Dyandra Raye of Jo-Anne Vernay Interview
Unique, colorful and fruity. Made in Italy but made from fruit, Jo-Anne Vernay is a sustainable luxury footwear brand with an innovative fabric, pineapple as the durable surface protecting your feet. The use of pineapple leaf fibre promotes an agricultural waste product, with minimal environmental impact, discover a Jo-Anne Vernay a brand perfect for the ethically conscious but fashionable woman.
Mulberry, Cognac, and Paprika - The Mel Heels (Above)
When and where did your brand Jo-Anne Vernay begin?
Jo-Anne Vernay began after I went vegan in 2018 and noticed a void in the market for plant-based luxury fashion that wasn’t made from polyurethane. I was a natural shoe lover since childhood and grew up sketching and buying all kinds of styles. My friends always remember me for my unique footwear, so a shoe line was always in my plans. After finding our main fabric made from pineapple leaf fiber and solidifying 4 designs, I decided to take our talents to D.C. to pitch for funding. This is where Jo-Anne Vernay really started for me, putting together a business plan and given a chance to pitch for $50,000. With about 24 hours’ notice I canceled my plans for that day and crashed at my friend’s house to learn that I was selected to meet with the judges. Even though we didn’t make it to the final round, I felt a drive to continue and knew we could scale Jo-Anne Vernay into an international brand with a fashion focused mission to merge sustainability with style.
How would you describe yourself and your brand?
Three words that I would use to describe myself is conscious, resilient, and creative, which are fundamentals for a designer and business owner. Once I owned what makes me unique, I was able to build Jo-Anne Vernay as a brand. I always say to figure yourself out first and then your brand will follow, and quite effortlessly I might add. Jo-Anne Vernay encompasses these words and more, pushing through the pandemic to bring our premiere style to the market. At one point we didn’t have enough funding to make it through production due to a decrease in pre orders once COVID -19 peaked. We pivoted and later won a major grant, further proving how resilient the brand is. Our mission is to show customers that sustainability is sexy, and we plan to push forward until that mantra is the norm.
What inspires you and your designs?
I’m consistently inspired by nature and the world around me, using something that only a higher power could create, to conceptualize elements of my designs. The feather on The Mel Heel ended up being similar to many of the palm trees I photographed and admired while traveling across different continents. I’m frequently sketching by the water on in parks; there’s something about the sounds of nature surrounding you while you draw and create that is unparalleled. I also tune into what is on the street as I peruse and explore different cities. No matter the conditions you can find me walking around outside admiring people’s wide array of footwear and remembering elements that caught my eye. Jo-Anne Vernay prides itself on original designs so you will never see a shoe quite like ours since each design is made up of so many moving parts.
The Mel Heel - Paprika (Above)
How do you overcome creative blocks and stay motivated?
The motto “unplug and unwind” is my go to when I feel creatively blocked or stuck on an idea. As much as I love social media and use it for my business, I find it overwhelming at times to stay updated with all the many creations in the world. While beautiful, if you are bombarded by content you may start finding yourself recreating designs you saw unconsciously or trying to be like a certain brand. While preparing for 2021/2022 samples I got off Instagram just to tune in and create. It ended up working well and is something I plan to do anytime I need to be at peace with my internal ideas.
Exercise is one of my main forms of psychical motivation, I start my mornings with either a run or bike ride to the beach. It’s like I get an instant jolt of energy, no matter what may have gone wrong before, just by moving around first thing. Anytime that I’m feeling unmotivated, even if I just have low energy, I will get up and take a random walk. By the time I get back my head is clear, I’m re-energized, and ready to tackle the day.
As a slow fashion brand, how long does it take to finish a product, from the initial design to the finished creation?
Jo-Anne Vernay samples all our designs for longer than normal before we move into production to ensure a high-quality product. This process usually takes 2 months during regular production times. We actually produced our first line in Italy during the pandemic, finishing after 6 months versus the regular 3 month’s timeframe. In comparison to a fast fashion brand that produces a line every week, we may be moving at a slower pace, however that’s what makes our brand so special. Italian artisans handmake all of our shoes with precision and detail, resulting in the work of art that you see on our site. My favorite part of our slow fashion shoes is how excited everyone is about the subtle details that we include, and that is what makes slow fashion so rewarding.
Which part of the creative process do you enjoy the most, and the least?
Seeing a sketch turned into a shoe is one of my favorite parts of designing and producing our vegan shoe line. At times my mind is blown on how similar the shoe is to the sketch and also how many amazing changes were made along the way. I try on The Mel Heel and walk through my room when I just need a reminder of how far we’ve come; it’s like “wow you really made this beautiful shoe!” Although I’m a numbers girl who majored in Economics, I find financial projections to be my least favorite activity. It is by no means because I don’t enjoy number crunching creatively, it’s the time that these projects take and multiple revisions that always push these to the bottom of my to do list.
The Mel Heel - Mulberry (Above)
How would you define the quintessential ‘Jo-Anne Vernay’ woman?
Believe it or not we name the quintessential Jo-Anne Vernay woman and broke her into two boss women, Aaliyah & Vicky. We like to say that Aaliyah is like a mentor to Vicky, pointing her down a path of conscious consumerism. Vicky is an “it girl” in her city, maintaining an active personal life and budding career. She’s implementing a healthier lifestyle through either veganism or eco-friendly living. Aaliyah is the “goals” girl in her area, juggling marriage, motherhood, and a successful career. She’s been living ethically for almost a decade, maintaining a healthy balance through either veganism or clean living. Both ladies are Millennial and Gen Z go getters, who focus their lifestyles on pioneering sustainability and fashion. Jo-Anne Vernay’s mission is to grow with our customer and get to know each woman and why they support the brand.
What do you find to be the most difficult aspect of running your own label?
One of the most difficult aspects of running my own line is managing it all as a small business. I have my hands in every aspect of the business right now, some more hands off than others, so I had to get even more organized and work on macro level thinking. There is no way to be a one woman show, so even expanding and trusting yourself to hire the right talent is a task. It takes discernment, communication, and trust to bring someone else on board and as an entrepreneur allowing others to help you can be one of the hardest things to do. For most, these businesses are our baby and you wouldn’t just leave your baby with anyone. I’m glad to say that Jo-Anne Vernay is now a three-person team and I am mastering the art of management.
As a shoe designer, how do you successfully provide both comfortability and design in your pieces?
The fit of shoes has always been important to me aside from the fashion aspect. I’m a woman with foot protrusions, like bunions, from wearing shoes that were poorly made or ill fitting. I learned my lesson after spending years stumbling just to be stylish. When I designed The Mel Heel and our upcoming styles, I went the extra mile in small but significant ways, like spending more to include two layers of padding in the ball of foot cushion. We tested the shoes repeatedly for walkability and wear until our artisans and I created a heel with support and high arch that is also comfortable. I want the Jo-Anne Vernay customer to think about how wonderful she looks in her shoes, not how soon can she get them off her feet.
Veganism and sustainability appear to be very important causes for you. Why is that, and how do you implement them into your brand?
Veganism and clean living became my way of life for health and ethical reasons. Once I saw the benefits of what simply making conscious choices did for my body, I decided to try to implement these practices into my closet. These causes were important because you can simply look around and see how we are polluting our planet. Fashion is in fact once of the most wasteful industries and I knew I could create a line that made a difference. Everything that Jo-Anne Vernay does and promotes is centered around our care for the planet and also our love for unique style. Who says that these can’t be merged into one?
Cognac, Mulberry & Paprika (Above)
Which pieces in your collection do you think are must-haves for our readers?
The Mel Heel in Cognac is a must have for the simple reason that we only have a few pairs left! The last time I check it was 4 pairs, which is exciting for us since they are almost sold out. While I love pop colors like Mulberry and Paprika, Cognac has become our best seller and is the most requested. The neutral color mixed with the artistic design seems to be a win-win for our customers.
What are your short- and long-term goals for Jo-Anne Vernay?
Jo-Anne Vernay plans to expand into more styles this year, offering more than our staple heel and later moving into flats and kitten heels. We want our customer to eventually be able to come to us for all her footwear needs. Long term we plan to expand into other footwear categories so that the whole family can enjoy luxury footwear made from fruit and vegetables. There is a hint of our other expansion plans in this answer - we’re excited to release the details later this year!
Shop the collections here: JO-ANNE VERNAY MEL HEELS
And check the official instagram: @JOANNEVERNAY