We had a long distance interview with Liz Thomas James and Jess Taylor Mead, the co-founders of LA based shoe brand Taylor + Thomas. Their shoes are sought after not only for being fashionable and cool but for being vegan as well. They use innovative, sustainable and recycled materials to make them and give back by donating 1% of sales to 1% For The Planet. Plus, they offset their carbon emissions by partnering with Native Energy, a company that is pioneering regenerative agriculture.
SPUNJ: What prompted you to become a designer?
Liz: I grew up being creative – drawing, painting, photography, music. After working in the music industry for over 10 years, I realized that I needed to be doing something that was more creatively fulfilling, while also working towards a greater good. I had a long-time dream of starting a vegan shoe line, because I was vegan but still wearing leather shoes because I love fashion, and just couldn’t find non-leather shoes that were luxury enough, stylish enough, or comfortable enough. Taylor + Thomas is my dream realized – marrying my passion for art and design with sustainability and animal welfare.
Jess: I started sewing at an early age and was kind of a pipsqueak as a kid so I’d have to alter my clothing to fit so fashion became an obsession early for me. I knew I wanted to be a fashion designer since I was little, but it wasn’t until college that I really started to understand what drew me to this career. For me I like the psychology of fashion, the idea that, though seemingly superficial it has the ability to affect the way we feel, and you can tell a lot about what a person needs at the moment by the way they choose to dress themselves. For example, when a woman puts on a pair of heels –she instantly feels strong, sexy and powerful. A dress –she wants to feel pretty and feminine. A cozy old sweatshirt –she seeks comfort. As a designer I get to create those moments for people, the suit that landed you the job, the dress you wore to a first date, the shoes you traveled through Europe in, your favorite white t-shirt that you’ll never throw away. I get to play a hidden part in people’s lives and create products that bring people joy, comfort, confidence and so much more –and whether I’m designing shoes, clothing textiles or even a coffee mug I try to make the world a better place, one beautiful thing at a time.
SPUNJ: What made you move toward sustainability?
Liz + Jess: Sustainability and ethics are the ethos on which we built our business. This gave us the unique ability to build it 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, the initial concept behind our company 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. As we say: Taylor + Thomas bridges conscious consumption with elevated taste, a luxury brand driven by a responsibility to the health of our planet and the people and animals who inhabit it, today and for generations to come.
SPUNJ: Who or what is your biggest inspiration for designing?
Liz + Jess: With each collection that we design, we are always finding new inspiration, new muses. For example our first collection was dubbed “Artist in Studio” – it was a return to both of our artistic roots. Our second collection was dubbed “Louis in London” – as if King Louis XIV went to London in the swinging 60’s and 70’s. Our constant inspiration, however, is strong women and celebrating the trailblazers that they were, and are. Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, Jane Birkin, Talitha Getty, for example – all trendsetters and cultural icons.
SPUNJ: What is your favorite place?
Liz: I love my home, with my husband and my rescued pit bulls. But Maui is also a special place for me, I spent a lot of time there as a child and also with my husband.
Jess: I also love my home, and cuddling with my cats. But hands down Italy, my family was born there so it was where I’d spend most of my summers growing up. But Positano, in particular in most recent years has a huge chunk of my heart.
SPUNJ: What’s your most valued possession?
Liz: That’s a tough one… if you can count dogs as possessions, I’d say them. But if not, I’d have to say my childhood teddy bear, Dada. I still love to snuggle him every once in a while. 🙂
Jess: I’d say my vintage jean collection. I have this pair of vintage jeans I’ve been repairing for years now. Liz can attest to this 🙂 They are almost unwearable, but I just can’t toss them. And of course my cats.
SPUNJ: What piece of clothing or accessory have you owned the longest?
Liz: I have a vintage boy’s Levi’s jean jacket that I’ve had since middle school that still fits like a shrunken dream.
Jess: A pair of vintage ocean pacific corduroy shorts I’ve had since 5th grade. They were vintage when I bought them and I used to have to safety pin them so they would stay up and fold the waistband –but they still fit to this day (without the safety pin of course)
SPUNJ: What’s your greatest accomplishment?
Liz: I feel like starting this company, Taylor + Thomas, is one of my greatest accomplishments.
Jess: I would say the same thing.
SPUNJ: What would you change about the world today?
Liz: Oh man so many things… I guess if I had to choose just one I would turn the whole world vegan, so no animals would be farmed, killed, eaten, or worn by humans.
Jess: I agree with Liz, I think the concept of being cruelty-free, kind, considerate to every living thing (including the earth) is a practice we could all aspire to be better at.
SPUNJ: What do you want people to know about you?
Liz: I’m a rather private person. 😉
Jess: haha. I’m the opposite, I share (maybe too openly) my experiences and struggles in hope that it will make people feel that it’s ok to be who you are –we are all perfectly imperfect and unique walking this path of life. I try to practice acceptance and gratitude. I’m also an eternal optimist –sometimes to a fault.
SPUNJ: What are your plans for the future?
Liz + Jess: For our company, we have plans to expand our product line into accessories and ready-to-wear, and men’s and children’s down the road. We want to become the first entirely cruelty-free luxury fashion house.