Meet the Maker: Taylor + Thomas

Taylor + Thomas is a female-founded sustainable, cruelty-free, luxury women’s shoe line that is designed in Los Angeles and handcrafted in Italy. Launched in 2017 by Jessica Taylor Mead and Elizabeth Thomas James, their mission is to create luxury footwear that's better for the planet, the animals and your wardrobe. 

What led you to start Taylor + Thomas

We (Jess and Liz) met in a footwear design class, and the connection was kismet. Not only do we share a common ground on personal styling, but we both recognized the need for the fashion industry to adopt more sustainable and cruelty-free practices. From the carbon emissions, water pollution, and waste production, to the treatment of animals and exploitation of the labour force – we knew we wanted to move above and beyond the fashion industry’s status quo.

So we founded Taylor + Thomas to bring revolutionary ideas and aesthetics to the luxury footwear industry by bridging conscious consumption with elevated taste, working to redefine luxury to mean quality, craftsmanship, and ethics. We are a luxury brand driven by a responsibility to the health of our planet and the people and animals who inhabit it, today and for generations to come.

How did you choose the name? 

Our brand name is our two middle names.  :)

How would you describe your products, and what makes them different?

Our shoes are our modern take on ‘60s and ‘70s-inspired classic designs.

We founded Taylor + Thomas on sustainability and veganism, but also luxury, so we worked very long and hard to source materials that met all those standards.  Our upper material is a water-based polyurethane (no chemicals or toxins are used to make it) that feels and behaves like a lambskin.  Our lining is 50% yellow dent, or corn, our suede detail is recycled plastic bottle micro-suede, our outsoles are recyclable rubber, and our heels are FSC-certified sustainably harvested beech wood.

We were also driven by a need for comfortable luxury shoes. As Coco Chanel said, “Luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it’s not luxury.” We sought out a sustainable memory foam insole material (made from castor beans and recycled rubber).

What stereotypes exist in your industry (and how are you breaking them)?

The biggest stereotype in our industry is that luxury must be leather, leather means luxury.  We are working to change this status quo.  We want to redefine luxury to mean quality, craftsmanship AND ethics.

Can you tell us more about where, how and by who your products are made? 

We design everything in Los Angeles, but then work with a small family-owned factory in Italy to produce the shoes. We have a close working relationship with the factory and visit a couple of times a year. Every shoe is meticulously handcrafted by highly skilled artisans, many of whose families have been in the footwear industry for generations.

Do you think movements like Fashion Revolution create enough pressure on big brands to change how they work – and what more should be done?

Creating change in long-established, larger corporations can be really tough. They are set in their ways, have the profit-margins they need to hit, don’t think outside the box. The more that we can do at our level to make sustainable and cruelty-free products successful, and in demand, the more pressure it will create for big brands to adopt similar practices – out of necessity. 

What’s your favourite product from your collection and why? 

That’s like trying to pick your favourite child!  ;) But if we have to choose just one…  the Debbie (named after Debbie Harry) is pretty great. It’s sexy yet comfortable – the 70mm heel makes it very wearable.

What changes have you had to make since you started – and which ones were the hardest?

We’re relatively young, so no big changes yet (knock on wood)!

Biggest highs and lows? 

One of our biggest highs was of course launching the company in August of 2018, but also we were recently featured on vogue.com and couldn’t have been happier. 

Lows… when a person doesn’t even want to have a conversation about why vegan shoes, why not leather shoes. That stubbornness can be frustrating and disheartening. 

What drives you, and where do you get your inspiration from?

We approach our design as storytellers, pulling inspiration from various places, so each season is a new journey while also being an evolution of our past. We are driven to create collections that are identifiably ours, while also being timeless designs built to stand the test of time. We want to push boundaries and challenge the status quo, all while offering the consumer beautiful shoes.

Perhaps it comes as no surprise that our main creative influence is strong female voices – artists, musicians, tastemakers, political activists. We revel in their creativity, freedom of expression, trail-blazing rebellion, and, of course, style. Much like these feminine muses, shoes take you on a journey, and we want our shoes to take people on theirs.

And, of course, we are always driven by our love of animals.

What other pioneering brands do you admire and why?

Well Stella McCartney is always one to admire for her cruelty-free advocacy at the luxury, grand-scale level that she is. Sydney Brown has also been working on vegan footwear for years now – she has done amazing things with sustainable textile development.

The next big thing in your industry is …

Taylor + Thomas!  ;)

If you were doing something other than this, what would it be? 

If I (Liz) weren’t working on this company, I would love to own a huge farm / sanctuary where I could take in and rescue animals in need, to give them a happy life full of the love and freedom that they deserve.

I (Jess) would probably still be doing something creative. I’m a designer and an artist by nature, I have to create things, it’s in my blood. 

What’s next for Taylor + Thomas?

We’re working on our SS ‘20 collection right now, which we’re really excited about. And after that it’ll be AW ‘20…  but in the near future we do also plan to branch out into bags and accessories. 

You can browse the Taylor + Thomas collection here.

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