Why Designer Jean-Michel Cazabat Is Committed to Making Luxury Vegan Shoes

Two seasoned industry execs are attempting to rewire typical fashion norms. Veteran designer Jean-Michel Cazabat and former Theory SVP Tina Bhojwani have joined forces to create a sustainable, luxury footwear brand for men and women that is completely vegan.

Aera, the direct-to-consumer brand named after the Ancient Greek word meaning “to lift up,” launched with help from its third founder, investor Alvertos Revach, in May.

The company is focused on quantifying its carbon footprint, and in turn, identifying offset strategies for environmental impacts that come from shoemaking.

For instance, being vegan, Aera uses non-animal materials, so about half of are synthetic. To offset the use of plastic, the company has partnered with Plastic Bank, an organization that empowers disenfranchised communities to exchange any type of plastic for currency. Aera has also purchased 300 Water Restoration Certificates from the Bonneville Environmental Foundation, which is equivalent to 300,000 gallons of water restored to critically dewatered rivers and streams in the United States.

“We wanted to show our industry that luxury fashion and sustainability can go hand in hand,” Bhojwani said. “Our goal is not to stop until we are as eco-friendly as possible.”

Aera Vegan Pump
Aera’s vegan Amelia pump with patchwork-python effect.

The co-founders also are determined not to lose any product quality during their pursuit.

“Ultimately, people are spending their money on products they like. We could have the best mission in the world but if the product doesn’t resonate, then the mission falls to the side,” Bhojwani explained.

The made-in-Italy footwear retails from $295 to $495 and features classic silhouettes including pumps, ballerinas and boots.

Cazabat described the collection’s design as “timeless, seasonless and modern. … We don’t want people to say this shoe was great two years ago, but it’s not today’s sort of style. They are shoes that will forever be in fashion.”

Bhojwani and Cazabat say they believe that while the product always comes first, ensuring that everyone in the chain of production makes living wages is top of mind as well.

“We’re trying to show the industry that you can look at the people and the planet, and still [be] profitable. Imagine if every company looked at their business this way?” Bhojwani said. “We want to set a new standard for our industry.”

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