Part II – Erica Kubersky
MooShoes, Inc. is a vegan-owned business that sells an assortment of cruelty-free footwear, bags, t-shirts, wallets, books and other accessories. MooShoes offers its services through an online store as well as in its lovely retail store in New York City, the first cruelty-free store of its kind in NYC.
Founded in 2001 by sisters and Queens natives, Erica and Sara Kubersky, MooShoes was originally located near the Gramercy Park section of Manhattan in a defunct butcher shop. After a brief period on Allen Street, MooShoes re-located to its current location at 78 Orchard Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
MooShoes is also home to a slew of rescued cats who were adopted from some of our favorite local organizations, many of whom hold adoptions days at our store from time to time. They’ve held many events at the store for many talented, generous individuals and organizations in the vegan community.
Caryn Hartglass: Hey everybody, I’m Caryn Hartglass! You’re listening to It’s All About Food, and this is the second part of our show on June 4, 2013. Thank you very much for joining me on this very beautiful day. Okay, we’re going to lighten it up a little bit. No more food politics. Or who knows, maybe we’ll get a little political, let’s see. But I want to being on my next guest, Erica and Sarah Kubersky of Mooshoes. Mooshoes is a vegan-owned business that sells an assortment of cruelty-free footwear, bags, t-shirts, wallets, books, and other accessories. It offers its services through an online store as well as its lovely retail store in New York City, the first cruelty-free store in New York City. It was founded by Erica and Sarah Kubersky, sisters and Queens natives. We’re going to talk a little bit about Mooshoes and a lot more. Thank you for joining me on It’s All About Food today!
Erica Kubersky: Hi Caryn, thanks for having us.
Caryn Hartglass: So I have both of you at the same time?
Erica Kubersky: No, you actually just have me, Erica.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, fine. I just wanted to make sure it was you. I thought it sounded like you, but I’m sure you two sound alike.
Erica Kubersky: We do sound alike.
Caryn Hartglass: I remember meeting you sand your sister way back when, probably around 2000?
Erica Kubersky: Yeah, I definitely remember. I was just reminiscing with Sarah how when we were first trying to launch Mooshoes, and we were having a lot of dinners, and at those dinners we met a lot of our long-time customers and friends. So it’s funny to be in touch, so many years later.
Caryn Hartglass: I was so impressed with you back then and I still am. You were both just young and ambitious and focused on having a vegan show store.
Erica Kubersky: You know – young, ambitious, naive!
Caryn Hartglass: So, my first question is: how did you both get passionate about having a vegan shoe store?
Erica Kubersky: We were just long-time ethical – first vegetarian and then vegan – for a long time. I’ve been vegetarian since I was 8 years old, and soon after that, of course I didn’t know everything, but someone told me, I think my brother, “You can’t be a vegetarian; your shoes are made out of animals.” From then on, I stopped wearing leather, and I just made my parents really crazy trying to buy non-leather shoes. So Sarah and I would always talk about how we wished there was just a non-leather place that we could go to, a place where we could go and shop without asking a million questions.
Caryn Hartglass: And who came up with the name Mooshoes?
Erica Kubersky: Sarah came up with the name Mooshoes. It just came to her one day, years before we opened.
Caryn Hartglass: While you were eating Chinese food?
Erica Kubersky: People always think that’s the case, but years before we even opened the business, we were saying, “We’re going to open Mooshoes!” So that was just the name of our dream.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, it’s not easy starting any business, and this one especially was very unique and very specialized. Probably when you started, the community wasn’t as big as it is today.
Erica Kubersky: Yeah, I mean, it has just grown so much. Community wasn’t as big, but definitely supportive. Even thought the community was smaller, I think they just came out in as large numbers as they possibly could, just to show their support. We have just seen it grow so much in terms of our customers, in terms of what is available, in terms of people’s general openness to it. When we first opened our store, people who didn’t know what vegan shoes were didn’t really want to know, thought it was just a silly idea. But now, years later, even people who aren’t 100% committed to buying vegan shoes are interested in what we sell and they’re interested in trying the product out.
Caryn Hartglass: So I have to make a disclaimer, and my disclaimer here is that I’m not benefiting at all from having you on this show. I don’t normally talk about owners of stores or people with products to promote them, but I wanted to talk to you; I want people to know about your store. I think it’s more than just a store; it’s a community, and it’s important for so many different things. I think it’s important what you’re doing and so many people need to know about it and be inspired by it and think that they can do something similar, because we need more cruelty-free everything.
Erica Kubersky: I think that’s the name of the game, just exposing more and more people to it. I think of how many people we expose to the vegan movement just by having our store in such a well-visited area. I think people are presented with the information, who knows what they decide from then on.
Caryn Hartglass: Do people ever walk into your store and say, “Do you have anything in leather?”
Erica Kubersky: Yes, all the time! Or they’ll say, “Oh, is this leather?” I don’t know how they walked past our no-fur sign or vegetarian signs, but somehow, they’ve missed all that.
Caryn Hartglass: They say, “Is this ‘leathuh’? Is this ‘leathuh’?”
Erica Kubersky: Yes, they want to know if it’s leather. And sometimes, if I’m in the mood, sometimes I’ll just tell them, “Yep, that’s what you’ve got there.”
Caryn Hartglass: Where do you get your shoes from?
Erica Kubersky: We get our shoes from so many different stores, and that’s another thing that’s grown over the years, with how many companies that are available to us now. When we first opened our store, there were only three or four companies that were strictly vegan. Now, I think, there are probably close to 15 vegan companies, and so many mainstream companies are catering to vegans now. Of course, we love to support the vegan businesses the most.
Caryn Hartglass: So you get them from both. And here’s where I’m coming from – you hear so many things in the news about things being manufactured overseas, that horrible thing that happened in Indonesia, and with people being treated so poorly…it’s affected me to the point where I don’t buy much of anything anymore, because I don’t know if anyone has suffered to make a shirt or anything. Do you know who’s making your products?
Erica Kubersky: That’s definitely a concern of ours, definitely a question we ask, about labor practices. We, again, our favorite shoes to sell are European shoes. We manufacture a line of shoes ourself, so we get to visit the factories…
Caryn Hartglass: Where’s that?
Erica Kubersky: In Portugal.
Caryn Hartglass: Wow!
Erica Kubersky: So, I can tell you firsthand that those are great factories and you can feel comfortable about those shoes.
Caryn Hartglass: Is it the same name, or does it have a different name?
Erica Kubersky: It’s a brand of shoes called Novacas, which means no cows in Portuguese and in Spanish.
Caryn Hartglass: Excellent. Do you speak Portuguese?
Erica Kubersky: I do not. I speak some Spanish, so I feel like I can get by.
Caryn Hartglass: How did you decide on that location?
Erica Kubersky: It’s a country that used to be the number one manufacturer of shoes, but with the onset of manufacturing in China, they lost a lot of their business, but they still have a big shoe history. When we were deciding on making pur own line of shoes, it was very important to us to make them in Europe as opposed to making them in the US.
Caryn Hartglass: Don’t you love that, everybody? I love that! It makes so much sense! At first they were probably thinking like, “What, no leather?” but then, “Sure, we want the business!” right?
Erica Kubersky: Yeah, first they didn’t know what we were talking about, and now it’s just like all I ever talk about with people in the factory is about what they’ve eaten that day, and the new vegetarian restaurants in Portugal.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s wonderful. Are you just going to stick with shoes and accessories?
Erica Kubersky: For now, we are just sticking to shoes, accessories; it’s just what we know. It’s still such a growing market, and we just want to be the biggest provider of vegan shoes. People want one-stop shopping for footwear.
Caryn Hartglass: I just want somebody to start making fashionable mens suits.
Erica Kubersky: I think somebody has started doing that….I’m not sure if you’re familiar with Joshua from the Discerning Brute blog…he just started making, I think they’re all Italian-made, 100% vegan suits.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay. Right, I remember reading that he was talking about it, but I didn’t know that it happened.
Erica Kubersky: Yeah, it was a hard process, but I think he finally got it going.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s very good news, because our very handsome, fit vegan men need to have some good duds on them. Not just shoes. Although they probably all look good just wearing shoes, but sometimes they need to put a suit on. So one of the other things that you do in your store – the community, as I was talking about, you have a lot of different events like book signings – and that’s really a nice thing. Do you have anything coming up?
Erica Kubersky: We don’t have anything coming up currently. But yeah, just because summer tends to slow down in New York so much, everyone who lives in New York wants to get out of New York for the summer. We’ll definitely start up events again back in September. We always send out newsletters with event updates and things like that. But yes, that has been such a great part of our business, and a part that we didn’t know, when we started, would become such a big part of it.
Caryn Hartglass: One of the difficult things is real estate or venues in New York City, so the ability to have a space, and a friendly space, is really a great thing.
Erica Kubersky: Yeah, just being the party to us.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh, I like that! Bring the party to us, we’ll just bring the shoes. So do people ask you about non-leather shoes and their breathability? How many times have I heard, “I have to wear leather because they breathe and plastic shoes don’t breathe?”
Erica Kubersky: I would probably say that we are asked that question about an average of ten times a day.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s like the “where do you get your protein” question, only with respect to shoe instead of food.
Erica Kubersky: Yes, it’s kind of like that. Of course, everybody who comes in, it could be their first time, so we definitely want to give them that pleasant atmosphere.
Caryn Hartglass: So what is your answer?
Erica Kubersky: All of our shoes are made from synthetic microfiber rather than a vinyl. So a lot of the vegan shoes you find out there have a vinyl base, which is non-breathable. But all of our shoes, which are microfiber, are going to breathe just like your leather shoes would.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s good to know. I know that with running shoes, for example, there are synthetic running shoes and what”s great about them is their breathability. So of course they could make fashionable shoes if they’re making running shoes that they promote for their breathability.
Erica Kubersky: Yeah, the big running companies aren’t essentially making their shoes to cater to vegans, they’re doing it because they think the functionality of the material is better. So every time someone questions how well vegan materials hold up, I think that’s just an important thing to point to.
Caryn Hartglass: And what about starting a business? Do you know how you did it so that it became successful?
Erica Kubersky: We started very small. It was just the two of us, and we didn’t take on an employee for maybe two years into the business, so definitely be prepared to put the time in and do everything. You’ll be selling the shoes, you’ll be ordering, you’ll be cleaning the bathroom. You just have to know that you’re not too good for any of it. I really think you just want to know your market a little bit. I think we were lucky to get into it so young. I made a joke about us being naive, but I almost think that worked in our favor. We were under the illusion that,”Of course! If we want vegan shoes, everyone wants vegan shoes!” But you know, I think it’s truly important that you believe in what you’re doing, and your customers wills see that. Somebody who is not a vegan who wants to open a vegan shoe store just to make money – first of all, you won’t; second of all, I think your customers will be able to see right through that, and you won’t do as well.
Caryn Hartglass: So how long has Mooshoes been open?
Erica Kubersky: It will be 12 years in October.
Caryn Hartglass: Very nice. And did you have any incredible stories that have occurred at the store – maybe someone who walked in that you really weren’t expected and bought your shoes?
Erica Kubersky: You know, every day someone comes in. I think that’s what we learned early on – you can’t pick the vegan out of the crowd, or the non-leather-wearer. So you just need to be open. It’s just amazing once you get the customers talking about the reason they’re coming into our store; it’s so great to hear it. Yesterday we just had somebody from texas, and older gentleman, who just picked up a pamphlet two years ago, just started looking stuff up, and he’s gone from being a meat eater to a non-leather-wearing vegan. It’s just amazing to see everybody’s story and where they come from. I think that’s been the best part, getting to know our customers.
Caryn Hartglass: For me, and I know, for you, the most important thing is to not exploit animals. But there are other issues with choosing a vegan lifestyle, certainly with food and with health and environment. But do you know the differences environmentally with producing your shoes versus leather shoes? Is there a benefit or not?
Erica Kubersky: People tend to think that leather is a more environmentally-friendly product, thinking that leather is natural, but it really isn’t because if you look at the leather that’s on people’s shoes versus animal hide, no one wants the skin right off the animal, so it has to be treated with so many toxic chemicals. Tanneries are probably one of the most pollutant places, and the workers who have to work in tanneries have the highest incidences of cancers and sicknesses than any other manufacturing, so I think that’s important to consider. With the shoes we manufacture, we’re pay very close attention to the materials we’re using. Most of the companies we work with, most of the materials are produced in Italy and are often at least 80% biodegradable.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s nice to know. You say the word natural and I just smile to myself. Leather is so far from natural.
Erica Kubersky: Yeah, you know, it’s just amazing what we try to tell ourselves.
Caryn Hartglass: Or maybe we’re just ignorant; we just never think about it. And we should be thinking about so many things. I like to say this, too: “Vegans don’t just care about animals, we care about humans.” You mentioned that in some of these tanneries, well, in all of them, it’s really so unhealthy for the workers because the chemicals are so toxic. Bad, bad, bad. Okay, so what kind of shoes do you wear?
Erica Kubersky: Well, I do love shoes, but I’m pretty practical and boring. I have dogs that I have to walk a lot, so I do a lot of plain slip-ons. That’s probably what you’re going to catch me in. Or sometimes if I get dressed up, I’ll try to wear a heel, but I’ll regret it two hours later.
Caryn Hartglass: But you really have every shoe that you can want?
Erica Kubersky: It’s funny; I have every shoe I could want at my disposal, but I wear the same two pairs of shoes every day.
Caryn Hartglass: And we can buy a hardcore hiking shoe, a running shoe, a fashionable shoe…you carry all kind of shoes like that.
Erica Kubersky: We carry it all. You can come in for any one of your shoes needs; we should be able to fill it.
Caryn Hartglass: Great. Well, thank you. I’m glad we had thin conversation; I learned a few things. I’m really excited about you making shoes in Portugal. That’s the best news I’ve heard all day, I love Europe.
Erica Kubersky: It’s been a great day, so…
Caryn Hartglass: So, thank you. I’m going to have to spin by and do some shopping over there!
Erica Kubersky: Okay, good then, we’ll see you soon!
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, thank you for joining me on It’s All About Food!
Erica Kubersky: Okay Caryn, thanks for having me!
Caryn Hartglass: You too.
Erica Kubersky: Bye!
Caryn Hartglass: So that was Erica Kubersky of Mooshoes. Have you been thinking about your shoes and what you’re wearing on your feet? Because now we know that there are shoes out there that are not only cruelty-free, they are also more environmentally friendly, they breathe, and of course, depending on the style, you can get a shoe that’s pretty comfortable. I’m pretty excited about that. It’s not food-related, of course; it’s a shoe – but I think it’s connected. A lot of people think the leather in shoes is a byproduct of eating meat – and I don’t think it is anymore; I think it’s its own business all on its own. But thinking about a plant-based diet and not exploiting animals, we don’t want to use byproducts of animal food products. So it really is connected. So… in the last few minutes, I wanted to talk about the Book Expo America. I was just there last week, it was my first time at the 2013 Book Expo America at the Javits Center in Manhattan. Wow. It was really an over-the-top event, and I came back with so many books. I just wanted to touch on a few of them, because I will likely be bringing these authors onto the show sometime soon. There was a book signing by Pamela Popper, and she has a new book out called Food Over Medicine: The Conversation That Could Save Your Life. She’s really a very lovely and knowledgeable person and has created the wellness forum. I had her chef on a few months ago, Del Sroufe, who did the Forks Over Knives Cookbook, you may have remembered that. But this is a great book to look out for. And then Dr. Colin T. Campbell, the author of The China Study – we’ve had him on this program numerous times. You’ve also seen him in the Forks Over Knives documentary, and he has a new book out called Whole: Rethinking The Science of Nutrition. As I was talking about earlier in the program, what we really need to do, ultimately, in our quest for making this world a better place, is to find a way to make whole foods, minimally processed foods, foods that are healthy for people and the planet – find a way to make them profitable, or fit into our capitalistic society, so that we can grow food that is fresh, local, healthy, and eat food and have an abundance of these foods that are fresh and healthy and organic. We’ve gone in a totally different direction in the last 75 years or so with the Industrial Age and manufacturing, and now foods today are expensive. Still, we have a very cheap and abundant food supply in the United States – but when you think about the cost of food and what you’re paying for in the store, you’re paying for a lot of value added in processing and manufacturing; you’re not paying for the actual value of the raw materials – the plant foods. We really need to figure out a way to – I don’t want to say go backwards – to go forwards. I think there’s a balance with using some of the great technology we’ve come up with in agriculture – we could use it, in a way, to downsize the sizes of these agri-businesses – maybe not those tiny, small farms, but maybe there’s something in the middle that we could have around urban and suburban areas, so that more people have access to fresh, locally-grown fruits and vegetables. So I put that out there. We’ll get Dr. Campbell on soon to talk about his new book, Whole. And then his daughter has a new book out called The China Study Cookbook, and it’s over 120 whole food plant-based recipes. And we never have enough vegan cookbooks out there, do we? That’s LeAnne Campbell, PhD. So definitely check those books out. Alright, I think – gosh, is it time to go? I could talk about food all day, and I do! Thanks for joining me on It’s All About Food! And remember – send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please have a very delicious week.
Transcribed by Sarah Brown, July 6, 2013