These aren’t your normal pumped-up kicks.
At Nisolo, every pair of handmade shoes comes with a “producer card,” which gives a quick peek into the life of the shoe’s creator. There’s a quote from the shoemaker, as well as a picture. Customers can make an actual connection with the person who made the product, which is impressive, since all of Nisolo’s shoes are made in Trujillo, Peru, roughly 3,000 miles away from Nashville.
“It’s the shoe capital of Peru,” says Nick Meyer, who helped launch the company in 2011. “There are 30,000 shoemakers in Trujillo, and they pass down their skills from generation to generation. The shoemakers have amazing talent. What they don’t have is a market, access to quality education or any kind of capital.”
Nick isn’t just reciting facts. He spent a year in Trujillo, volunteering for the same microfinance company as Nisolo’s founder, Patrick Woodyard. One day, while visiting a local businesswoman’s house, Patrick heard a hammering sound from the next room. He decided to check things out. What he found was a dirt-floored workshop, where the businesswoman’s husband was busy making a handcrafted, high-quality leather dress shoe—the sort of thing Patrick might’ve seen back home, in a high-end retail store.
“It just didn’t make sense to Patrick,” Nick says. “You look at the quality of those shoes, and you think, 'Why is this level of talent here, in a house with dirt floors, in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city?' There’s a big disconnect there.”
Nisolo was born out of a desire to diminish—maybe even erase—that disconnect. Located in an old industrial space on the eastern side of Germantown, the company works with 30 shoemakers in northern Peru, paying them a livable wage for their work.
In two short years, the company has made a big difference. Income levels for Nisolo’s shoemakers have risen by 400 percent. Two of the shoemakers have been able to send their sons to college for the first time in the families’ histories. Tiles have started to replace the dirt floors. One cobbler even added a second story to his home.
Things are cooking back in Nashville, too, where Nisolo is getting ready to roll out some new shoes this fall. There’s a lace-up wingtip Oxford for the men, and a new ankle bootie for the women. Nick says Zoe Cleary, another Nisolo co-founder and head of design and production, collaborates with the shoemakers and pays a lot of attention style and design. Sometimes, a shoe will go through 15 different prototypes before it’s ready for the public.
“Ultimately, we want it to be a quality product that people are excited about,” he explains. “The shoes look good. They feel good. And when people purchase them, that purchase can create jobs and sustainable livelihoods.”
Photos by Clark Brewer Photography, with styling by Caroline Brewer and models Pap + Chuck Shirock.