This interview of my cousin Alvertos Revach was recorded pre-Covid-19 and, as I finally sit to write it down, I realize that, in a way, at least for me sentimentally, it happens to be relevant to these difficult times… Because it is in dark times like these that our primal fears take central stage; that we look within and quest for what is really of essence. Time is of essence, as it is not a given fact anymore, and we all wonder what the next day will bring. Family is of essence, those close to our heart, those we care and worry about the most, those we want to talk to, facetime and long to meet again. On a personal level, blog-wise, what has become of essence is to write, not just to produce pretty pictures and content, but to learn and evolve from the answers I get from my interviewees, who ultimately, take me a step further, not only from my own knowledge, but also from my own point of view. And as I’m writing these very words, I can’t help thinking how proud I am of my cousin Alvertos; of the way he thinks and acts, as well as of his deep concern about animal rights and environmental issues (long before they became a popular content on social media). He is a man with the courage to express his opinion and speak up in a kind, yet, firm and straight-forward manner, and even more so, to put his thoughts into action!
Alvertos’ philosophy of life led him to co-found AERA – a luxury New York based footwear brand that is sustainable and certified vegan. Its timeless shoes are artisanally crafted in Italy and the brand measures and then offsets its environmental impact by 110%. AERA believes in supporting small, family-owned businesses; in a world of fast fashion and low-cost manufacturing, its focus is to support true artisans that focus on the quality of their products and the livelihood of their employees. Just in its first year in the world of fashion, AERA has succeeded not only in being featured in various fashion magazines, including O’ The Oprah Magazine, but in also being loved and worn by celebrities, such as Meryl Streep, Malin Akerman, Emma Roberts, Nikki Reed, Amanda Hearst, Ashley Graham, Melissa Wood – Tepperberg – the list is long and growing!
During April, in this period of the Corona crisis, AERA is donating 20% of sales to Food Bank for NYC, in an effort to help those who have been impacted by COVID-19.
This interview is about how this deeply meaningful project and labour of love came to be.
In Alvertos’ own words… It is a sequence of things and events that happened. First, six years ago, I stopped eating meat. First and foremost, out of consciousness and awareness that I could not any longer put up with what was going on with animals and industrialized animal breeding. I started reading about food, why and how we eat animals, about environmental issues and, at the same time, I began travelling a lot and discovering how beautiful this planet is! So, seeing for myself how beautiful this planet is and, simultaneously, reading and realizing how much damage we cause to it, I decided that I couldn’t any longer ignore these things and remain inactive. As humans, we cannot be indifferent to such a crucial issue. Naturally, I acknowledge the fact that this applies to those who are not struggling to make ends meet, as, ultimately, daily survival issues are a priority.
Yet, shouldn’t people like me, who have studied, travelled and worked, have knowledge and are entrepreneurial, become more involved in matters of the world, the environment and humanity? The answer is “Yes”, and the way to do it is easy, as long as you don’t put business profit as your only priority! Then, you can do everything! And that’s where I believe the right path lies: how can I build a business model that is good for the people, good for the planet and, at the same time, it is profitable! Because in fact, I am a capitalist, I do want to make profit, but profit is not and shouldn’t be my only concern. These were my thoughts when I left my family business, a few years ago, to set up Humble Holdings, an investment fund focused on sustainable businesses. AERA is the first brand that I have helped to launch. The name derived from the ancient Greek verb “aero”, which means “to lift”, “to raise”. Because, in many ways, this is exactly what we want to achieve through this brand, to raise the values of the fashion industry to another level.
AERA is leading the luxury footwear industry forward by placing equal value on product, people and the planet. With timeless designs that are ethically crafted of certified vegan materials, we strive to make sustainability the “new normal”. Not only are we neutralizing our environmental impact, but we are also going one step further by offsetting it by 110%. Ultimately, we created AERA because we believe doing good is as important as looking good.
We are committed to doing what’s right for our customers, our employees, our suppliers, and our planet. We promise to work closely with our suppliers to continuously monitor and minimize the environmental impact of our materials, as well as to evolve our production practices. As more and more innovative eco-friendly materials and processes become available, we will improve our shoes without compromising on the quality of our collection. Our ultimate goal is to create shoes with zero-to-positive impact on the environment, and it’s the driving force behind every decision we make.
I firmly believe that AERA’s philosophy can be a driving force for making the world a better place for all!
Tina Bhojwani and I met as students at Georgetown University and remained in touch, meeting over the years in either Athens or New York City. Over dinner, one night in 2017, Tina described how, after 20 years of working for large corporations, including Donna Karan, Theory and Dolce & Gabbana, she was ready to do something different that would contribute to the greater good. At the same time, shoe designer Jean-Michel Cazabat, who was having his own career turning point, had just sold his shoe company and was looking to the future — and a way to make a difference. He and Tina, who knew each other from previous collabs, started discussing the possibility of making vegan shoes that, Tina insisted, “cannot look like vegan.” Jean-Michel was up for the challenge and already had some ideas regarding materials along with strong relationships with factories in Italy’s Veneto. Once the business model was solidified, they shared it with me and I was immediately intrigued. I was convinced, after I tried a pair of vegan shoes that Jean-Michel had made for me in the summer of 2018. And so, AERA was born!
AERA’s 3 Principles
Good for You
AERA’s first principle is that our products should be “Good for You”; it has to be an absolutely beautiful shoe, of high quality, that, when looking at it, you instantly say “I Love it!”. Initially, we thought of making beautiful shoes, as even if a shoe is sustainable, ethical and vegan, if it’s impossible to wear or not of good quality, it is not worth buying it in the first place. Like, for example, the “Alexandra” model, designed by the brand’s shoe designer, Jean-Michel Cazabat, was inspired from the famous 90’s slim bang style, viewed numerous times in “Sex and the City”! This model has been redesigned 12 times, in order to ensure comfort and ease to walk and, ultimately, this is our aim with every single shoe we design at AERA.
What is also important is that the shoe be of excellent quality. The most difficult thing about designing our shoes is that everything has to be vegan, even the glue. It was complicated to find suppliers for the materials. Vegan means that the “leather” material is made of a mixture of various, non-animal materials. But they are still materials that are more resistant than real leather. Our shoes are made to last for many years! AERA shoes are made in the same small, artisan, family-owned factories in Veneto, where Etro and Saint Laurent shoes are made.
Finally, although our shoes are “luxury”, we want to give our customers shoes that are affordable within the luxury price bracket. That’s why we chose a business model that is primarily online and direct to consumer. No middlemen means we can offer a better price for a luxury product.
Good for the People – Social Sustainability
We believe that our success relies first and foremost on people. We consciously choose to work only with companies that embody our values, ensuring that everyone in our supply chain earns a living wage and works in a safe, healthy environment. And this is why we chose to have our shoe production in Italy, since Italy is a country with very strict norms and regulations about labour. We have also chosen to work with two small factories in Veneto (known as a place with 400 years of luxury shoemaking history, where shoes for royals used to be made), because we want to support these artisans and small family businesses.
For our employees, we will create a profit-sharing scheme, so that everyone on the team becomes a partner in our company and has a share in the success of our venture. As we continue to grow, we are committed to building a team and culture that values people above all else. Ultimately, we are building a company where employees feel valued and good about the work they’re doing, guided by a sense of purpose and clear mission.
Good for the Planet
It is a given fact that the Fashion Industry is one of the biggest polluters of the planet (surpassed only by Oil and Transportation). At AERA, we are conscious that every shoe we make has environmental impacts associated with its lifecycle: from materials to production, to transportation, storage and delivery. It is our responsibility not only to take ownership of that, but also to offer a solution. So, we engaged SCS Global Services (SCS), an accredited international leader in third-party certification and standards development in environmental and sustainability claims, to ensure that the impact on producing, transporting, storing and delivering our shoes is accurately measured and transparently presented to all.
SCS conducted a “cradle to consumer” Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) study on our behalf to quantify the environmental impact of our shoes as accurately as possible. Through the LCA,we measure their environmental footprint. Then we invest in meaningful offsets and reverse those impacts by 110%. For example, let’s say that we measure, via the LCA, that in order to make a pair of shoes 5 kg of carbon dioxide are released in the environment; we then invest in a project of planting trees so that we offset, or “remove” 5.5 kg of carbon dioxide from the environment. This way our shoes are certified Carbon Neutral.
Transparency is key: we present the results of the LCA and the offsets that we invest in on our website.
We have invested in the following projects, always aiming to offset the environmental impact of our shoes by 110%:
Global Warming Potential (GWP):we have invested in the Green Trees Reforestation project, a project that, to date, has helped to reforest 120,000 acres of marginal farmland in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley, by planting over 42 million trees. Through this investment, we have offset the GWO of our shoes by 110%, as certified by SCS.
Fresh Water Consumption (FW):we have offset 110% of all the fresh water used in the process to make all of our shoes to date by purchasing BEF Water Restoration Certificates©. This project helps to restore water to critically dewatered rivers and streams in the United States.
Plastic Offsets: Our conscious decision to use all-vegan materials is part of our core philosophy of “Good for the Planet,” which includes not harming animals. On average, around 50% of the materials used to make our shoes are synthetic, and we acknowledge that these synthetic alternatives have unique environmental concerns of their own. So, although the environmental impacts of our materials of our shoes are offset though our investments in reforestation and water restoration, we decided to go a step further and also offset the plastic used. We are working with Plastic Bank, an organization that empowers people in Haiti, the Philippines, Indonesia and other countries with significant plastic pollution issues, to earn a living by collecting plastic waste, turning it into currency and then, having this plastic waste recycled and sold as Social Plastic® ”. At AERA, for each kilo of plastic (recycled or not) that we use, we deduct 1,1 kilos of plastic from the environment, before it gets into the ocean.
As part of our commitment to continuously decrease the impact of our shoes on the environment, we are actively seeking new solutions, such as innovations in materials, and production processes, without jeopardizing the quality, style, comfort and fit of our shoes. We want to make the materials we use as Bio-based as possible. Bio-based are materials that, instead of oil, use other natural substitute products like corn (there is a specific type of corn, which is not for human consumption, and from which ethanol derives). Our ultimate goal is that, through these continuous improvements, we will one day be able to produce our shoes with materials and processes that have no negative impact on the planet to begin with, that will be 100% sustainable and 100% vegan; and we will continue to invest in environmentally positive projects in an effort to reverse climate change.
To me, it is important that the privileged ones, those who have the power and wealth to invest, make changes in the way their enterprises work. What if they could put themselves in a mindset, whereby they would decide to cut down on the profits of their product by 2%-3% in order to invest in reversing climate change? Because, ultimately, this decision boils down to the investors and not the companies. This is why I believe that the investors, those really in power, are the ones who can bring upon real change. If they decide to invest in projects that do good to the planet, such as AERA or Plastic Bank, then there is hope that these investments will grow significantly enough to change things for the better.
In Greece, businessmen and entrepreneurs should really reflect on the way they run their business. Most of them have travelled, studied abroad, know the global reality, know what sustainability is and the importance of it; consequently, those are the people that should start making the changes first. Because their actions can actually have a big impact!
Personally, I travel a lot, so, yes, my carbon footprint is significant. I try to reverse it, though, every six months, through carbonfootprint.com, a site which calculates my monthly carbon footprint (travels, transportation, house heating, home electricity). Once I calculate it, I offset it by 110%. To give you an example, the cost to offset an Athens – New York flight is 26 euros! So, as you can tell, it is not the cost of the offset itself that is high, but rather the cost of researching the footprint. Great things would happen if only a small percentage of companies marketing budget were to be allocated to such purposes.
I truly believe that, once humanity hits a “shutdown”, it subsequently reacts – Covid-19 is a great example of this. The problem with environmental issues is that, once we reach an environmental “shutdown”, it will be too late, as it will be irreversible. Thus, we should all try and make small changes towards our planet’s greater good. First, get informed, watch a few good documentaries, such as “An Inconvenient Truth”, “Cowspiracy” or “The True Cost”, instead of another blockbuster movie. Adjust and change some daily habits; use reusable or paper instead of plastic straws, buy a bicycle and use it for errands around your neighborhood, instead of your car. If we all invest in making small changes as such, then, there will be hope for the planet!
Photo credit: Anna Tagkalou