Up-Cycled Summer Sandals

Getting Creative During COVID-19

What more can be said about COVID-19? I, for one, am so damn tired of it. I long for the days of dining out, making small-talk with someone at the grocery store, and joking with my co-workers in person and not over Zoom.

When I wear a mask, I feel invisible. No one can see me smile. It is hard to communicate with just your eyes.

A Typical Day in the Neighborhood

I am stuck alone quarantining in the suburbs of Philadelphia. (Well, not really alone: I live with two cats that sleep all day and two aloof parakeets). The days can be tough – I feel lonely, sorry for myself, and miss the contact of other humans. I can’t remember the last time I had a hug. Some days, it is hard to get motivated.

Yesterday, was one of those days.

Anne Cecil, RoxanneLava Shoes

However, at my lowest moment, an email appeared in my Drexel University work email account. It was from Anne Cecil, the shoemaker behind RoxanneLava handmade mules. (Anne was one of the first female entrepreneurs that I profiled for this blog – read here – and she is on the Faculty at Drexel University’s Westphal College of Media Arts and Design and is a Drexel alum).

The email’s subject line said, “Are You Up for the Challenge?”

I read her email: “Welcome to your Up-cycled Summer Sandal Challenge. Your mission, should you choose to accept, is to create a pair of sandals (mules/slides only of course) from up-cycled materials found in your home.”

Included were instructions detailing how to make a pair of handmade shoes and a pattern.

As I said, I was having a hard time getting motivated but I knew this would help get me out of my head for at least the next few hours. And I am extremely competitive. Challenge accepted!

First, I pulled together the tools I would need: scissors, a heavy duty utility knife, masking tape, clips, glue and a needle and thread. Next, I went on a scavenger hunt around my apartment to look for materials that I could use to make a shoe.

For the shoe’s outsole, I needed a hard but flexible material; for the insole, a firm, but soft to the touch, and flexible material; and for the decorative band that goes over your foot, I had to find an attractive fabric (or fabrics).

This is what I found.

I chose a lime green cutting board for the out sole. I chose it for three reasons: its color was bright and cheerful, it was both flexible and rigid, and best of all, it has a non-slip textured surface on its backside. I cut out two pairs of pieces – one pair for the out sole and another for the heel. I used a piece of thick cardboard for the heel as well.

For the insole, I chose the outside cardboard cover from a pad of lined yellow paper. It was relatively hard and it had a brushed surface that would feel nice against the sole of my foot. (Although, once I finished the shoe, I decided to cover that cardboard insole with a scrap of “black pleather” left over from another craft project to hide some glue stains.)

For the decorative band, I found two pieces of a pink, black and yellow material that was leftover from a hemmed pair of pants, (I knew I was saving it for a good reason!), some artist canvas, vintage lucite beads and a bright, yellow, cord from a “Happy Birthday” gift bag.

Here are pictures of the process:

And Voila!

Finished Sandals with Matching Top Shop Pants and Covid-19 Chipped Toe Nails

I did this project entirely on my own, but it would be super-fun to do this challenge with a group of friends – for a happy hour social or a Sunday maker’s afternoon – with Anne as your guide. Anne also offers a unique activity for a bride-to-be. Invite Anne to be a guest instructor at an intimate party with your bridesmaids. Anne will bring all the materials and teach you and your guests how to make a fold-able, fashionable, mule to throw in your purse for when your feet can’t stand another second in a pair of heels. During the pandemic, these workshops make a memorable Zoom call. (For more info, you can email Anne at roxannelavarox@gmail.com).

My verdict on this project? Easy, creative, fun, and most importantly, it got me through another day of self-isolating! And look how bright and cheerful they are! I can’t help smiling when I look at them (and now to make a matching mask!)

I don’t worry that I don’t have extra space to get creative. I’ve given up caring that my apartment is a mess!

Anne Cecil and RoxanneLava are this week’s Proving Ground Pop Up Featured Entrepreneur on Instagram. Follow The Proving Ground at www.instagram.com/provinggroundpopup/ to learn more about RoxanneLava and to view live videos, interviews and more!

Are you interested in being a part of the Upcycled Summer Sandal Challenge? The deadline for submissions is June 26th with winners announced on July 1st. There will be awards for the top 3 designs in these categories: 1) Best material innovation, 2) Most sale-able, and 3) Best design. To submit your entry, follow @provinggroundpopup on Instagram, post your finished sandal on your Instagram page and tag it: #provinggroundpopup. Instructions below. Questions? Feel free to reach out to Anne at roxannelavarox@gmail.com



Nicole Haddad: The Sustainable Fashion of Lobo Mau

Photo Lobo Mau Ribbing
Nicole Haddad of Lobo Mau

Nicole Haddad had her “Aha” moment when she was 24 years old, two years out of undergraduate school and doing data entry at a law firm. She was unfulfilled and trying to decide her next move when a childhood best friend suggested, “Why don’t you become a fashion designer?” The light flicked on and within a week, Nicole applied and was accepted to the graduate program in Fashion Design at Drexel University’s Westphal College of Media Arts and Design. This is the story of Nicole’s journey to becoming a fashion designer and how she built Lobo Mau, her distinctive Philadelphia-based fashion line. 

Nicole grew up in the town of Lansdowne, in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Her girlhood home was artistically rich and culturally diverse. Her father, Orlando Haddad, was born and raised in Brazil and studied jazz composition and guitar at the North Carolina School for the Arts. There, he met Nicole’s mom, Patricia King, who was studying voice. Patricia is 3rd generation Sicilian. Together, they are part of the Grammy-nominated Brazilian duo “Minas”.   Nicole still lives in Lansdowne – in a house around the corner from where she grew up.

Nicole was a creative kid – she played the guitar and piano, and she was a maker who loved to draw. She especially liked to draw her own clothing designs. Not surprisingly, Nicole comes from a long line of dressmakers and clothing designers. 

Nicole’s Great-Grandmother’s Dress Boutique

Her grandmother was a bridal and evening gown designer. Her great-grandmother, Annunziata, owned three clothing boutiques in her lifetime. The embodiment of the American Dream, Annunziata, an Italian immigrant, opened her first clothing store on Chestnut Street. Celebrities and socialites such as Grace Kelly shopped at Minissale’s.

At the age of 13, Nicole traveled to Brazil to visit relatives. Across the street from where she was staying, was a seamstress shop. Nicole boldly took her drawings to that shop and asked the dressmakers to turn them into clothing. Over a decade later, when she applied to Drexel, those clothes formed the basis of the portfolio that got her admitted.  

In graduate school, Nicole learned the fundamentals of sewing – how to cut and make patterns and how to work with knits. She also developed her unique point of view and began her Lobo Mau line. After graduation, Nicole took a job at a costume jewelry factory. Her work there was mindless and she took advantage of what it offered – access to a multitude of women of different shapes and sizes who were willing to try on her clothes and give her feedback.  

Eventually, Nicole was offered an opportunity to join a fashion co-op in Olde City, where she and other fashion designers could sell their work in a storefront boutique and fabricate their designs in its communal basement workroom. When her business outgrew the co-op, she moved her studio to the Bok Building, a former vocational high school located in South Philly, becoming its very first tenant. At Bok, Lobo Mau has continued to grow and evolve. Three years ago, Nicole’s younger brother, Jordan, joined Lobo Mau, and as its CEO, he has pushed the business forward. This fall, Lobo Mau will open its flagship boutique in Queen Village.  

Photo of Nicole and Jordan Haddad of Lobo Mau
Nicole with Jordan

What is behind Lobo Mau’s success?  

First, Nicole and Jordan are warm, welcoming, and down to earth. They genuinely care about the happiness of their clients – they want them to look and feel good about their purchase. And the Lobo Mau line of clothing does both those things. 

Lobo Mau clothing is for every woman (and man) – any shape, size, or age. It is fun, contemporary, and functional (and machine-washable) with a nod towards the evolution and history of fashion (Nicole has her undergraduate degree in Art History to thank for that.) Its silhouettes are flattering and the unique textural combination of original monochrome patterns with colorful, linear ribbing sets the Lobo Mau collection apart. 

Photo Lobo Mau Ribbing
Ribbing Detail
Photo of Lobo Mau Clothing

This year, Lobo Mau was named Philadelphia Magazine’s Best of Philly “Best Sustainable Local Brand”. The fashion industry, and especially Fast Fashion, are a huge threat to the health of our planet. Out of six of the largest industries in the world – coal/oil, tourism, beef, transportation, fracking and fashion – fashion is the largest polluter after coal and oil. The process of producing new fabric, especially cotton, is the main culprit. The amount of water required to grow cotton is exorbitant – it takes 4000 gallons of water to grow the cotton for one pair of jeans! Additionally, pesticides used in cotton farming and toxic dyes contribute to the problem. (Check out BBC1’s “Fashion’s Dirty Secrets”.)

Lobo Mau’s “Slow Fashion” ethos is a reaction to the un-sustainability of Fast Fashion, where quantity and low cost is valued over everything. Nicole and Jordan intentionally consider the resources required when making decisions regarding the production of their clothing line. They use higher-quality leftover or “deadstock” fabric that lasts longer, they utilize scraps, use inks whose pigments do not contain heavy metals and buy eco-nylon thread. They support the local economy by working with Philly family – owned businesses, including the company that supplies their signature ribbing material. Becoming zero-waste (they are almost there, but not quite) is a goal for the future.  

On Thursday, August 29th, I will be co-hosting a party at Lobo Mau’s studio. Nicole will share her fashion line, the story behind her business, and her passion for “Slow Fashion.” Join me for a light bite to eat, a glass of wine and a chance to learn how you too can make a difference by supporting local sustainable brands such as Lobo Mau.  

Lobo Mau is located in the Bok Building, 1901 S. 9th Street, Suite 501. 610.316.9821. If you would like to come to my Lobo Mau party, please do! Everyone is welcome. Message me and I will add you to the guest list.

Roxannelava – Punk Rock Rebel Shoes

This is the story of Anne Cecil, a Punk Rock Girl who grew up to be a Punk Rock Entrepreneur. Anne is the founder and visionary behind Roxannelava Shoes.

Anne is a Maker and ambassador for the DIY movement. As a child of two working parents, Anne was a latchkey kid who filled her time making things. Her dad was a Pediatrician and her mom, a Child Psychiatrist for the Philadelphia School system. A product of World War II England, her mom learned needle work and knitting as a child. She carried on with these skills throughout her life and taught Anne how to knit at the age of 3. Knitting came easy for Anne. With a visual mind that thinks in three dimensions, she has always had an interest in how things are made – figuring things out by taking them apart and putting them back together again.

Anne grew up in Lower Merion, Pennsylvania, and as a teenager in the 1970’s, she was heavily influenced by the Punk Rock Movement – not only by the music and fashion, but also by the ideology. DIY was the battle cry of punk rock. Self-reliance, independence and non-conformity were the name of the game. Punk rock groups booked their own venues, silk screened their own posters and taught themselves how to play the guitar (after all, you only need to know 3 chords to be in a band.)

Now Form a band

South Street was the center of the Philly Punk scene. As a young adult and teenager, Anne would ride Septa into Philadelphia to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show at the TLA at midnight, shop at the punk rock retailer, Zipperhead, and see her favorite bands – The Ramones, Blondie and Joan Jett and the Runaways – at all-age shows. Punk Rock was anathema to the conservative Reagan-era and reflected Anne’s liberal world-view. She was drawn to its DIY attitude and her English ancestry (her mother is 1st generation American and her father’s family traces back to the English statesman, William Cecil) manifested itself in an affinity for punk.

Anne went to college at Drexel in the early 1980’s where she studied Design & Merchandising. She became a hat maker, a web designer and ultimately, a professor and program director of D&M at the Westphal College of Art and Design at Drexel. Anne frequently travels to the UK – to teach, to see friends and to visit family haunts. In the summer of 2014, while in London, she enrolled in a shoe making workshop at Prescott & Mackay Shoe Making School where she learned how to make sandals from component parts using the cement construction method. (If you are interested in learning more about this type of shoe construction, watch this fascinating video). 

In 2015, she was awarded a Westphal Faculty Development Grant.  She used the grant money to attend an intensive, 7-day fashion pump-making course in Ashland, Oregon. For further practice, she combined a favored handbag and rescued shoe components into a new sandal. (pictured)

Favorite Handbag Sandals

The following year, she attended a national shoe symposium, where she not only met small batch suppliers who would sell materials to businesses as small as hers’ but also, where she discovered a basket of vintage shoe lasts (a mechanical form in the shape of a human foot). Included in this basket, was a size 7 last (Anne’s size) from the 1980’s. (below)

Vintage Size 7 Lasts

Inspired by the retro last, Anne decided to make a pair of mules. As she wore the metallic orange stunners, people stopped her on the street to ask, “Where can I get those shoes?”  Anne realized that there was a desire for this show-stopper shoe. Not only was it gorgeous, but it was incredibly comfortable, made entirely from hand and built to fit your foot.  From her friend and owner of the site Shoedo.com, Georgine Kim, she was able to secure the complete size range of this last and on July 1, 2017, Roxannelava was launched.

Metallic Orange Stunners

As a small hand-made brand, Roxannelava embodies the punk tenet of individualism. As Joe Strummer said, “I will always believe in Punk Rock, because it is about creating something for yourself.”

Anne is concerned with social and environmental issues such as sustainability; she uses excess furniture ends from a local furniture maker to construct many of her shoes. And she believes in animal rights: if you are going to kill an animal to make a pair of shoes, then use all of the animal’s hide, even the imperfect parts. 

There is beauty and visual interest in leather that contains scars, wrinkles and veins, just as there is something raw, elemental and true about punk rock music. Punk fashion featured imperfect clothes – torn, cut, and held together by safety pins and duct tape. Construction and the bones of a garment were not disguised by expert sewing and hidden seams; rather they were highlighted.  With flaws, mistakes and imperfections, comes authenticity. And authenticity is valued above all else in punk rock.  Anne Cecil’s Roxannelava shoes are authentic and painstakingly made by hand, using materials that revel in their imperfections.

According to Joey Ramone “punk is about real feelings. It’s not about, ‘yeah, I am a punk and I’m angry.’ … It’s about loving the things that really matter: passion, heart and soul.” There is a lot of passion, heart and soul in Roxannelava shoes. That is for sure.

Punk Rock Girl Anne Cecil