David Binns, Owner of Aurora Shoe Company
There’s also a strong ethic of environmental stewardship behind the product. The shoes themselves are made to support a low-waste lifestyle: leather and rubber are both natural and renewable resources, as opposed to the environmentally depleting synthetics used in fast-fashion shoes. As their most dedicated customers can attest, Aurora shoes can be resoled for decades; mass-market shoes tend to have cemented soles, which are practically impossible to resole. Shoes with non-replaceable soles become worthless once the bottom wears out—even if the upper 90% is still in good condition—and often end up in landfills, wasting huge amounts of material.
Beyond the environmental merits of the product itself, the Aurora Shoe Company strives to make their daily operations as sustainable as possible. The workshop is heated with an outdoor wood-fired boiler. Cardboard boxes are recycled for inventory tracking. Leftover leather scraps are either sold on to local artisans or used to make new products in-house; most recently, Aurora Shoes has been experimenting with leather belts, wallets, and notebook holders made of off-cuts from the shoemaking process.
Innumerable microbrands peddling hand-made authenticity have expired in the decades since Aurora Shoe Company started. It seems improbable that a ten-person workshop in upstate New York farm country, selling almost willfully unfashionable shoes should beat the odds. Their success is a testament to a kind of honesty that’s increasingly rare in today’s consumer culture: when the Aurora Shoe Company says their shoes are “authentic,” “well-made,” and “high quality,” they really mean it—and their customers can tell.
Dave is optimistic that Aurora Shoe’s brand of honesty will win out in the long run. As the gold-rush mentality of online retail exhausts itself, he sees an opportunity for small, thoughtfully curated clothing boutiques to succeed in the U.S.—the kind that are more common overseas, like the Tokyo storefront that drove so much of Aurora Shoe’s early success. Eventually, the market will come back around to products that are made to last.
“Now it’s just trying to shift the American mentality toward it being okay to spend a little more for something that lasts a lot longer, and you can feel good about supporting your local economy, and fair wages, and more stringent environmental standards,” says Dave. “I’m proud that we’ve never compromised. We have customers from 25 years ago who can attest to that, because they’re still wearing our shoes.”