By Cora Hilts
Originally from the Maine countryside, Cora spent five years in Paris and New York City intermittently working in luxury fashion and studying Politics before ending up in London.
Introducing D’Arçé Sandals
As we make our footwear debut official by introducing a new curation by D’Arçé Sandals, a unique label that manufactures using up-cycled kangaroo leather, we decided to interview founder and creative director Monica Arce Garcia to get the lowdown on her innovative brand.
Where did the name D’Arçé come from?
The name D’Arçé is my surname but with the contraction of ”de” which means of in Spanish. I was born in El Salvador and am proud of my background and it is part of my identity. Also, I actually first got this idea about this whole business concept when I found a pair of handmade sandals that my late grandmother hand sent me from El Salvador. So, it was in homage to her as well as my mother (who both married into the Arce family and thus became “De Arce”). The accents I added because for English speakers, Arce can be difficult to pronounce. So, it’s very much in honour of my family (my father has been very supportive as well). This idea of family and togetherness is something that influences how I approach everything from sourcing to manufacturing and relationships with the ladies I work with.
When and how did you develop the idea for D’Arçé?
I developed the idea when I came back to Australia from Paris where I had studied and lived for several years. I had always been interested in fashion and was lucky to have interned at the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development working with a division that sought to bring the private sector into the development field. With a background in fashion and that idea that the private sector is what can really make a difference in developing economies, I wanted bring these two interests together. So, fast forward to a few years later when I was at home convalescing after knee surgery, I found those handmade sandals my grandmamma had sent me and the idea formed to make these sandals a proper business working with the artisans who had made them. However, the geographical distance being so great it struck me that even though Australia is a “developed” country there are indigenous communities here that would benefit from this type of venture.
The Menorquina – Black
What is different about kangaroo leather compared to other types of leather?
I decided on Kangaroo leather because it is local, sustainable and for want of a better word, beautiful and very strong. After a lot of research into the annual cull that is scientifically determined and managed by the government, I thought it was the best option. The leather that is used is refuse from the meat industry. We work with a local tannery that is sustainable and environmentally friendly. Additionally, as a native animal to Australia, they are culled in the wild. This can be seen in some of our sandals (mainly on the upper sole) where scars or other faults may be seen.
We use all grades of leather as we see as it wasteful to not use a skin just because of these perceived “imperfections”. After all we are mindful that this leather comes from a once sentient being and we should honour that fact. In terms of properties, Kangaroo leather is incredibly soft and lightweight but the strongest leather for its weight in the world. It has some stretch, which only lends to the suppleness. That also means sandals may feel a bit snug at first but trust us they will stretch. Moreover, we use only vegetable tanned leather. This means that there is a patina that develops with wear, we do protect with natural water repellents and oils but you may see a change in tone of colours as you wear them. We also use cane toad skin, an introduced pest to Australia, which kills a lot of local fauna.
The Menorquina – Tan
Do you have difficulty conveying your ethos to those who feel that the use of animal products is not sustainable?
We haven’t really run into any difficulties because we are very clear and transparent about the fact that we use animal leather be that veg tanned or hair on hide (ie fur). Ethical can mean so many things and recently, the term is used as a stand in for “vegan”. I believe that it is a term that should encompass being environmentally friendly, sustainable and socially positive. I have made this choice because I believe it’s the most ecological option.
Our leather is local and biodegradable. Looking into the current alternatives for faux leather, the majority are oil based, don’t age well and go into landfill for however many years. I prefer to produce something that lasts for years and will biodegrade once it is truly worn out. I am still wearing the first samples I made 2 years ago and the soles are barely scuffed. I know there is a movement to creating lab based leathers or things like piñatex but I do want to be clear that we are a fashion brand and if it doesn’t fit with the aesthetic of our designs then I won’t use it. I think education is a vital component for consumers today and each buyer should do their research and make the best choice that aligns with their values.
Other than leather, what other materials and substances go into creating the footwear?
We use traditional sole bend for the soles of our shoes, which means they last a very long time. We have also just sourced sustainable crepe for anti-slip heels that we are currently testing out. We source our hardware from France and we do use contact cement to put the sandals together. This is not as environmentally friendly as I would like so am continuing to look for alternatives that are as hardwearing. We also use organic cotton muslin for our shoe bags.
Can you give us a brief overview of the sourcing and production process?
Our supply chain is all located in Australia from a local tannery in Brisbane, Queensland. I go in and pick and choose the leather. We then laser cut our soles in Noosa and manufacture sandals in Cherbourg or Brisbane. The shoe bags are made in Cherbourg with Australian made labels from Sydney. So pretty simple and straightforward which is how we want to keep it.
You use fur in a few of your pieces, can you tell us why from both an ethical and sustainable stance you decided to use it?
So, the fur we use is hair on hide kangaroo before it has been processed. We actually only bought it because it was in the reject pile of our tannery and they were going to go to waste. So I decided to use them and demonstrate that this wasn’t rubbish but a beautiful, natural resource that can be used regardless of its faults. With our product, we can easily cut around “faults” that other producers wouldn’t be able to. So that’s how the two styles that use fur came into being. Once we run out of this pile, those styles may be put on hold unless there is more rejects that we can find. So really, it’s up cycling in action. We have finite resources and I think it’s important that designers utilise them responsibly.