Creating a green brand wasn’t the goal when Sandra Canselier founded Coclico more than 10 years ago. But over the past three years, lessening the women’s line’s impact has become essential to her plan.
A French expat and third-generation shoemaker, Canselier started the label in 2000 to bring her personal aesthetic — modern, clean design — to consumers. The next year, she opened a 600-sq.-ft. branded store on Mott Street in New York’s Nolita neighborhood that also stocked footwear by Robert Clergerie, Chie Mihara and Rachel Comey. (An e-commerce site carrying the same mix debuted in 2006.)
Today, the 55-style line is sold in roughly 100 accounts in the U.S., including Endless.com, Louis Boston and Gimme Shoes in San Francisco, as well as 50 accounts in Europe and 10 in Australia and Asia. Coclico, which retails for between $300 and $400, sold 22,000 pairs last year and expects a 10 percent increase for 2011.
“[Coclico] is definitely a brand that is an Endless customer favorite,” said Tracy Ogden, a spokeswoman for Endless.com. “Not only is the design unique, they often have a color palette that is hard to find.”
But today, Coclico isn’t the same brand it was when it was founded. Three years ago, Canselier and designer Lisa Nading decided to shake things up.
According to Nading, who joined in 2006, the two women had been collaborating on the collection for a few seasons before the idea of creating environmentally thoughtful product became more important. While reading pioneering sustainability work “Cradle to Cradle,” both were inspired by the book’s approach. “I was really taken by the idea that we could take on that responsibility as [footwear producers],” Nading said.
A large part of the challenge, though, was maintaining the brand’s signature style. “People have an expectation that there’s a certain look and way of being an eco company,” Nading said. “What we really wanted to explore was not being part of that stereotype. The style and the visual has all been very much in the forefront of our thinking, and the materials have to follow.”
To lessen their environmental impact, Nading and Canselier have simplified the manufacturing process, expanded their use of a California construction that eliminates the need for insoles and incorporate recycled cork for a wedge heel instead of wrapping a plastic core with a cork outsole. Natural and renewable resources also are key: Nading cited organic linen and jute as important materials for the spring ’12 collection. Coclico also is committed to using leathers from third-party environmentally certified tanneries or from tanneries that focus on vegetable tanning and are local to the brand’s Majorca, Spain, factories.
And the factories themselves are central to the brand’s green mission and identity. “We hope our customers who love the beauty of the line will also appreciate the fact that their … shoes are gentle on the earth and made by people who are paid a living wage,” Canselier said.
In the coming seasons, the designers will continue to try to pare down. “Fewer materials is always a valuable, interesting way to go,” said Nading. They also continue to look for new supplies and options, including a biodegradable leather available in both the quantity and the quality they want, as well as at a price that’s within reach. Another challenge is finding less-harmful adhesives. “Fewer [glues], that would be the future for us. It would be great to get to that point to have a shoe that could be totally deconstructed and recycled and reused,” said Nading.
But even as the company grows and expands its sustainable initiatives, Canselier said that maintaining the core fashion edge will be key.
“Sustainability is crucial to our integrity as brand. However, fashion and quality are the most essential elements in the Coclico collection,” she said.
Being able to strike that balance is something retailers said they respect. Kate McGregor, owner of the two Kaight eco-boutiques in Manhattan and Brooklyn, N.Y., said her green-focused customers have been drawn to the brand for the three years she’s carried it. “The quality is really exceptional, and they have a good message with their story,” she said. “Coclico is always very ahead of the trends and offers a very interesting perspective. They’re just beautiful shoes.”