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The Brooklyn-Based Footwear Brand Manufacturing Close to Home

Jury and Olga Grib launched Artola after years of working in footwear under major fashion labels like Kenneth Cole, Steve Madden, Tommy Hilfiger and Frye. They always wanted to create a collection that focused on domestic manufacturing but recognized that American production would be too costly for the big brands they worked with. The couple persevered, and launched their own label, Artola, in 2009. The brand specializes in men’s and women’s leather boots and shoes with a work-meet-artisan look, with some manufactured in the U.S.

“There is such a rich history of shoemaking in the U.S. and especially where we live in Brooklyn. There is a huge source of heritage,” said Olga. “In addition to being able to make our own designs and create the shoes we wanted, we were able to experiment with keeping up the tradition of shoemaking in Brooklyn and New York.”

Vamp spoke to Jury and Olga about the challenges and the rewards of manufacturing in the Americas.

VAMP: What do your domestic factories look like?
Olga: One of the factories we’re working with is in upstate New York, near Buffalo, and they’ve been around since the late 1800s. It was two brothers coming back from the civil war who decided to start a shoe factory. Its one of the oldest factories in the United States and we love that it’s in our state. We love the drive up there. We talk to them about how we can innovate, what leathers we can use. Obviously anything made in the U.S. isn’t cheap, and for that reason a majority of our shoes are made in Mexico, but we’re still using domestic leathers. Whenever possible we export the leathers from here to be made in Mexico. It’s difficult to make all the styles we want for the brand like sneakers here because there are so few options with factories. For our Brooklyn-made shoes, there’s no factory, it’s more of a collective. We’re working with hand crafters who have their own studios in Brooklyn, which each of their styles being in very limited supply. But if customers ask for bespoke shoes, we’re able to act as a type of liaison from the shoemakers to the customer, kind of like an Uber for shoes.
Jury: If we fast forward maybe five years from now the idea is to have a factory here. It doesn’t have to be a huge space, maybe it’s a storefront with a factory running in the back and we can have custom made shoes.

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VAMP: How does manufacturing in the U.S. affect your prices?
Olga: We have shoes that are across different price ranges from $175 for casuals, $195 for some dress shoes and our made in New York boots are $395. We want to appeal to a wide range of customers, with our Brooklyn production being at the top price range.
Jury: We sell our American-made boots direct-to-consumer to keep the price down. We spoke with department stores like Barneys and the boots would have retailed at $700 and we thought “oh gosh, are we going to start competing with the Italian brands like Ferragamo?” It keeps the price low for the quality. Goodyear welted boot, Vibram sole, leather laces, top of the top quality.

VAMP: What type of retailers do you work with?
Olga: We do wholesale with a lot of small boutiques throughout the U.S. With them we have been able to make a very loyal group of customers who come back to us every season, every couple of months. Artola’s customers are doctors, lawyers, a lot of real estate. Our designers offer them something that’s comfortable, very wearable but has just enough design element that makes them a little bit different.

VAMP: What’s new from Artola?
Olga: Our Coffee Washed Leather shoes, it’s our patented process where they are literally washed in coffee. What makes the coffee washed shoes extremely attractive is how the process leaves the leather really soft.
Jury: We came up with the idea when I was in Mexico by myself for about a month working on the production. So I was there in Mexico, and during one of the weekends I had a bunch of leather in my hotel room and I decided to do some experiments. I was just finding things in my room like Coca-Cola, hot sauce, and then I tried coffee and I thought ‘oh wow this is interesting.’ So we went to the factories and tanneries and said “this is my idea, how do we produce this?” Through trial and error, we found the right formula in terms of the water temperature and the right consistency. The whole process took over a year. This way we distinguish ourselves from the hundreds of other brands.

This article originally appeared in the February issue of VAMP as part of a series “The New Traditionalist”. Check out the complete issue here.