A chat with the co-founders of vegan shoe brand Taylor + Thomas – Jessica Taylor Mead and Elizabeth Thomas James

Dear Shaded Viewers,

“As a vegan, I was still wearing leather shoes, because I love fashion, and I just could not find beautiful, stylish, high quality, comfortable vegan shoes that I actually wanted to wear.  After 10+ years in the music industry, I decided to take the leap and start making the shoes myself.  That led me to take the footwear design class at Otis, where I met my business partner.  We hit it off, and here we are 3 years later.” said Elisabeth Thomas James.

The co-founders of Taylor + Thomas, Jessica Taylor Mead and Elizabeth Thomas James,  met in LA at Otis College of Art & Design in a footwear design class. Their ethical luxury shoe brand was launched in 2018 and produced in downtown Los Angeles. However most of their materials were coming from Italy so it made more sense monetarily and carbon-footprint-wise- to produce their shoes in Italy.


I’ve always been curious about the fact that one hears that vegan leather is like plastic and not any better for the planet so I wanted to question Taylor + Thomas about just that to get their opinion.


“We founded this company to redefine luxury to mean quality, craftsmanship, AND ethics – ethics to people, planet, and animals.  We want to make beautiful, fashion-forward, luxury shoes that every woman would want in her wardrobe – that just happen to be sustainable and vegan.


We are the first to acknowledge that plastic is horrible for the environment and our planet.  (Although, please read this for some perspective on plastic vs leather.)  However, the fashion conglomerate Kering conducts an Environmental Profit & Loss Report to assess the environmental impact of the fashion industry and the materials it uses – and the result is always that leather is by far the most polluting material used by the fashion industry.  (They calculate this by measuring air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, land use, waste, water consumption, and water pollution.)  When you take into account the animal agriculture / raising the cattle, the transportation and slaughtering of the cattle, and the tanning and dying of the hides – leather is by far the most detrimental material to people, planet, and animals.  (Watch this to learn more about how horrifying the tanning industry is.)” said T & T.


In that vain the duo spent the first year sourcing eco-friendly materials from all over the world, and saw everything from pineapple leather to apple-skin leather. They ultimately settled on a water-based polyurethane as their upper material – “ it is a solvent-free water-molecule based resin, it is not a petroleum-based resin like typical polyurethanes (which are as you say plastic) – and it really looks and feels like animal nappa leather.   It comes from a solar-powered, all-vegan textile factory in Italy.  Our lining material is also from this factory, and is made from 50% yellow dent, which is an inedible corn.

Our outsoles are from Italy, made from recycled and recyclable rubber.

Our insoles are from a closed-loop factory in Japan, made from recycled rubber and castor beans.

Our wood heels are solid wood – not plastic wrapped to look like wood (which is typical in the shoe industry).

Our suede detail is from Japan and made from recycled plastic bottles.” Said T & T.


Their research continues and are currently sourcing new planet and animal-friendly textiles. They have found an exciting new leather alternative that is made from cactus which they are currently testing.


They have an impressive list of supporters and I wanted to know how the likes of Miley Cyrus, Amber Valletta and Jessica Chastain came to wear their shoes. “Miley Cyrus’ stylist reached out to us about shoes for Miley – because she is an out-spoken vegan.  Amber Valletta we met at a sustainability in fashion seminar and are lucky enough to now call her a mentor.  Jessica Chastain we were connected to through a mutual friend – because she is a long-time vegan, she loves our shoes.  So that is to say, some “tastemakers” find us and reach out to us because of our beautiful vegan product, and some we are personally connected to.” Said T & T.


Design-wise, they position their brand in high contemporary/luxury market designing 60’s and ‘70’s classic shoes with a modern point of view. Each collection is like a capsule collection – intended to cover every style of shoe a woman needs in her wardrobe. They release two collections a year through their e-commerce site and select wholesale accounts consisting of six new styles per collection.


Like everyone else in the industry the COVID-19 pandemic has affected their business and they were forced to cancel their Spring-Summer collection production when Italy shut down. They are mainly a direct-to-consumer business, so they have been focusing on communicating and staying connected with their consumers via social media and e mail.







Diane Pernet

A LEGENDARY FIGURE IN FASHION and a pioneer of blogging, Diane is a respected journalist, critic, curator and talent-hunter based in Paris. During her prolific career, she designed her own successful brand in New York, costume designer, photographer, and filmmaker.