Julie Brown wants footwear styles to get greener.
The entrepreneur’s story is familiar: She started her eco-friendly women’s shoe line after her own searches for sustainable — and fashionable — footwear turned up few options. The result is Julie Bee’s, a made-in-America, eco-sensitive collection that launched online for holiday ’12. It delivers its first wholesale collection next month.
“I couldn’t find anything I was really drawn to,” Brown said. “I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, but I’m passionate about [the cause] and what’s happening in the field.”
Working with Creative Director Jessica Langdon, Brown said she endeavored to create everyday classics. And the spring ’14 collection is the most extensive so far, with 10 styles ranging from $199 to $450. To reduce their environmental impact, the pumps, flats and sandals use vegetable-tanned leathers and 100 percent organic linens and cottons. The line also makes use of vintage, recycled and deadstock fabrics and leathers.
“It shows the breadth of what we can do — from casual to what you can wear to work and styles that would actually be appropriate for a wedding or black tie,” said Brown, who left a career with the Department of Homeland Security in Washington, D.C., to get her MBA at Hult International Business School before beginning Atlanta-based Julie Bee’s.
All of the brand’s styles are made in two factories outside Los Angeles, where Langdon can personally oversee production and avoid shipping supplies and product back and forth overseas.
After first debuting on its own e-commerce site, Julie Bee’s has soft-launched for fall ’13 on Amazon.com and Opensky.com, and will deliver its first orders next month to independent boutiques including Scarpa in Charlottesville, Va. And Julie Bee’s will attend its first trade show next month, at The Atlanta Shoe Market.
Here, Brown sounds off on her biggest style influences and next green goals.
What is the inspiration behind Julie Bee’s?
JB: The design idea is shoes you can wear to work, for cocktails, out for brunch — something that is very versatile but that has a fun, cute flair and makes an outfit pop. I love interior design and find inspiration there, from the materials used and how a room flows, and Jessica is inspired by things from the 1920s, the turn of the century and the details of shoes. [The line is what happens] when you mix all those things together. We want to make shoes that bring together an outfit.
How do you differentiate your line from others in the women’s fashion and sustainable spaces?
JB: We’re changing how people perceive things that are made in America and making them highly desirable and luxurious. There are nice details we’ve been able to offer while being eco-friendly. And by incorporating vintage pieces, we’re automatically limiting the quantities. That adds something for our customers, to know that they’re some of the only people [to have a shoe].
Why are the shoes in the line named after places, like New York and Atlanta?
JB: We take inspiration from the women living in those [cities]. Not to generalize, but you definitely find some personalities in those places, and some of that is intertwined in the shoes. But customer feedback determines what we want to do for next season. There are a lot of women out there who don’t wear flats or don’t wear high heels, so we want to provide options. It’s been exciting to hear feedback.
How do you source the different elements for the line?
JB: [We look for] vintage and recycled pieces, things that were excess runs and leftovers, and incorporate those into our designs. [Where we find them] varies. The team looks for things that will have enough for several size runs. It’s all over the country. [We find] some stuff here in Atlanta, some in California and New York. You find them in fun places, and you never know when they’re going to appear.
What are your plans in the green space?
JB: Finding the right kind of leather is one of our biggest challenges. There’s so much out there, but so much of it isn’t eco-friendly. But I know there are lots of people out there doing what we’re wanting [for the line]. One of the things I’m excited about is creating our sustainability guidelines and having them in the next few months for the general consumer. And we’ll be looking at how [suppliers] are processing their leathers and where they are getting them, as well as looking into alternative energies and how they’re treating their [water].