First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Elizabeth Thomas James: Thankfully, we are all healthy (knock on wood!) and hanging in there. It is a trip to how COVID up-ended the world. But all you can do is roll with the change.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Taylor + Thomas.
Elizabeth Thomas James: I started my career life working in the music industry, eventually running the video department for the world’s largest independent record label. It was a great experience; I got to work with some amazing artists. But after 10+ years in the business, I realized that I wanted – needed – to do something more fulfilling creatively, and that was working towards a greater good. Taylor + Thomas is just that – marrying my passion for art and design with sustainability and animal welfare.
It had been a long-time dream of mine to start a vegan shoe company. As a vegan, I was still wearing leather shoes because I just could not find vegan shoes that I actually wanted to wear. None were luxury enough, or stylish enough, or comfortable enough, or eco-friendly enough. When I hit my wall working in the record industry, I decided to leave that career and pursue my dream, which started with learning how to make shoes.
I met my business partner, Jessica Taylor Mead, in a footwear design class. Over the course of the class, we realized that not only did we have similar design aesthetics, but we both wanted to start our own shoe line and make our mark on this world. I wanted to do a vegan line, and Jess wanted to do a luxury line – so we married the two and Taylor + Thomas was born.
How does Taylor + Thomas innovate?
Elizabeth Thomas James: Sustainability and ethics are the ethos on which we built our business – ethics to people, planet, and animals.
It gave us the unique ability to build sustainability and innovation into every aspect of the business – we look at it from the origin of the design all the way to shipping the final product. We looked at every part of the shoe-making process and asked ourselves, “how can we do it better?” First and foremost, though, our company’s initial concept is to reduce the environmental impact of the footwear industry by not using leather, which is the most polluting material used by the fashion industry and obviously the cruelest. We are constantly researching and sourcing the new innovative leather-alternative materials, and there have been some amazing new ones as of late.
As we say: Taylor + Thomas bridges conscious consumption with elevated taste. A luxury brand is driven by a responsibility to the health of our planet and the people and animals who inhabit it today and for generations to come.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Elizabeth Thomas James: The coronavirus has definitely had an impact on our business. In the beginning, our production got shut down in Italy, so we decided not to finish and not release that new collection. Sales initially went down – because luxury shoes are not exactly a necessity when you’re staying home and working over Zoom. But things have gradually picked back up, and we are working on some more casual, comfortable designs to adjust to this new normal in daily life.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Elizabeth Thomas James: Having to pair back and pair down was a difficult decision, but ultimately the right one for the times.
An important lesson learned is not to try to force a round peg into a square hole – you have to stay fluid, re-evaluate, and pivot when needed.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety, how do you project yourself and Taylor + Thomas in the future?
Elizabeth Thomas James: To deal with stress and anxiety, I love yoga, I love being outside (safely!), and I love walking my dogs. Staying connected with friends and family is also so important during these trying times.
As far as protecting myself and my company in the future, I think it’s rolling with the punches kinda thing. Everything is so fluid and can change from day to day, so staying centered, staying grounded, and staying sane will help you to make the best decisions as they’re needed.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Elizabeth Thomas James: We launched our company 3 years ago, and ever since then, so many more eco and vegan shoe companies have emerged. Which is great! The fashion industry needs to change to more sustainable and cruelty-free ways.
We’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing while also looking towards growth, obviously. We have so many loyal and avid fans of our classic yet fashion-forward designs; we’re confident that we will rise above the pack.
Your final thoughts?
Elizabeth Thomas James: Please wear a mask!!