Supporting Independents: Why Sustainability is Still Key For Carlotha Ray Designer Mariela Schwarz Montiel

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic fallout, the businesses of young, emerging and independent designers are likely to be the most vulnerable. In a new series, FN will spotlight these creatives to learn how they are adjusting to a new way of working and living.

The pandemic dealt Mariela Schwarz Montiel a cruel blow. Having launched for spring ’20 with Onward Luxury Group, she was already stocked at Takashimaya in Japan, Le Bon Marché in Paris and online in the U.S. with Shopbop. “We were in an amazing position,” she said of her new sustainable flip-flop label Carlotha Ray. “We had an installation at Bon Marché next to luxury labels like Chanel, Dior and Sergio Rossi where we were selling 10 to 20 pairs of sandals a day when it was still winter,” she added.

But Bon Marché was one of the first stores in the French capital to close its doors.

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Montiel responded swiftly, though, pivoting her strategy practically overnight. She flipped her focus to the digital to communicate with customers and continue the storytelling approach fundamental to her label.

The scalloped silhouettes and delicate perforations of her shoes are inspired by porcelain and the filigree metal architecture in the garden of her Limoges home.

But whereas she’d previously explained this via physical installations, she began creating film and images for her social media to bring them to life for a digital audience. The idea generated such a positive response that she’ll continue to use the medium.

Going forward, she plans to do photo and video shoots at her Italian factory once it reopens next month. The focus will be on revealing some of her manufacturing processes: how 100 percent natural Madagascan rubber is blended with mushrooms for a more spongy texture, colored with egg shells and herbs and scented with essential oils made from lily of the valley and rose.

Montiel firmly believes that sustainability will become increasingly important to consumers as we exit confinement and enter the next phase. This has encouraged her to take her eco-friendly credentials to the next level.

Her goal is to work with the OLG’s new research laboratory division creating new materials. “I want to make the shoes fully compostable,” she said. Her mantra? “Be what you are, but even more.”

She’s also using the downtime productively to work on a bigger picture project. The designer is in talks with major luxury hotel groups about supplying her new fall ’20 eco-satin slippers for their guest rooms instead of the more accustomed disposable kind.

Quarantine has taught her to slow down. “In the future I definitely won’t be traveling as much as I did before,” she said. “I’ve been really enjoying the simple things like cooking for my children.” She’s half Paraguayan so her latest recipe is a traditional corn soufflé made with egg whites and cheese to remind her of home.

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