31 Jul

Alisha Kettner on opening Chicagoland’s first vegan shoe store Amour de la Terre

I  had the chance to sit down with Alisha Kettner of Amour de la Terre, Chicagolands very first vegan shoe store. Alisha shares her motivation to open Amour de la Terre, explains what vegan shoes represent and gives us a sneak peek at some of the brands she will carry at her new shop, opening this August in Oak Park, IL.

“Beautiful shoes with beautiful souls. Vegan, Eco-friendly and ethically produced”

This is the principle in which Alisha Kettner has built her vegan shoe business, due to open in Oak Park, IL on August 22nd. Amour de la Terre will be the first completely vegan shoe store in the Chicagoland area. Amour de la Terre is French for the phrase “Love of the Earth”. If the word “vegan” sounds as foreign as French does, one of the main motivations for a person to adapt a vegan diet or lifestyle is to conserve the resources on Earth, including all living beings, making Amour de la Terre a suitable name for Kettner’s shop.

Alisha wither her dog, Sadie

Alisha with her dog, Sadie

Ashley Gilday:  Why vegan shoes?

Alisha Kettner: Well, I’ve been a vegetarian/vegan since I was 15, and a huge Eco-nerd my entire life, it sadly was not until last year that I decided to swear off buying leather forever. I had stopped buying leather purses years ago, and sought out all non-leather furniture for my house, but my weakness was shoes! Like most women, I am obsessed with beautiful shoes and I would buy what I wanted and close my mind off to the truth by justifying that they were a by-product of the meat industry, that would be around regardless. Last year I decided to do some more reading into the leather industry and boy was I wrong!

I learned of the toxic chemicals used to prepare the animal skins (into leather), the contamination of waterways, the massive amounts of water used, the high incidence of cancer in leather tannery workers, the frequent child-labor involved and the animal abuse, specific to the leather industry.

The thing that really pushed me over the edge was learning that some of the leather we buy can be cat or dog skin! Now, I love cows just the same as any animal, but there’s something that brings it extra close to home when I look my beloved pup in the eye. I couldn’t imagine her dying for my pretty leather pumps. So, I sought out some vegan shoes in the Chicago area for myself and discovered there are amazing vegan/Eco/ethical shoe companies out there, but there wasn’t a shop to bring them all together and allow people to try them on and feel the (different) textures. So that night, I went to sleep and woke up the next morning saying “I need to do this!”

AG: Vegan means the use of zero animal products to produce a product or foodstuff. While this is an important issue, many are concerned with the welfare of people in the production of goods, especially shoes. Do the manufacturers supplying Amour de la Terre share this concern?

AK: Absolutely! I didn’t want to open a boutique that is just concerned with animals and the environment, but then exploits humans in the meantime. All of the companies (brands) I will be offering in my boutique ensure me they are fair-trade or ethically produced with fair labor standards.

AG: Are the majority of shoes that you will sell manufactured inside of the US?

AK: Most of the companies are US based companies, but most production is done internationally. One thing I’ve learned while starting up this boutique is that shoe-making in the US is unfortunately a dying trade. One company I’m happy to work with, Nicora Johns, is actually manufacturing all of their women’s and men’s shoes in LA!

AG: In your opinion, are mainstream shoe stores in the Chicagoland area concerned with sourcing from vendors who promote the ethical treatment of animals and people?

AK: To promote the ethical treatment of animals, the shoes should be “vegan”, which means in addition to no leather being used, there is also no animal-based glues used in production. People seeking out non-leather shoes should be aware this doesn’t necessarily mean the shoes are ethically produced or are Eco-friendly. Most faux leather, especially of the more inexpensive variety, is made of PVC, which is very harmful for the environment. Also, something I’ve thought a bit more of in the boutique-opening process, is if we are buying shoes for $5, for example, how much are the workers getting for their laboring over those shoes? Likely merely pennies.

AG: You’ve been a vegetarian for years and more recently vegan. What motivated you to make the switch from vegetarianism to veganism?

AK: I was very fortunate to meet a beautiful vegan woman, Christa, who was doing my hair for my wedding. I was a vegetarian at the time and super excited to learn that she was a vegan, so we had lots to discuss. As most vegetarians and non-vegetarians think, I asked her “How do you live without cheese? I LOVE cheese, I could NEVER give it up!” With open ears, I listened as she told me just a few facts about the dairy industry and what I was really consuming when I ate my beloved cheese. This led me to do all kinds of research of my own, and I couldn’t bring myself to eat dairy anymore after learning the facts.

AG: What advice do you have for people thinking about switching to a plant-based diet but may be overwhelmed?

AK: I say with enthusiasm “You can do it!”. Really though, I tell people all the time, you have to do what’s right for you. Don’t try to make the leap from meat-eater to 100% plant-based overnight. I think it will be harder for it to stick. Start by maybe doing plant-based one night a week, or every day except for dinner. I would also encourage people to do all kinds of reading and documentary watching. You need to be truly aware of why you’re doing this and convinced that it’s the best lifestyle out there.

I won’t lie, even I get tempted to grab a piece of the hot stringy cheese pizza I’m offered, or scarf down a piece of some egg and milk filled birthday cake, but when I remind myself of the reasons I’m choosing not to contribute to the diary industry for the many ethical, environmental and personal health reasons, it’s far easier to avoid temptation.

AG: How important do you feel it is that people concerned with the environment and animal welfare adapt “plant-based” into all areas of their lives and not solely their diets?

AK: Eating a plant-based/vegan diet has tremendous positive affects on animals, the earth and our health and anyone who has enough awareness to be plant-based/vegan already rocks in my world! However, if these, already amazing, people want to do more, I would encourage them to think about taking the next step to learn about things like the leather industry, the wool industry, and the silk industry, for example, and give up buying those products. Again, this doesn’t need to be a drastic overnight change, and I don’t recommend immediately getting rid of every leather item one already owns, but I would encourage awareness and hope the knowledge makes people never want to support those industries again.

AG: When people think of vegan shoes; high fashion, trendy shoes don’t typically come to mind. Is this the case?

AK: Maybe a decade ago, but fortunately now there are some very beautiful, well-made, high-fashion shoes. I think people will be pleasantly surprised at the options we’ll have at Amour de la Terre. We will have a selection for women, men, and children, and a range from comfortable everyday shoes to some sexy night-out-on-the-town heels!

Amour De La Terre

Shoes at Amour de la Terre

AG: What are some brands that shoppers will find in your boutique?

AK: All of the brands we will carry are all-vegan companies. We’ll have Nicora Johns, Cri de Coeur, Olsenhaus, Brave Gentleman, Novacas, Mink and many more!

We’re excited to be the first US boutique to carry “NAE”, meaning “No Animal Exploitation”, which is an amazing vegan/Eco/ethical shoe company from Portugal. We’ll also be the first boutique in the Midwest to carry the amazing CoraLlei purses, which are designed by a lovely Irish designer Lorna and manufactured in Italy.

AG: What are vegan shoes typically made out of if not leather or suede?

AK: The material used from company to company varies. As I’ve mentioned, some faux-leather shoes are made of PVC, however I don’t plan on carrying this type of faux-leather due to its more harmful effects on the environment. Most of the better more Eco-friendly materials include microfibers, organic cottons, hemp, recycled polyester, and vegan ultra-suede.

AG: Will you have an online store for people outside of the Chicagoland area who want to purchase your products?

AK: Eventually we’ll do an online store, but we want to focus on the actual brick and mortar part first. Maybe in a year or so we’ll consider it.

AG: In addition to the new storefront, can Chicagoland residents expect any fun events at your store? If so, can we get a sneak peek?

AK: We’re hoping to have some fun events, like hosting speakers, cooking demos and even documentary screenings.

AG: Where are a few of your favorite places to eat plant-based (vegan) food in Oak Park and Chicago?

AK: In Oak Park there is “Munch”, which is an all vegan/vegetarian restaurant that I frequently visit. I’m always so impressed that many of the restaurants in Oak Park have vegetarian/vegan options on the menu, so it makes it easy to dine out anywhere in town. Oh, Chicago options, that’s like making me choose a favorite child! I do love Chicago Diner, Upton’s Breakroom, and Urban Vegan. Both my husband and my go-to place for our birthday celebrations (and non-birthdays) is Karyn’s on Green.

AG: We noticed the “OP” on the suffix of your social media handles. Does this indicate future plans for more stores?

AK: Hmmm, very observant! Well, it was not an original intention, but who knows! We’ll see how much love we get at our Oak Park location first!

Visit Amour de la Terre this summer at 130 N. Oak Park Ave., Oak Park, IL 60301. Public transit one block off the Green Line Oak Park stop and Follow Amour de la Terre on instagram @AmourDeLaTerreOP and on Facebook @AmourDeLaTerreOP for the latest news!

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