it all begin and what keeps it going?

EI: We actually met and became friends at the ages of 25 and 30 but it feels like forever already. We believe we are ‘soul sisters’. Might sound cliché, but it’s true. When you just connect with someone on so many levels you can say that. And we do. We both have a deep appreciation for simple and pretty things being a part of our everyday living. Our homes look alike. Anything we buy for one another, we generally buy for ourselves too.

EF: You’re both family focused, what are the pros and cons of running your own business?

EI: Pros: the pride we take in building something of our own and being our own bosses. With us both having type A personalities, we both love being in control. So we get to take the risks, and reap the benefits (or the consequences).

Cons: we are both Taurus’s (the bull). That sometimes plays against us, but the biggest one is time. There never seems to be enough in the day! There is always something to be done. So after hours and late nights are the new normal for us.


EF: Can you really maintain balance all of the time or do some things slip and if so, how do you get back on track?

EI: Oh yes, things slip. The first year is a learning curve for sure. We each have our own role in the company but we have each other’s backs when needed. We communicate A LOT. Thank goodness for iPhones.

We wanted to create a new way of gifting that was different and trendy.


EF: Why did you want to start a business based on gift baskets? Is there a demand for this in the city?

EI: Over the course of our friendship, we have been through one of the most transitional periods of our lives, celebrating life with family and friends, be it birthdays, weddings, births, first and new homes. We both have always loved coming up with thoughtful and different gifts and packaging them beautifully for our own family and friends and for each other, going against the trend and naturally stemming away from gift registries. And that is simply how our concept was born. We wanted to create a new way of gifting that was different and trendy.

Demand. Yep! We did a lot of talking around town with builders and realtors and there just isn’t anything like it. Client gifting is a great way to show appreciation for their business. But that isn’t our only focus. We recommend our gifts as a host/hostess gift, a housewarming gift, “just because” or to add a little luxury to one’s own daily living. The response so far has been so positive and we are currently designing new gift bags for Christmas and a new collection that we will release in the New Year!

EF: What sets your baskets apart from what’s already out there?

EI: The unique UASHMAMA washable paper bag bases. Often times when we have received a gift basket, we have found no use for the actual basket. We wanted to ensure our gifts were 100 percent useful. In addition to that, we wanted our gifts to be unlike the traditional food style.


EF: How did you discover Uashmama?

EI: We spent hours upon hours searching for baskets, buckets, bowls…any unique base. Then a teeny, tiny little picture of a paper bag popped up on Google images that lead us to Le Sorelle, the manufacturer of UASHMAMA® in Tuscany, Italy. We ordered samples and instantly fell in love with the product. We knew they were perfect for our plans.

EF: Why did this product/company appeal to you?

EI: We sourced many options, but nothing compared to what was offered by Le Sorelle. The paper bags are just so unique and versatile. We love the fact that all of the UASHMAMA® products are handmade in Italy, given both of our Italian backgrounds. The Tuscan village thrives with the growth of UASHMAMA®, which employs a large group of local men and women to sew the paper bags right from home.

EF: What makes UASHMAMA® products ethical and sustainable?

EI: All of the UASHMAMA® paper products are made using traditional artisan methods from cultivated and sustainable cellulose fibre. The paper washes like fabric, holding its form so it can be used over and over again.


EF: Why do you think they’ll appeal to Ottawans/Canadians?

EI: Both in Ottawa and across Canada we are starting to see the emergence of more trendy neighborhoods, new concept stores and boutiques with an interest in carrying new and unique, handmade products. Having designer this and designer that isn’t as popular anymore. In our opinion, it’s more about supporting creative, up and coming brands and individuals. Having an Ottawa-based business has meant an outpouring of support from local businesses through social media etc. We love this community we get to be a part of not only in Ottawa, but across Canada.

We are also very proud of our product and believe in it 100 percent. It is just so unique. It’s not very often that you come across products that are both sustainable and stylish. UASHMAMA® has got both in the bag and we think our products appeal to varying audiences from consumers that are making greener choices, to those that are just looking for something fashionable to wear, to florists, interior designers, restaurants, home décor boutiques, baby and child stores.

EF: What are some of the many fabulous uses of this product?

EI: The uses of the paper bags are really only limited by their owner’s imagination. Though they were originally designed as bread bags, they have proven themselves to be so much more and are now used for a variety of daily lifestyle purposes. Kitchen, bathroom, nursery, office, they are a beautiful way to organize your life.


EF: If you had to identify with a UASHMAMA® product, which one would best match your personality and why?

EI: Melissa. Carry 2. Casual. Most useful for real life and the day to day. Grocery store, beach, etc.

Rachella. Alle bag. Plain and simple. Most versatile bag. For work or play.

EF: What products will we find in your UASHMAMA® gift baskets?

EI: We love each and every product we have sourced. You will find a selection of eco-conscious cleaning products and home wares in a multi-functional UASHMAMA® paper bag. Each bucket is beautifully embellished with an air plant and comes in a palette of natural colours.

Tunes for the tail end of summer

August 8, 2014

The month of August could be the start or the end of your summer holidays. This time can also be daunting for any age group. For those still going to school, it could mean four weeks left until your are shackled to your desk for 10 months of lectures and homework or for parents, the planning stages for back to school shopping and feeling strapped for cash. So for the remainder of your summer, here is a playlist for your listening pleasure that will hopefully help you through whatever phase of life you’re in right now.

Karlie Kloss + Warby Parker

June 11, 2014

What do you get when you put a long-legged, 21-year-old model named Karlie Kloss and an innovative eyewear company together? Why, haute lenses of course. Behold the Karlie Kloss + Warby Parker collaboration that was just announced yesterday and that you didn’t know you were waiting for. A percentage of sales of these beautiful eye candies will be donated to a charity that is near and dear to Miss Kloss’s heart, Edible Schoolyard NYC, and of course, for every pair bought, a pair is donated to someone in need.

Clara – $145

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Julia – $145

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Marple – $145

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Erin Templeton

May 2, 2014

Erin Templeton‘s leather bags and accessories are just luscious. That’s all I can say. They’re simple, functional, fun and luscious. It’s so wonderful to see a Canadian designer who recognizes all of the waste inherent in the fashion industry and who decides to counteract this by using recycled leather for her pieces. Check out her lookbook here.

Templeton was born and raised in the mountains outside of Vancouver, Canada. She began making leather accessories in 1999, while studying shoemaking at Cordwainer’s College in London, England. She continued to study leatherwork in Australia, and once home in Vancouver, she began concentrating on handbags. By 2007, her studio graduated from renting the boiler room of a local tailor shop to the actual tailor shop, where she opened her studio/storefront to the public in Vancouver’s historic Chinatown. A vintage buyer by trade, Erin always found the masses of unloved leather inspiring, as each piece is a reminder of who it once was. All designs are lovingly handmade in-house in recycled leather, imported cowhides, or a selection of exclusive and locally tanned elks and bison. Truly the biggest part of the story is recognizing and uniting the elements. Erin’s fascination with the past informs designs that aim to defy trends. She uses minimal hardware and simple, strong construction, which allow people to adjust, change, and make pieces their own. It is her hope that each piece is able to be a life-long friend, and to mix freely with new and vintage pieces.

FestivalPouch halfmoon_red keeper-charcoal ONLY04 roamins tote-pumpkin writer3


February 13, 2014

Some more beautiful, lovely, hand-made things from Toronto – this time from Heather Shaw of Pi’lo. Shaw carries her simple, pure aesthetic seamlessly through every item she makes, whether it be a wooden cut-out mobile, knit necklace or pillow case. She sources all of her materials locally, chooses natural fabrics that are treated as little as possible and are almost always organic.  All paints and inks used are VOC-free and water-based. Most importantly, her items are made to last for generations to come. I have my eyes on her kitchen cloths and napkins, but I’ll wait until I have a dining table before I invest in dinnerware!

You can tour her lovely Toronto home here as featured in Remodelista.

Everything in this collection is hand made by myself and the wonderful women who sometimes help me. We work out of a coach house studio behind a Victorian house in the heart of downtown Toronto. It is a very calm and soothing space with lots of natural light and plenty of inspiration. We endeavour to make things carefully and responsibly and hope that each item will be passed down to future generations as family heirlooms.

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