“Clothing sits on you, but shoes have to completely support you,” says Rebecca Heykes. Unfortunately, says the 35-year-old shoemaker and cofounder of Hoboken-based Loyal Footwear, many shoes are “badly designed.”
Beyond shoddy construction and lackluster support, Heykes takes issue with the ethics of typical shoe production. The shine of working for big fashion companies early in her career wore off when she witnessed the wastefulness of some manufacturers and learned of the subpar conditions for overseas factory workers.
Believing there is a better way, Heykes left corporate fashion and teamed with fellow shoemaker and designer Keiko Hirosue to focus on high-quality, sustainable shoemaking. Together, they launched Loyal Footwear, a line of stylish basics.
Loyal is based in an industrial building of artist spaces in Hoboken, where—among hefty sewing machines, sanders and presses—Heykes handcrafts Loyal’s flats, mules, pumps, boots, sandals and sneakers.
Rolls of vegan textiles in rich neutrals and splashy metallics fill the walls and corners of Loyal’s sunny, 600-square-foot workspace. These PVC-free fabrics, which Heykes says are chosen with environmental impact in mind, are “stretchy, sometimes even stronger than leather, and are not going to crack or peel.”
A leather-like, pineapple-based material is used to make kicks in bright, crackly silver and gold shades. A soft, blush-colored “suede” is made from partially recycled polyester. Loyal is also experimenting with leather-like materials made from mushrooms and apples.
It’s not just the materials that set Loyal apart. Unlike fast fashion, Loyal makes shoes as orders come in through loyalfootwear.com. That ensures there aren’t piles of unsold goods languishing in a warehouse.
What’s more, working this way allows Loyal to gauge what customers want. “I can make one pair of the ankle boots in shiny, hot pink,” explains Heykes, and then see whether they’re a hit by posting on social media.
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Customers who live close enough can come to the studio for a custom fit (masked and one person at a time, amid Covid-19). And if something needs repairing, Heykes says, just send it back to her for some rehab. In the future, Heykes would love to offer more customization.
Ditching fast fashion “is more of a conversation now,” says Heykes, “and we’re on the front lines of that sort of change.”Click here to leave a comment