ZOU XOU: A shoe designer brand that stands out in style and ethical practice
Minimal, elegant and versatile ZOU XOU produces effortlessly chic shoes for the confident woman. With subtle detailing and rich textures, ZOU XOU’s shoes are anything but basic. Made in Buenos Aires, all ZOU XOU’s shoes are handcrafted in small quantities and is undoubtably an environmentally conscious brand that focuses on reducing waste and energy, and therefore is a key contributor to the slow fashion movement. Find the perfect shoe that fits your foot and your values.
Eugenia Flat in Black Glaze (Above)
When and where did your brand ZOU XOU begin?
I founded ZOU XOU in 2015 while I was living in NYC working at my day job as a shoe designer. It was a weird time for me because I was in a long-distance relationship and I was not where I wanted to be in my career. I had been travelling back and forth to Buenos Aires for several years because of the relationship I was in and managed to take shoemaking workshops and gain shoemaker contacts along the way. On one trip I decided to have one of my own designs made by the very loose network of shoemakers I had “cobbled” together. The experiment was a success and I started building the collection in the evenings with no intention of making it a full-time job. It was 100 times more creatively satisfying than my day job. After a while, I was fully consumed by the project and was a pretty shitty employee at that point and I got fired from my day job, which was unexpected at the time, but I really should have seen it coming (I was asking for it subconsciously---I wouldn’t have quit first!). So, what started off as a side project to feed my spirit turned into a bridge that helped me build a new life.
How would you describe yourself and your brand?
I would describe ZX as expressive, uniquely pragmatic and feminine. I would mostly describe my style the same way. To my personality I would add - strong, thoughtful and laid back.
What inspires you and your designs?
I get a lot of inspiration from older films, magazines and image archives, but also the streets, vintage shoes and whatever I want or need for my own wardrobe. My camera roll is filled with stolen snapshots of random details and people wearing interesting things.
How do you overcome creative blocks and stay motivated?
I don’t force it. I try to respect the natural ebbs and flows of my energy. When I’m feeling blocked or unmotivated it usually means I’m burned out and need to recharge my batteries. I intentionally neglect my work and watch something, read something, socialize or move my body in some way. I think about something else. Now I’m learning to delegate tasks that drain my energy faster than others and to have compassion for myself when I need a break. I used to feel guilty or lazy for taking breaks, but I’m learning to trust that the energy will come back on its own or show up when it’s really needed.
As a slow fashion brand, how long does it take to finish a product, from the initial design to the finished creation?
It’s hard to generalize how long it takes because there are so many variables. Generally, if there are completely new shapes and new components involved in a design, then we have to wait for our suppliers to make them before we can make our sample -- that can make the process take from 6 to 8 weeks from initial design to finished creation if everything goes smoothly. If the silhouette and components are already existing and there’s just a pattern to create, it can take as little as four weeks from initial design to finished and photo ready.
Which part of the creative process do you enjoy the most, and the least?
I enjoy every part of the creative process! Self-imposed discipline and deadlines are the challenging part. I love to do the research and give myself design briefs. I’m better at creating when I have some boundaries to help me focus. I will say that it’s disappointing when a design cannot be executed because the right component or technique isn’t available/can’t be sourced. That’s a bummer!
How would you define the quintessential ‘ZOU XOU’ woman?
The ZX woman is conscious and knows her style. She curates her wardrobe very intentionally and with her own gaze in mind. She knows that loving a piece is as important as it’s utility and how it’s made.
What do you find to be the most difficult aspect of running your own label?
Trying to do all the things! Even the ones I’m not the strongest in. I think a DIY approach is helpful to a certain extent when you’re starting out, but past a certain point it can hinder progress and contribute to burn out. Organizing myself in order to delegate to others has been challenging. Creating systems and processes clear enough for others to understand is a whole thing that I’ve had to learn as I go. Then ultimately letting go of doing those things can be hard even if it’s for the best.
As a shoe designer, how do you successfully provide both comfortability and design in your pieces?
I don’t design anything that I wouldn’t wear myself or doesn’t suit my lifestyle. I like the word practicality more than the word comfortability because everyone’s feet have different needs. I consider a shoe practical if I can wear it most of the day to do a range of activities that include walking and standing a good amount. If the thought of walking to the grocery store or 10 city blocks in a pair of shoes makes me tired or unwilling, then they’ve not passed my test. I’m not a technician, so I trust the experts I work with to make sure that the shoes have the right support.
Sustainability appears to be a very important cause to you. Why is that, and how do you implement it into your brand?
At the companies I worked at before starting ZX, I saw things that put me at unease like a lot of oversampling, overproduction, subsequent markdowns and disposal, questionable manufacturing conditions or unethical attitudes on the parts of the owners, but I mostly ignored it. When I started my collection, finding a way to make shoes in small batches was critical for getting the project off the ground and manufacturing in Buenos Aires simply allowed me to do this. But then as I started building face-to-face relationships with the people who make our shoes, it became impossible not to consider how garment workers everywhere are affected by the demands of the industry or how consumption habits are affecting the planet.
I am also a retired fast fashion shopper. The more I gained an appreciation for the skill and physical labour that goes into manufacture of fashion products, the less those low price tags made sense. I remembered as a consumer feeling the impulse to shop all the time to keep up with the cycle of trends and markdowns only to end up with pieces I “had to have” one season and couldn’t care less about the next or had to “donate” anyway from wear. It became clear that it wouldn’t be responsible to contribute to this with overly trendy, too-cheap, poorly made products. Starting this business has taught me how to be a more conscious creator and consumer. Now I want to inspire other people to shop with their values, buy only things they care about and see them as objects interrelated with other people.
Beia Boot in Pistachio (Above)
Which pieces in your collection do you think are must-haves for our readers?
If you want to invest in your first pair of ZX shoes, I would recommend an item from our Core Collection: The Mule, The Eugenia Flat, The Loafer, Glove, Pilar or Inia flats. These are the styles we offer year-round, season after season. They’re the styles that are designed to be worn most of the year for your daily activities with other staple items in your wardrobe. Start with black or a neutral, and then you can build your collection from there adding your favourite silhouettes in statement colours to add freshness to your rotation.
What are your short- and long-term goals for ZOU XOU?
Some short-term goals include cultivating our community and adding more casual/off duty styles to the collection to outfit everyone’s current reality of mostly working from home. This will include more slip-on styles and shoes that don’t have leather soles. Long term goals include steady, sustainable growth and adding leather-free styles to our collection.
Shop the collections here: ZOU XOU SHOES
And check the official instagram: @ZOUXOUSHOES