The Surprising Reason Maria Cornejo Left Shoes Off the Runway

There was something distinct on the NYFW runway this week at Zero + Maria Cornejo: The models walked on Sept. 12 without shoes.

While it’s not a groundbreaking decision to leave shoes out of a collection (say, for aesthetic purposes), designer Maria Cornejo’s reason for doing so is.

“We were focused on the sustainability and our eco-garments this year, and it just seemed like spending so much money on making shoes just for the show was wasteful,” she said. “We wanted to do it as simply as possible.”

Cornejo, who is a part of the CFDA + Lexus Fashion Initiative, has used the program in the past several months to refocus her collection on being less wasteful, more sustainable and more creative. Cornejo did create a line of footwear for the spring ’17 collection (which has been well received by buyers), but she decided it wasn’t worth the waste — or expense — to make and ship shoes that would be worn once for seven minutes.

Zero + Maria Cornejo
Maria Cornejo on the New York Fashion Week runway for spring ’17.
CREDIT: REX Shutterstock.

The sandals and mules from the spring ’17 line are at her showroom, Cornejo said, and the line utilizes vegetable dyes and natural materials. “It was a real gamble, and I was scared to do it,” said the designer. “People want more and more and more. But it’s been so well received.”

Since joining the Lexus incubator, Cornejo and her staff have forced themselves not just to be focused on selecting materials and processes that are more sustainable, but also focusing more on wasting less.

“We want to find different ways to be sustainable. It’s about working smarter and seeing what you have left over and what could work and being creative within that,” she said. “It is an interesting challenge for us.”

While Cornejo said she doesn’t think she’s any kind of “hero” for sustainable design, as she’s still learning herself, she admits it’s been a way to refocus her designs on real, wearable, beautiful clothing and shoes — and to strip away the excess of the runways. The designer has been looking solely at the simplicity of the clothes and shoes as a refreshing palette cleanser for fashion week. Cornejo loves the shoes in her collection, but is reminding herself that fashion doesn’t have to be just excess.

“Half our job is to make this desirable. Nobody is going to buy it because its sustainable — they’ll buy it because they love it,” she said.

Zero + Maria Cornejo spring '17 collection.
Zero + Maria Cornejo spring ’17 collection.
CREDIT: REX Shutterstock.

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