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  • The Bendy Shoe: An eco friendly comfort shoe

    We are SO proud of this new project. Finally a shoe that is cute, comfortable and ethical. We are still on track to launch this project at the end of the summer. Click here to get on the list to be notified with the Bendy become available for pre-sell.

    BENDY CREATIVE 1260 X 996marysue | Indie Shoe Blog for Women


  • The Bendy Shoe: coming soon

    Ashbury Skies is proud to present the Bendy shoe project. We set out to craft a modern, comfortable shoe that is not in conflict with the health of the people making them and one that does not have a large footprint (pardon the pun) on the planet.  Part sneaker, part flat, it is made from four simple components: a flexible bottom, soft leather, thread, and a cushioned footbed. We want to put you into these seriously comfortable, well-made shoes.This will be a cut to order (think- less waste) crowd funding adventure.  Visit the campaign HERE to learn more about this innovative new project and be notified when the Bendy becomes available for pre-sell. Early supporter discounts will be offered for those who sign up now. Let’s start the revolution of rethinking fast-fashion.

    The bendy shoemarysue | Indie Shoe Blog for Women

  • The Bendy, by Ashbury Skies

    It all started with a super comfortable yet fashionable shoe that could be worn all day. One for navigating the comfort-style thing. We knew a flexible bottom, buttery soft leather and cushioned footbed were key components. But we also knew a low C02 footprint would make this like no shoe ever made. To learn more about our innovate shoe and how you can be notified when the Bendy become available for pre-sell, click here

    an ethically made shoemarysue | Indie Shoe Blog for Women

  • Does made in America matter? (spoiler alert, yes it does, but it has nothing to do with patriotism)

     an ethically made shoe


    In my journey to create the Bendy: a shoe with a conscience, I read a lot about ethical fashion and researched ways on how I could create a shoe with less impact on the planet. Ethical fashion is a growing movement right now, but there are very few options in shoes for the conscious consumer.  To take this on one needs to look at many aspects of a product. Having worked in fashion for years I have seen firsthand, the ecological and labor-rights violations running rampant in Asia factories. So I started by looking at the manufacturing process. I knew I wanted to make the Bendy in a safe place for workers and for the environment. I asked myself, could I make a shoe that is ethically made, high quality, fashionable and made in America?

    In my research, I came across an article in Fast Company that reported on a trend of companies starting to manufacture in America again.  These were businesses drawn to making products in the US due to, low minimums, short lead times and higher quality. This all sounded great, but in the shoe business, I had not seen this catching on. Nevertheless, it was good to know that I was not crazy and some other like-minded people existed. Curiously they did not mention anything about environmental benefits to the planet which seemed pretty obvious to me.

    America has an ethical leg up

    It was evident to me that made in America had an ethical leg up because to do business here, one is required to have a baseline standard for labor and environmental rights. We have national, state and local laws in place that regulate how workers are treated: minimum wages, overtime, and safety. Also, laws regulate waste processing, use of chemicals, water usage and recycling. Many of these things don’t exist overseas.  All of us in fashion read with horror about the factory in Bangladesh, in 2013, collapsing on top of workers. Risky workplace conditions still exist throughout Asia. I know this first hand because I held senior positions in shoe manufacturing for many years for large fashion retailers and traveled to overseas factories on many occasions.

    Now on to the next hurdle. Could I find a place to make the Bendy in the US?  After a mass exodus in the last 50 years away from manufacturing here, were there any shoemakers left?  And if so, could they make our type of shoe that requires a lot of hand stitching?  Had any skilled artisans and ethical, responsible makers survived?  US sweatshops are well publicized. I surely did not want any part of that for the Bendy.

    Finding a smart, experienced shoemaker

    Truth be told, yes, you can find it, and I found it pretty quickly. Granted, I did sourcing for a living for years, but I ended up finding a great manufacturer in my own state of California. This factory has been making high-quality, specialized shoes and handbags for almost a decade now. The owner is a smart, experienced shoemaker.  Shoe-making is difficult, and a good manufacturing partner must know construction, fit and materials.  A small change to any one of these things can impact fit, yield, cost, and efficiency. After my first meeting, I was very encouraged. The owner and his team understood my vision. I had found my maker.

    The next hurdle was the price. Could I make a shoe that would be competitively priced in the US? Our research found that women liked the idea of made in the us,  but were only willing to pay slightly more. The answer was yes, and mainly because we designed the Bendy with only 4 components and a very straight forward construction.  This makes for less labor, so pricing came in our target range.

    Proudly support a community of shoemaker in LA

    So, yes, made in America does matter and it has more to do with the environment, higher quality, shorter lead-times, and better working conditions, than patriotism. The Bendy will be made in sunny California. Our plan is to establish a direct, long-term relationship with our factory. We can ensure that fair wages, safe working conditions, and no child labor is used in making the Bendy. We proudly support a community of shoemakers in Los Angeles. We think how things are made should matter as much as making money. By making our shoe in California, we are supporting our state and our planet.

    modern eco shoe by Ashbury Skies


    To learn more about the Bendy, click here.

    Mary Sue Papale is the co-founder of Ashbury Skies and the Bendy: a shoe with a conscience. She is based in San Francisco.



  • How a purple pond inspired me to create a shoe with a conscience

    modern eco shoe by Ashbury Skiesmarysue | Indie Shoe Blog for Women


    It happened in the ’80s—I can’t remember the exact year. I was traveling to Asia every three to four months for business trips as a production manager for Esprit, an apparel and shoe company then based in San Francisco. It was my dream job. My values were closely aligned with those of the forward-thinking company and, like most young women t the time, I coveted its unique clothing, shoe, and bag designs. Esprit went beyond fashion by bringing awareness about environmental issues and other progressive ideas through a lecture series offered to employees. The talks covered issues that this young woman from Nebraska had never heard anyone speak of. Leading California environmentalists told stories of tree spiking to prevent logging in the California redwoods. Another speaker enlightened us about irresponsible corporations tearing through our natural resources like a chainsaw cutting through butter. Gloria Steinem spoke on her crusade for women’s rights. And the gospel singers from Glide Memorial Church, in the Tenderloin of San Francisco, sang their hearts out for us one day, expressing spiritual passion. It was quite the esprit de corps.

    Esprit was like most U.S. companies in the ’80s that had discovered the lure of cheap labor in China. Overseas apparel and shoe manufacturing was booming for this reason. It was not clear to me at the time, but this was the beginning of mass consumerism and fast fashion, which would roar on for decades. Greenhouse gases emitted from these businesses have ended up contributing heavily to global warming. As the years wore on and I traveled more and more, I started putting the pieces together and saw this catastrophe unfolding. It did not take a scientist to see that the air and water pollution in southern China was worsening, and the Western appetite for the latest and greatest in apparel, shoes, and electronics was fueling it. And there was no end in sight.

    Visiting the tannery in China

    It happened on one of my first trips to China. We were in Guangzhou, the major sprawling port city northwest of Hong Kong, visiting a tannery that was making kidskin leather. Our agent had found a British expatriate who had a tannery in China and specialized in these small skins that resulted in soft, beautiful leather. The skins took color really well, and we had developed a collection of brightly colored sandals. We arrived by ferry from Hong Kong and took a two-hour car ride on a mostly two-lane bumpy dirt road, hoping to see the completed skins. After our stamp of approval, they would be sent to a local shoe factory for production. We had never worked with this tannery, so we needed to make sure the finished skins were at an acceptable quality level before they shipped. When we arrived, the quirky Brit met us in tall rubber boots and a dirty apron that hit at his knees. He was covered in soot. The place seemed unorganized. With only a handful of employees, it was a small, mom-and-pop–like operation, and not in a good way. This tannery was not the well-oiled machine we had hoped for. And the skins were not ready for our inspection.

    The purple pond

    In our business, when deliveries were at risk, we Americans had a reputation for ugly outbursts. So the Brit got a raging rant from our agent. He made some excuses and said he needed more time to complete the skins. Things finally settled down between the two men, and the Brit took us on a tour of the tannery to show us that the order was at least in process. We saw some skins being dyed lavender and some lavender skins drying. In a perfect English accent, he assured us that he would make good on the order but just needed a few more weeks. He then led us to the back of the building with a large window, through which I saw a small pond. Something immediately felt wrong. I noticed the pond was purple. This guy had absolutely no health or safety procedures to protect the workers or the environment, as he was dumping dangerous chemical waste into a pond behind the building. Both men gazed at the purple pond and laughed. The Brit chuckled and said that tomorrow it would be red.

    A disregard for the environment was going strong

    I did not say a word when the soot-covered man and our agent joked about the purple pond. Inside I was horrified. I was not comfortable enough in my position at that young age to take a stand. But I never forgot it.

    I later came to learn that this was not the only colorful pond, lake, or waterway in southern China. A blatant disregard for the environment was going strong. I would like to think that these types of practices don’t exist anymore, but I can’t say for sure.

    As the years rolled on and my career advanced, I ended up a vice president of production for Esprit. That job catapulted me into other senior positions in merchandising and buying in fashion footwear and accessories. All of the jobs I had were fueled by America’s desire for fashion. I was responsible for bringing to market the latest runway trends and the must-haves, seen on the hottest street-style influencers. Across America young women were heading to malls with groups of friends on the hunt for the freshest new designs to define their personal style. I was a cog in the wheel that made this happen. Some days I would convince myself that when my career was over, I would somehow find a way to give back and make up for being a part of this reckless cycle.

    Side stepping the craziness and starting my business

    In 2011 I did finally sidestep from the craziness of large, multi chain retailers. Yvette Turner, a colleague of mine whom I greatly respected, and I founded Ashbury Skies, a highly curated website for small, independent shoe designers. Our shoe collection is like no other. We carry unique, quirky brands that stand out from others in the online shoe space.  What was missing from our assortment, however, was any line with a conscience. Honestly, this is hard to accomplish. I knew this better than anyone—but nevertheless we persisted in our mission. Yvette and I leveraged our industry knowledge and tapped into our network built up over decades.

    Creating a shoe with a lower C02 footprint

    Through a year of research and collaboration, we developed the Bendy, a shoe that is not in conflict with the health of the people making them and has significantly less environmental impact.

    modern eco shoe by Ashbury Skiesmarysue | Indie Shoe Blog for Women

    We will not misguide anyone and say that the Bendy has zero impact on our planet—only going barefoot does that. What we do have is a simple construction of great materials made by some very kind and talented folks in downtown Los Angeles. Our tannery is a leading player in ethical, responsible tanning. Making the Bendy in the U.S. allows for less transportation, lower CO2 emissions, and fair wages paid to California workers, keeping it right in our backyard.

    Life is full of irony: to think that those provocative environmentalists back at Esprit were speaking to a woman who would play a role in the explosion of fast fashion and mass consumerism as we know it today—an industry with practices that we now know are leading causes of dangerous greenhouse gas emissions. Yet the words spoken by the provocative environmentalists stayed with me all those years like a knot in the pit of my stomach. And now, this reformed, fast-fashion expediter can share her story, present an alternative, and encourage other women and men to join in our revolution of rethinking fast fashion.

    To be notified when the bendy become available for pre sell, click here

    Mary Sue Papale is the cofounder of Ashbury Skies and the Bendy: a shoe with a conscience. She is based in San Francisco.

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