by Bonny Bunson contributor
Meet Alterre, founded by Shilpa Iyengar and Harmony Pilobello. Iyengar and Pilobello are creating sustainable footwear collections sourced and manufactured ethically while empowering consumers to participate in designing their own footwear and giving back to their community. Alterre’s mission is to provide women with fashion forward shoes that are equally comfortable to wear without harming the environment or taking advantage of vulnerable and poor labor here or abroad. If that wasn’t enough, Alterre partners with Restore NYC, a non-profit organization that provides long-term rehabilitation to victims of sex-trafficking in New York, which sadly happens to be one of the largest global markets for human trafficking.
I had the opportunity to speak at length with Pilobello on several occasions and interview her on Alterre’s innovative shoe designs, best practices, sustainable brand partnerships, and fair labor practices all while empowering professional and modern women with their footwear.
Multiple styles in one shoe. Alterre crafts comfortable and quality shoes that utilize interchangeable straps to transform any pair of shoes into multiple versions of itself. Here’s how it works: (1) choose your shoe size; (2) choose your base; (3) choose your strap. Alterre empowers women to design their own dream shoe from choosing a type of shoe, with variations in color and kind of strap. I know from my own experience that it felt amazing to design my perfect stiletto mule. I chose Alterre’s White V Mule as my base in color white, together with the Cow Grace Strap and White Marilyn Strap. I literally have three shoes in one that I can personally style in various ways. And the best part is that my shoes are comfortable (imagine a lot of insole padding) and versatile, and if I’m traveling, I can bring “three” pairs of shoes with me. Alterre’s patented technology allows the consumer to create over 500 combinations of interchangeable shoes that are wearable, functional, and fashionable. Alterre is designing “modular shoes for the modern woman,” and it’s wonderful.
Alterre heels are custom made with recycled plastic. I am a lover of stilettos, and Pilobello told me that stiletto heels are typically made with virgin plastic + metal to support the wearer’s weight.* However, Alterre’s innovative designs allow for recycled plastic to bear weight sufficiently up to 300 pounds without compromising style or harming the environment with unnecessary waste. Alterre’s sleek design and creative use of recycled plastic (instead of virgin plastic or other virgin materials) avoid the depletion of natural resources and maintain ecological balance. It’s the perfect pursuit of environmental sustainability with amazing style.
Alterre designs its shoes exclusively in its New York studio and manufactures them in Brazil according to fair labor laws. This includes adherence to minimum wage requirements, overtime pay, recordkeeping, and youth/child employment standards. Pilobello told me that she travels to Brazil on a regular basis to visit with the laborers working in the factory to ensure that everyone there is “happy and healthy.” The Brazilian factory is female managed, offers professional development, and invites laborers to grow within the factory while also providing free training and paying for other qualification programs for laborers, empowering them to enter management level positions. And if you had any doubts about the ethical standards of Alterre’s manufacturing practices, this same Brazilian factory manufacturers clothing and accessories for the sustainable mega brand Reformation.
Partnering with Restore NYC, Alterre gives 5% of its profits to assist with the education and placement of victims of human trafficking, providing them access to safe homes, safe jobs, and fresh starts. Not only does Alterre’s partnership empower victims of human trafficking, Alterre invites and empowers consumers to support a good cause, “[s]o you get to do good while you look good.”
*Editor's Note* The White Stiletto uses an exposed metal heel that is usually hidden in a plastic virgin mold prior to being wrapped in leather. Stilettos must be made with virgin plastic to maintain quality and integrity. All other shoes with chunker heels can and are made with recycled plastic heels