How a Nashville company is delivering quality and style in socially- and environmentally-responsible ways
“In order to understand what makes us stand out, you have to understand how broken the fashion industry is today, with 98 percent of laborers being denied a living wage and the industry itself being one of the most pollutive in the entire world,” Patrick Woodyard says.
It was a metaphorical walk in the shoes of—and an inspirational real-life meeting with—remarkably talented shoemakers in Trujillo, Peru, that led Patrick and co-founder Zoe Cleary, who was working for a major fashion label in New York City at the time of the company’s inspiration, to create Nisolo, revitalizing an industry through ethical production without sacrificing quality and style.
“The timing could not have been more perfect,” Patrick says. “Zoe was reaching a peak point of frustration with how little the brands she had worked for seemed to care for the planet and the people at the bottom of their supply chains. After envisioning the opportunity to pursue design and a greater purpose simultaneously, Zoe quit her job and boarded a one-way flight to Peru to join me.”
Nisolo’s desire to deliver effortless style with social responsibility is abundantly clear in the company’s vision: to push the fashion industry in a more sustainable direction—where success is based on more than just offering the cheapest price; a direction that not only values exceptional design, but the producer and the planet just as much as the end consumer.
“What makes Nisolo special is that as a Nisolo producer, you get beyond fair-trade wages, access to health care, safe working conditions and a slew of resources ranging from free financial literacy training courses to English and nutrition classes,” Patrick says. “And, as a consumer, you get the total package: amazing quality, a fair and competitive price and a product that’s made in an environmentally and socially responsible manner that has a deep impact on the people who make the products.”
Nisolo has three models of ethical production. The first, its own factory in Trujillo, Peru—where Patrick and Zoe’s vision first began—that accounts for about 89 percent of the company’s production. The second, a partner factory in León, Mexico. The third, small, independent artisans located in Nairobi, Kenya, and Trujillo, Peru, to help grow their businesses and production capabilities.
Routine factory visits are made by Nisolo staff to ensure partner factories are operating by a strict set of standards, including that all producers—who must be 18 years or older—receive beyond fair-trade wages, healthy working conditions and health care.
The leather used in various Nisolo products, like the Andres All-Weather Boot—the company’s first water-resistant style that features natural oil-based and vegetable tanned leather—or the Mariella Mule, a popular women’s style, is responsibly sourced from tanneries committed to the ethical treatment of animals and the implementation of eco-friendly waste-disposal systems.
According to Patrick, Nisolo directly supports more than 500 livelihoods across Peru, Mexico and Kenya. The average income increase for a Nisolo producer after getting a job in a Nisolo factory is 140 percent for men and 173 percent for women.
Apart from wages, Nisolo is also focused on the long-term impact producing Nisolo products has on shoemakers. Whereas 10 percent of the producers had bank accounts before working with Nisolo, 100 percent are now in the formal banking sector. And whereas around only half of the shoemakers Nisolo works with in Peru were able to get a high school degree, 100 percent of their children are in school and 13 percent of them will soon be first-generation college graduates.
“We want Nisolo’s production practices to be the new normal for the fashion industry, and I think this can happen within my lifetime,” Patrick says.