Susi Studio Makes Vegan Shoes Stylish Enough For Red Carpets

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Susi Studio is a new Los Angeles-based footwear company specializing in vegan shoes. Before you flash on organic tofu for your feet, look at the sexy, gleaming results that founder and creative director Bianca Moran is able to achieve with recycled products and natural fibers. Susi means “key” in Filipino and the idea is to unlock responsible approaches to fashion and style. I asked Moran about her new venture and why we need our shoes to be as sustainable as our kale and carrots.

Susi Studios designer and founder Bianca Moran

Susi Studios designer and founder Bianca Moran

For the uninitiated, please explain: what exactly is vegan footwear?

The vegan philosophy is simple: You can live a fulfilling and stylish life without partaking in inhumane practices. Our cruelty-free mission embraces how we interact with the planet by eliminating the use of animal-derived materials in our collections including, though not limited to, leather, suede, wool, and fur. As an advocate of social responsibility, we exercise mindful design and production by using sustainable, natural fibers in our footwear like canvas and hemp, and also recycled polyurethane made from old plastic bottles.

Susi's vegan shoes aren't your mother's Birkenstocks.

Susi’s vegan shoes aren’t your mother’s Birkenstocks.

What’s the big challenge in creating cruelty-free shoes in a way that doesn’t compromise on style?

The biggest challenge is breaking stereotypes of what vegan footwear is or can be. For decades consumers have pictured vegan shoes as awkward, ugly sandals; that it can’t be stylish or trendy. We’re ready to prove them wrong with our contemporary and versatile designs.

Tell us about a shoe you’re really proud to have in your collection.

I’m really proud of the Emerson, our patent faux leather brogues. Think Katherine Hepburn! It’s practical without compromising that feminine touch, and it’s made with recycled polyurethane from repurposed plastic bottles.

The Emerson's patent leather isn't really leather.

The Emerson’s patent leather isn’t really leather.

For a girl who’s always on the go, I don’t feel the need to bring an extra pair of shoes when time is scarce between meetings and dinners; it’s great for day-to-night dressing. I also love how easy it is to personalize the Emerson to match your personal style; it breaks expectations for who can wear the shoe. As a high-heel lover, it’s one of my favorite pieces in the collection.

How does Susi Studio reflect the sensibility of Los Angeles?

You could say we embody the fun and lighthearted sensibility of Los Angeles. We know who we are, and we believe in our mission without taking ourselves too seriously. I was originally planning on launching the company in New York City, but at the insistence of a friend and colleague, I made a trip to Los Angeles to reconsider Susi’s home base. I was impressed by how much the vegan lifestyle was embraced and accepted by the city, and at the same time, surprised by how much great mid-century architecture there is here, which also influenced my designs and brand development. To say I’m a fan would be an understatement. Launching my company in Los Angeles was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Animals love Susi.

Animals love Susi.

Susi Studio is female-owned and female-operated. What differences do you notice with a women-run business?

The biggest difference has to do with the work environment. We’re all deeply aware of how in this modern

day and age, women still need to work ten times harder than men do to prove their worth. It’s because of this that we support each other and push each other’s boundaries to be our best. Really, we empower each other to trust our instincts and work as a team.

So, what’s your earliest fashion memory?

My mother was a children’s fashion designer, and she loved dressing me up for school. She would stage little fashion puppet shows for me every morning from the time I was in preschool. She would coordinate a few different outfits and sing little musical numbers for each look. Each outfit had a voice and personality of its own. Despite never being a morning person, I loved waking up and getting dressed for school. My mother made it incredibly exciting for me to express myself through fashion.

Give me a quick list of your fashion role models, muses, or inspirations.

Music and film are my inspirations. I love getting lost in a good story. I love the drama of Hitchcock films like Vertigo and To Catch A Thief and have always found French New Wave cinema incredibly romantic, with sassy and stylish front ladies like Anna Karina, Jane Birkin, and Francois Hardy. How could you not fall in love with the look and style? I also grew up listening to a lot of punk and have always been fascinated by the aesthetic. The Clash, David Bowie, The Jam, and Minor Threat always find their way to my playlists.

Susi launched with something called the Start Today campaign. Tell me about that.

Start Today is a campaign centered on the mission to encourage women of all walks of life to take the first step to pursuing their passion. A component of the campaign is a series of two-minute videos giving a glimpse into the lives of those who truly embody the spirit of Susi. We begin with several women giving selflessly back to the community. That includes New York-based Erin McKenna of Erin McKenna’s Bakery, L.A.-based DJ and designer Allie Teilz, and San Francisco-based artist Lauren YS.

David Hochman Forbes

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