Heart and Sole: 5028 Matches Business with Impact

We're really excited to feature one of our returning artisans this spring - a shoe company that helps you look, feel, and do good. Fifty-Twenty Eight makes small batch, limited edition shoes, which are designed in Carbondale, CO and made by craftsmen in Spain and Portugal. Their product line includes upcycled shoes, for which they take leathers that would have otherwise gone to waste and repurpose them for new shoe designs. But they don’t stop at sustainability—for every pair of shoes sold, they also donate $5 to support mental health programs (a cause close to the founders’ hearts).

Did we mention that these artisan shoes are stylish and high-quality as well? 5028 is a model social enterprise from all angles and a company we’re proud to include in our Firefly Handmade community. Read on to learn more about from founders Mike and Angilina:

How did you begin your handmade journey?

The idea somewhat started in 2009 when Mike called Angilina and said let’s start a shoe company in honor of a friend who had passed. That idea never came to fruition, but years later when we reconnected and eventually married, we talked about starting our own thing, and with Angilina being a shoe designer for 15 years and Mike's love of shoes, the direction seemed clear. While traveling in Portugal, Angilina had the idea for 5028, a limited edition, artisan shoe company. She had grown tired of de-specing her designs to reach mainstream mass and was working with craftsman that were open to and interested in making smaller quantities of shoes. At the time the mass production of shoes was out of control and in some ways still is, the quality of mass produced shoes had gone down along with the price-point and the originality, everything was looking the same on store shelves. Thankfully, the artisan movement is changing that and challenging the way things are moving, so we are seeing a shift back to thoughtful, creative design in product. Anyway, it was a moment in a factory when Angilina looked around and saw the product the Portuguese makers were creating that she realized this product is not finding its way to the US and while it may not be mass, it is special, it is unique, and it is salable. She thought she could partner with them and together they could create beautiful shoes.

There must be a story behind your name...

Fifty-Twenty Eight is the numerical portion of Angilina's grandparents address. They have been influential in her life in many ways and also ran a successful "husband/wife" hardwood flooring business out of their house that still continues on. They got married on St. Patrick's day and so did we, so the zero in 5028 is a stylization between a shamrock and zero, we call this our “zero-rock.”

What inspires your designs?

So many things, I get inspired by materials and treatments that can be made to materials like embosses, perforations, painting, and burnishing. Prints on carpets and clothes, jewelry and bag treatments, for some reason beautiful bathrooms the world over get photographed and used for inspiration a lot. I think it is important to pay attention to what is going on in other industries and artistic mediums and have a sense of what the trends are. Travel also always opens up the mind and, in turn, the creative process.

Tell us more about your mission. Why is this an important cause for you?

We chose mental health for a few reasons. On the more extreme end, we both have family members with major mental health disorders and as we have been witness to and a part of their journey, we have seen the stigma associated with having a mental health issue, the challenges faced within the healthcare system, the quickness to medicate—to put a bandaid on the problem, and the challenges associated with finding the real help needed. On more of the prevention side of things, we believe if talking about mental health becomes a norm (like talking about physical health, dental health, etc.) we will be able to help prevent a small mental issue from becoming a big one. I recently heard this about association of mental health disorders and found it fascinating: if someone has cancer or has a heart condition we say “they have it”, meaning the disease is separate of them, it is something that they have and potentially could get rid of. If a person is bipolar or manic they are that thing, “she is bipolar, he is manic,” not “she has bipolar disorder or he struggles with mania.” When a person is told they are something it becomes a part of their identity and seems like it is something they can never rid themselves of, it defines them. Imagine if we flipped that narrative. Showing mental struggles in our society has been associated with weakness for far too long when it should be one of the more understandable aspects of the human condition, as we all experience it in some way shape or form.

What are you most proud of so far?

Our upcycled collection. We weren't sure our vendors would be open to it, as it complicates the crafting of the shoes a bit, but they have been very receptive. Upcycling by definition is also known as “creative reuse”, it is the process of transforming by-products, waste materials, useless, or unwanted products into new materials or products that are useful and often beautiful. Our waste comes from our vendors, they have warehouses full of materials that are left over from oversampling, canceled orders, and miscalculating consumption for large orders. The materials are still good, and high quality, but have no home, so we repurpose them and give them a home. If the materials can't get used they will often get tossed as the space in the warehouses needs to get freed up. We love that we are able to repurpose materials that would otherwise be going to waste. It makes the creative process more fun and challenging as well.

Sustainability is an important factor in your business. How do you stay mindful of this mission and in what ways?

We do our best. We are not perfect by any means, the fashion industry is tricky that way, there is waste and there is transportation, and in many ways that is unavoidable. We are committed to making our shoes in small batches with some of them having a home prior to being made. By making them this way, we are minimizing excess inventory and therefore waste. If we do have leftovers that are not sold we get them a home by donating or selling at second hand stores, which also makes us feel good about getting people who might not otherwise be able to have them quality shoes they will love. We eliminate waste by not packing our shoes in a shoe box, but rather a reusable dust bag, we say "we don't ship our shoes in a box inside a box." And then of course the upcycled shoes, which have uppers made of dead-stock materials and footbeds that are molded from post consumer recycled regrind.

Why did you choose to have your shoes made in Spain and Portugal?

We had relationships there for one. But when Angilina started working there with her previous company in 2011, she was quickly drawn to the artistry and knowledge of shoe making there. Working with the craftsmen in Portugal is where the light bulb idea came on to actually start 5028.

What surprising lessons have you learned along the way?

OH MY! So many lessons! I guess you don't know what you don't know until you know that you don't know it! LOL! That you have to be nimble in your process and adapt to the way things are going. It seems like we are shifting within reason and making sure we stay true to our original vision, which is limited edition artisan shoes that stand out in a crowd and people can feel good about wearing. If the story or vision has to shift, we revisit the original vision and ask ourselves “does this align with our ethos?”

What is your top-selling design?

The Men's First Love has probably been our best selling men's shoe. And the Women's Days of Wild which we are almost out of stock of, but will be reprising in the fall. When we first started we had this idea that we would presell our inventory and overbuy just a little for events and promotions. This was in an effort to make what we sell and be sustainable, but the overwhelming response has been if the design is in demand we should continue to make it so we still make our shoes in small batches but will make up to 250 pairs. So, the shoes that were originally sold and we said we only made 35 pairs or 70 pairs of will only ever have that many at market. The original colors of the men's First Love (Denim & Olive) and the Women's Days of Wild (Winter White, and Brown which is sold out) fit into that story. All of our new upcycled shoes are really taking off, people love the story!

Could you tell us about any special projects you are working on for the upcoming market?

We have a bunch of dead-stock materials we brought back with us from Europe that we are adding to T-shirts, hats and jewelry. It has been slow going getting stuff made as we have a newborn, Duke Rivers, who is eight weeks old, but hopefully we will have a nice assortment at Firefly. =)

What do you like about being a Firefly Handmade artisan?

We love the Firefly markets, the events are curated with awesome artisans, and we always meet new interesting people making amazing things. They are marketed well and the clientele that come either really get what we are doing or are shocked that there is a brand selling and making shoes the way we do, so they are excited to get to know us.

Any advice for makers and entrepreneurs new to our creative community?

All shows are different, some are good and the sales are phenomenal, some aren't as good, but almost always there is a relationship built, a lifelong customer made, or a promising connection that comes with publicity or sales in the coming months.

Meet Mike, Angilina, and 5028 at our Spring Market at Boulder’s 29th Street Shopping District or at https://weare5028.com/.

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