Unless the answer happens to be France, Italy, or "in the U.S.A.," few people know exactly where their shoes are made. Many footwear companies operate factories in developing countries – Nikes are manufactured largely in Vietnam, Converse in China – but few trumpet the locations (much less the hard work) of their laborers. Not so with Piola, a new shoemaker that specializes in dress sneakers. The company sources the rubber for its soles from a small community in the Peruvian Amazon, where men gather the latex sap from wild jungle trees.
"We're talking about a very rural town," says company cofounder Josh Rudd, 23. "Not mud huts, but only a small step up."
Rudd started the company with French designer Antoine Burnier, who had spent time in Peru working with street kids, while attending the University of Cincinnati Business School, and takes pride in Piola's soulful soles – so much so that he's more eager to discuss rubber than his shoes' eye-catching design. The name Piola means, roughly, "kick-ass" in Peruvian Spanish, and the company has been just that for the residents of Charengaros in the Madre de Dios Region, where it provides a rubber-harvesting collective (partially paid by USAID) with jobs and money. The name of each worker is inscribed on the sole of each shoe.
"We negotiate based on the needs of the community and pay five times the market price," says Rudd, who visits the hard-to-reach town a few times a year. "The market price is nonsense. Large companies just want lower margins."
Piola is by no means a large company, but it is certainly growing. Its shoes are now being shipped from the sustainably constructed and run factory in economically depressed Portugal, where they are built out of the rubber, Peruvian cotton, and Italian leather and sent to 90 shops in 13 countries. The product itself is getting better and better. After launching with simple canvas shoes, Piola has refocused its efforts on clean leather sneakers. Its Loreto model – perfect for early fall – incorporates Alpaca wool details in a derby shoe with a tough bottom.
The shoes are comfortable and as tough as the men whose names are on them. [$330; menlook.com]