The ongoing pandemic is having a huge impact on the Fashion Industry. Large companies like Neiman Marcus, J. Crew and J.C. Penney have filed Chapter 11 and many more are on the verge of bankruptcy. Enormous debt, online sales failing to compensate for the lack of in store traffic and delayed or limited access to inventory due to quarantine in the countries where they manufacture (China, Italy and India) means brands big and small are left with nothing to sell and no way to generate income.
Harder hit are new brands tackling growing pains with the added burden of trying to make a difference. One such company is luxury vegan shoe and “110% sustainable” brand AERA.
AERA is a rare sustainable brand that creates luxurious, high quality shoes with sustainability in mind. Their philosophy is to create classic, season-less silhouettes, eschewing the model of fast fashion, instead offering timeless investment pieces at an attainable price point (their average price is $500).
Co-founder & CEO Tina Bhojwani, previously President of Dolce & Gabbana for North America, and a senior executive at Theory and DKNY, said “I reached a point in my life and career where it felt right to pivot and take a leap of faith using my experience to do something entrepreneurial with the dream of creating positive change in our industry. And, this happened at a time when I started to research and truly understand our industry’s social and environmental impacts….that was the moment I realized it was high time to re-think the existing business models.”
Luck brought Bhojwani and her former Georgetown classmate Alvertos Revach to LA at the same time where they connected and started talking. For 20 years, Alvertos had a beverage distribution company in Greece and in 2016 started a fund called Humble Holdings which invested in sustainable companies.
Shortly thereafter, Bhojwani ran into friend and iconic shoe designer Jean-Michel Cazabat while trying on shoes at Bergdorf Goodman. Cazabat had his own eponymous brand in 2000 as well as being the President of Stephane Kelian and creative director of Charles Jordan. “It was serendipitous that shortly thereafter I reconnected with a former Georgetown classmate, Alvertos as well as luxury footwear designer Jean-Michel, whom I had worked with in the past while at Theory. They were also at turning points for their individual reasons and we collectively saw an opportunity, or void in the market, for sustainable luxury footwear.” Cazabat credits the birth of his daughter for brining about a greater awareness of climate change and a concern for the future.
The three started working together and AERA was born.
Cazabat’s experience creating shoes was pivotal as was the decision to source and manufacture in Veneto, Italy, where there are small family owned businesses which have specialized in making shoes for centuries. Choosing to source and manufacture there supports the local artisans who are paid a living wage and work in safe conditions. Many brands source their material in one country, manufacture in another and then have to ship to the distributors/retailers which equates to a lot of carbon emissions. AERA works solely with Italian materials, suppliers and factories to minimize the transportation distance to the factories.
100% Luxury, 110% Sustainable
Their slogan is “110% sustainable” meaning they are giving more to the environment than they are taking. Their calculations are based on the results of a Life Cycle Assessment study conducted by SCS Global, a leading third party environmental certification agency. They scientifically measure all of the environmental impacts involved in making AERA shoes and then offset those impacts by investing in projects like Green Trees Reforestation to offset their carbon emissions and BEF Water Restoration certificates to offset their fresh water consumption, all by 110%.
AERA shoes and boots are made of natural and synthetic materials, half of which are recycled, all are vegan certified. Because synthetics create environmental problems they buy Social Plastic Collection Credits through the Plastic Bank, an environmental organization that keeps plastic out of the oceans and stops plastic from going into the oceans by employing people at the poverty level in third world countries.
No animal materials are used to make their shoes. Although leather is a natural material and is considered biodegradable (if not chemically processed) it is still controversial because live stock leads to an over-proportioned amount of green house gas emissions and significantly higher amounts of freshwater use which is why many brands are trying to find eco-friendly, vegan alternatives.
The brands rapid ascent is being quashed by the speed of the pandemic. They started the company in November 2018, launched their website and first collection in June of 2019 and now don’t know how they will pay for or access their next collection. Instead of going down the traditional paths of raising capital, the brand is currently holding an equity crowdfunding campaign and democratically looking for investments starting at $100 and up.
Become part of Aera's journey
SPUNJ's mission is to support brands who’s methods are regenerative–brands that give more than they receive from the environment. We encourage you to invest in Aera so they can continue to create beautifully, and consciously, crafted shoes.
(As of August 2020)
- Certified vegan, “110% sustainable”, luxury footwear, handmade in Italy
- Tapping into the $290B global personal luxury goods market
- 80% Online D2C / 20% Wholesale business model
- Scientifically measure and present all environmental impacts of each pair
- Then invest to offset all environmental impacts by 110%
- Co-founded and managed by fashion industry veterans
- $1.305M in investment to date