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Archive for September, 2010

Elizabeth Olsen

One of the best aspects of having a shop is getting to meet the gifted designers who work so hard to push their industry in the direction of compassion and eco-awareness while remaining beautifully style-conscious.

I first stumbled upon an early OlsenHaus website before I opened my shop – while doing endless google searches on vegan products. It had some pictures of wildly stunning footwear.  I had to keep checking that yes, it did say Vegan on the website. I was unable to connect with anyone at this point but about 1 year after opening Cow Jones, I received a postcard in the mail from Elizabeth Olsen announcing her debut collection. I immediately responded and she graciously agreed to make the trek up north here to show me the collection in person. As it turned out, it was a truly serendipitous meeting. Two lovely women who I had recently become friends with (Donna & Dickse) stopped by that day to visit – and with them were Chloe Jo Davis (Girlie Girl Army ) Joshua Katcher (The Discerning Brute), Jeremy Davis and another friend of theirs – I think his name was Zoe. I was under the influence of some strong medication that day and so the day went by in a blur. But I do remember how lovely and kind everyone was, how much fun we had and what an incredible collection of shoes I saw.

Each season I am amazed at the stunning styles that Elizabeth has in her collections and I truly admire her emphasis on using sustainable materials.

Elizabeth has some pretty exciting things planned for the future. Read on and get a closer look at the creative force behind the footwear that you have come to love.

 You have been involved in the fashion world for many years now – what first drew you to this career?

Ever since I was a small child I’ve liked making things- whether it was a collage, paintings, sculptures, anything, I love to create, and the joy I saw it brought others, and the praise I received from my parents. I have also had a mission to help animals since I was 15 ( so for over 20 years now)…after High School- I wanted to go into fashion design, but got accepted into FIT’s Accessories program based on hats I was making in college.

  I have been in design, but I really don’t consider myself to be in “fashion”- I had an epiphany when I was about 20, and very depressed, came the vision that I would create a very successful vegan shoe line- at the time I had no idea how to get from point A to B- ……….but I continued working as a designer/stylist/ creative director for many years- traveled, made money, but never really felt satisfied, or like I was doing enough to help animals- finally after not being able to take working for other people and meetings where design was discussed more than actually created- and the timing of after 20 years of being a vegetarian that I made the connection to be vegan-

I also remembered the epiphany I had years before. Everything I have learned, experienced, and studied about design, marketing, business, and the human condition and reactions to vegetarians and vegans has been put to good use in starting Olsenhaus, there are no doubts it is here to stay and run the course of transitioning other brands and people to veganism 

How do you see the role of fashion in an eco-life ?  

The role of fashion in an eco-life is a freedom of expression. Fashion that is environmentally conscious is not only an expression in an art form, but also taking into account the important issues that effects us all-our natural resources, the environment, air, water, land, the other beings of this earth. Basically eco-fashion is extremely important, because you are making a statement about your life.

 What have been some of the most positive experiences for you since starting your company?

 Positives:

The feedback from supporters, customers, people who are just learning about vegan life, and what it means.

The camaraderie of other people speaking about the same mission, helping our environment, and human health, by making the connection.

In the last 2 years I’ve seen acceleration in people’s awareness of how they live their life, the cause and effect of their choices and the impact we all have on the beings and environment of this planet.

 What have been some of the draw-backs ?

 I have a company to run, so I have a very busy hectic schedule, and all of the normal day-to-day things to do, but an immense amount of time is spent educating. That is not a draw back per se, but I did not realize, going in, how involved the educating process would be.

 What changes have you seen in the industry since your debut collection?

 More openness, more curiosity, and a lot less aversion to simply the word vegan.

An undeniable awareness to issues: animal’s rights and the environment.  These are affecting us all. You see the awareness daily from people reusing bags rather than taking plastic bags, to people shopping at vegan specific stores etc., the truth is spreading and naturally causing a growing demand in vegan footwear. The UK, Japan, and Germany are a step ahead of us here, they have a more universal understanding of what the word vegan means.  It’s not an alternative /hippy fringe choice. They see it as awareness and consciousness of what is actually going on- it’s a wakeup call. 

 You have really pushed the industry forward in your usage of eco-materials such as your faux-suede which is made from recycled TV monitors and the heels in your spring’11 collection which are made from recycled plastics. How do you discover these materials?  

 Through research, and keeping on top of the material industry to see what is going on, and through continuing to make the brand more well-known, the suppliers contact me.

 What would you like to have customers understand about the production of your line?

 That this is the new luxury, animal based fashion is outdated.

Footwear is highly technical and is actually a very expensive product to produce; fashion in general is an expensive industry to compete in.

  Also that there is also the story and message behind the line- that for me would be the only reason to create another footwear line- to make change in the world for those suffering- nature, animals and people.

 Where do you get your inspiration from for each collection?

 It differs, but it is always somewhere in the everyday.  When designing spring 2011 I had been spending time at my parents place in Florida.  I was inspired by the beach, by nautical design, and I also had business to attend to in Japan so this season was a combo of simplicity, Japan, the ocean.

 What eco clothing lines do you especially like? Which ones do you feel have a look that works well with your styles?

 Definitely Linda Loudermilk, Lara Miller, Mr Larkin, Stewart &  Brown

 What are some of your favorite styles (from any of your collections) that you find yourself reaching for time after time?

The Balance style shoe which I first used a few seasons ago has morphed slightly and has appeared in each season since. This fall it has morphed into Muse and Muse 2, for Spring 2011.

It is the most popular style with customers, because it has clean lines and even though it has a high heel it is comfortable. And the strap that goes over the ankle provides a lot of support.

 You were on The Fashion Show last year  – what was this like? Did you feel like the contestants were excited about using alternative textiles in the challenge?

 It was a great experience!  They were very psyched to do something different as they had been designing apparel the whole time.  The alternatives gave them greater room for creativity and introduced them to these materials that looked amazing as their designs. Overall I think it was eye-opening and thought provoking for them and the hosts of the show. I applaud the producers for contacting me for the show.

 Olsen Haus has a huge following in Japan – what do you attribute this to?

 Japan is a bit ahead of us here in the US in deciding the next fashion trend, and they like things that are designer-based, a little bit funky- fashion forward and have a story behind them. I think OlsenHaus offers them both the style they crave and the world of veganism is slowly catching on. 

 You have some amazing styles for children for Fall – how has this part of your line been received ?

 This is our biggest season for kids so far, but every season so far has been bigger than the last in general.  When in our showroom, people automatically gravitate to the children’s shoes first.

In the future we will expand further to have a full children’s collection

 Are you still considering doing men’s styles?

 Yes we want to launch into men’s, and more fully into childrens, also hand-bags and clothing-it’s all work in progress. The womens has been the main focus and I wanted to solidify the brands position, before branching out.

 I have been doing a lot of thinking lately on whether or not having the word “Vegan” on my storefront is a good thing or not (for business). You are truly out front with your messages about animals and the environment. How do you think this influences potential buyers?

 Having the word “vegan” in the logo and being up front and educational about the issues was a very conscious decision. Exposing the truth is really at the essence the main goal of the company, I don’t think I would have created the company, if there wasn’t this need, believe me it would have been a lot easier to stay a creative director and take the paychecks…

But having said this, I knew it was a risk, but I had to take it, and happily it has actually been what has drawn people in……

But for other companies, I think it has to be taken on a case by case basis…….there is no trick involved, but the public has a preconvieved notion of what a vegan is… so if it turns people off, or isn’t working for a brand/company, then- drop it, build the company and let people find out at their own pace and then reintroduce the word when you have the following.

 What influence do you think that Facebook, Twitter,etc., (social media in general) has had on the growth of your business ?

 It has a huge influence. I think it has a big influence on any business in this day and age, internet networking……

It is a great way to stay up to date with our customers, and do outreach with all sorts of information, daily, cheaply and fast…it also can have the effect of being on a more personal level with customers/buyers, etc….  If someone visits our website then sees we have facebook and twitter it is a great way for them to get to know us further and pass us onto their friends.

  If you had unlimited investment money, is there anything else that you would branch out into?

 Well we are working to make OlsenHaus a household name. If we had unlimited investment money we would veganize everything that we can, a lot faster.  Keep watching. Our next venture is a store front here in NYC, and my personal dream is put up vegan message billboards!

 

I’m so grateful to Elizabeth for taking the time for this interview and for providing such thoughtful answers – and of course, for creating such fabulous footwear. To learn more about OlsenHaus, check out their website –https://www.olsenhaus.com/ and their Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/pages/Olsenhaus-Pure-Vegan/56800612585

And their Facebook Page.

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