MooShoes -- by Rebecca Kaplan
Vegetarianism has never looked as stylish as it does at MooShoes, a store located at 78 Orchard Street, New York, NY 10002. For 11 years, sisters Erica and Sara Kubersky have been helping to clothe New Yorkers with vegan shoes, belts, and jackets. Inspired by the store Vegetarian Shoes in London, but unable to find anywhere near the quality or amount of vegetarian footwear on this side of the Atlantic, the sisters decided to help normalize ethical shoes by opening their own store, which they did in 2001. MooShoes has grown into a bustling enterprise, with hundreds of styles of shoes available for sale on its website, compared to only 25 options when they first opened.
Erica and her sister became vegetarian and later vegan at a young age after seeing a cow. Once they learned that leather came from animals, they both stopped wearing leather, and soon discovered that it was difficult to find shoes to wear. "I just made my family crazy trying to seek out things," she said. She and her sister dreamed of opening a store where New Yorkers could find a higher caliber of non-leather shoes, ones that weren't non-leather simply because they were cheaper to make, but also because it was ethical. In those days, Erica says she wore mostly canvas shoes, or cheap plastic alternatives, which "weren't very comfortable, and definitely not that stylish." She adds, "My feet were cold most winters."
The idea for turning their fantasy into a reality clicked when they discovered Vegetarian Shoes in England. "We actually got to visit it a few years before we opened MooShoes, and it was just like, ahh, to walk into a real store and not to have to look through everything just to find the one thing you could wear. Just to go into a store and not have to ask any questions." Employees at Moo Shoes are prepared to answer questions about their products, including explaining the philosophy behind going leather-free. It's not just about animal cruelty; leather alternatives are better for the planet, too. "There's a lot of information out there that says leather is more durable, more sustainable," Erica says, "but there are so many facts against those things. Leather is one of the least sustainable products out there. […] The whole process [of tanning leather] is terrible for the environment."
Those who don't live in close proximity to MooShoes in New York can find the same non-leather styles at MooShoes online. Or, put in a request that your local shoe store start carrying vegan products. Erica says, "There are so many brands that have opened up in the last few months. We sell lots of brands, including some more mainstream that have leather and non-leather lines." She says, "Personally, my favorite companies are the ones that are all-vegan and I think those are the ones you should go out of the way to support whenever possible."
Vegan shoe stores have been spreading across the country. "If you search it out, I think they are there," Erica says. But if you do not live near a store dedicated to non-leather footwear, she emphasized that the best way to get more vegan shoes is to spread the word and increase the demand. "When we first opened we'd go to shoe shows and we'd say, ‘We want vegan shoes,’ and people would look at us like we had 10 heads. But now when you go to shoe shows, everyone knows what a vegan shoe is. So I think just keep demanding it and people will provide it."
What's Erica's dream shoe? "Both my sister and I have pretty simple taste," she says. "I guess I'm always on the lookout for the perfect worn-in leather- looking boot. That's something I would like to see someday."
MooShoes is located on the Lower East Side of New York City. You can also shop online at mooshoes.com.