.We had a great experience at a relatively new and sustainable store in Williamsburg called The Better Shop! We had heard from countless friends how great their product curation was amazing. Plus, we were told about how they were working with sustainability, so we had to check it out.
As soon as we walked into, The Better Shop, a sustainable store in Williamsburg, Casey (the founder) approached.
We immediately started taking about the store, why she decided to open it, her shoe brand called Sylven New York, we learned about her background and specially her passions regarding sustainable fashion.
“Recycled, regenerated, and bio-based vegan and leather footwear, handcrafted in Italy.” ~ Sylven New York
“The Better Shop is an ethical and sustainable destination for mission-driven brands to share their products and stories. Never on a quest for perfection, we aim to spark conversations about finding ways to be ‘better’ about our fashion choices. Whether through better treatment of workers through fair wages, better materials and development techniques that consider product life cycle and end-life, better community engagement through service projects and giving back, and overall better quality goods that promote longevity and spark joy.” ~ The Better Shop
The entire story is amazing and the product curation too. And, when you mix this with the sustainable factor, it’s unbeatable.
Take a look at the interview with Casey Dworkin, the Founder of The Better Shop and Sylven New York:
Tell us a bit about you! Where you were born, what you studied, what brought you to NYC, etc.
My name is Casey Dworkin and I was born in Cherry Hill, NJ just ten miles outside of Philadelphia.
As a teen, I become enamored with shoes and boots. I ended up going to school to study product design mixed with fashion merchandising.
I had my sights set on becoming a shoe designer. While I was still finishing my degree in Philly, I moved to New York City to pursue my first internship at Michael Kors in their footwear design department.
It was the first time I got to see the process of shoe design happening in real context, and I ended up finishing my degree, while still on my internship and made the move to NYC permanently.
That was almost eight years ago, and I haven’t stopped pursuing new roles in the footwear industry since.
How did Sylven New York come to life?
After tenure with a few small independent shoe brands learning about the landscape of the industry and helping to build, grow, and launch other peoples’ concepts and ideas, I ended up experiencing a few things in my personal life that made me stop in tracks and think – “what is it that I want to do with my life every day, what’s going to get me out of bed and excited to create?”
I am so passionate about shoes, but I hadn’t found a company that I felt really cared – about values, ethics, the environment, and putting out a truly beautiful and considered product.
And then I realized that I wanted to start something of my own rooted in all the things I cared about the most. And since I had that realization, not a day has gone by that I haven’t been working towards that goal in some way.
Can you share a bit more about the ethical and sustainable aspects of the brand?
Sustainability is such a buzzword right now, but to us, sustainability is a way of thinking through the environmental impact of everything we do. I’m super passionate about materials, so that’s a huge sustainable focus of the brand, and the one that’s probably the most visible.
When it comes to shoemaking, you can have upwards of 64 components for a single shoe – that’s a lot of room to innovate for materials! In standard shoe production, a lot of those components can be made from virgin plastics and harmful chemical products.
From heels to insoles, outer soles, vegan leathers, glues, and even the form used to make the shoe pattern called a ‘last’. I look at each of these components individually, and source some of the most cutting-edge technology available.
This season, I really wanted to focus on creating vegan shoes, but struggled to find vegan leathers that met my sustainable standards. I ended up sourcing a brand new material made of apples! We also use recycled plastics and fibers, natural rubbers, water-based glues, chrome-free leathers, natural wood, and components made from organic and renewable resources.
It’s all an ongoing process, but the goal is to make the world’s most sustainable luxury footwear.
Aside from our materials, we consider sustainability throughout our entire production process – how we ship our product, our packaging, the end life of our product, our carbon footprint and the emissions we produce, and how we give back.
As for ethics, we focus on how to carry our values through every aspect of what we do and to the people that we work with. Currently, we have a partnership with a community of fair-trade artisans in Kenya that we work with directly to create one of a kind custom hardware pieces for our shoes.
In addition to our direct contributions to the artisans and their families, it was important to us to setup a scholarship program. The purpose is to further develop the creative industries in the regions we work within. At the end of the day, we want to conduct business with integrity and mindfulness.
Why Brooklyn? What are the challenges of starting a sustainable store in Williamsburg and business in a city like New York?
After a few initial years in Manhattan, I moved to Brooklyn and it just felt like home. I have been able to develop a true sense of community and carve out a little space that feels filled with inspiration, creativity, and support.
New York in general is a fantastic and difficult place full of opportunity – there are so many resources here! I think the mindset of New Yorkers is one of productivity. People are here for a reason, and whether it be to pursue their creative dreams, or work towards their given industry, the collective mindset of New York seems to be one that follows a current.
The difficult thing about it all is that there is so much saturation here. People are working and they’re working hard. There is always someone who is going to be harder working, more talented, ‘luckier’, or further along than you, and it breeds this sense of competition.
Sometimes it’s healthy, and other times it feels detrimental. But New York has this amazing energy, and I don’t think I would have been able to get to where I am if I started this anywhere else.
What are the top selling products? What are the most unique ones that people always enjoy? What’s the price range of products?
Currently, our Cassidy boot is our top-seller. It’s at that magic heel two-inch heel height and is available in both genuine vegetable-tanned leather and vegan options. It’s one of those every day go-to boots that is so versatile, you’re hard pressed to find something you can’t wear them with!
As far as uniqueness, people have been loving anything made out of our apple leather. It’s such a unique and new vegan material. And, the fact that we can make shoes out of apples is pretty astounding.
As for our price range, our fall/winter collection ranges from $395 for a bootie up to $595 for a knee-high boot.
We try to stay competitive but are selling a premium product made in the same factories as some of the world’s most expensive designer brands.
Do you have brand collaborations, if so, please tell us more!
My biggest collaboration to date is probably my multi-brand retail space in Williamsburg called The Better Shop.
It brings in a collective of about twenty brands all focused on sustainable and ethical values. All with amazing products spanning apparel, accessories, jewelry, skincare, candles, and vintage!
Is there any new, exclusive collaboration about to come “out of the oven” that you can share first-hand?
I absolutely love to collaborate and have a really exciting collaboration dropping for Spring/Summer of 2020.
I can’t share too much. But, I can say that it involves using an amazing recycled and handmade textile blended with our current materials.
You offer custom items? Tell us about this.
I wish I could offer custom items!
Unfortunately, with the lead times it takes to create shoes and with my production all happening oversees in Italy, we just can’t create one off piece.
What’s your advice for anyone that dreams about starting a business in NYC?
I think you need to be equal parts passionate, focused, determined, patient and crazy!
There are a lot of long, hard days where you’re spending countless hours working towards something that may not feel tangible, and it can be extremely challenging.
It will also be incredibly rewarding. But, if you’re not working on something that you absolutely love, it will be that much harder. Also take breaks!!
I cannot stress the importance of listening to your body and taking care of yourself. While, of course, you focus on building something.
Now, it’s your turn to visit The Better Shop. Take a closer look at Sylven New York and the other wonderful brands curated to make this space unique!
Let us know what you though on the comments below!
If you enjoy sustainable stores and places, you might enjoy the kids brand The Little Red Planet, another sustainable store in Williamsburg. If you’re into sustainable traveling, check out what the 1Hotels are all about. Or, watch the super cool video we shot with Daniel, from Zero Waste Daniel.
Hours: Open 7 days: 11am – 7pm
Location: 155 Grand Street, Williamsburg
Photo Credits: Courtesy of Casey Dworkin and Andrea Zalkin (portrait)