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The Satya Interview with
Erica and Sara Kubersky
Sara and Erica Kubersky.
Photo by Kevin Lysaght
Remember the days of suffering
mini-breakdowns over the disappointing selection of ugly tofu hemp
shoes—the ones that absolutely did
not harmonize with your fashion style? Or slowing your pace when passing
the Prada display window only to hear the shoes beckon, “Hey,
stranger, what’s a fashionable girl like you doing without shoes
like us?” Thank the great white bean sprout for the Kubersky
sisters. Years of settling for cheap, toxic plastic shoes that are
made in sweatshops, leaving your feet in a constant state of soreness,
are no more.
Vegan-owned MooShoes, founded in 2001 by Erica and Sara Kubersky, started off
as a storefront in a former halal butcher shop near Gramercy Park. Now thriving
on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, MooShoes has taken the ugly out of vegan
shoes once and for all, offering a wide selection of hip, cruelty-free footwear
for all at affordable prices. The black and white veg wings, a knock-off of the
classic wingtips with a steel toe and an airseal sole by Vegetarian Shoes, are
a must. The 14 eye boot is the real deal—a big, black steel-toed boot made
for stomping. Also available are the sweatshop-free Converse-style sneakers by
No Sweat, in low or high-tops. And one should not be without a pair of the sparkle
pumps, with silver glitter and chunky heel, by TUK. MooShoes also offers chic
non-leather bags, wallets, belts, jackets, bracelets, and ipod cases, not to
mention vegan cookbooks, animal rights T-shirts, cruelty-free makeup and other
After drooling over MooShoes’ online store for over an hour, Kymberlie
Adams Matthews talked with Erica and Sara Kubersky about fashionable footwear
and the emergence of their activism.
Okay, let’s turn back the clock and start at the very beginning. Who’s
Erica Kubersky: Sara is actually five years older. I think I lived to annoy her
and she lived to make me cry—you know, your basic older sister-younger
When and how did you get the vegetarian bug?
EK: Our father is Israeli so we would visit our family there often. When I was
about eight years old, I was visiting a kibbutz and I met some cows. I was snuggling
up with a calf when I suddenly realized that my beloved hamburger was made from
my new beloved friend. I haven’t touched meat since. Luckily my parents
were immediately supportive of my decision and have since followed suit and are
now almost vegan themselves.
Sara Kubersky: A couple of months after Erica had gone veg, our family was in
Texas. We went to one of those huge steakhouses Texas is famous for and I was
just struck by the cow consumption going on. I was really upset by this and realized
then that it was my time to go vegetarian.
EK: It wasn’t until I was in high school and Sara was in college that we
were both introduced to veganism. Other than some early mishaps, we have been
vegan since then.
What inspired you to go into the vegan shoe business?
SK: Ever since high school it was always my dream to do this. I think I would
have given up leather a lot sooner if there was an alterative. When I discovered
Vegetarian Shoes in the UK, I was extremely excited and my desire to open a vegan
shoe store in NYC became a lot more tangible.
EK: I gave up leather in the age of Doc Martens and I have to say my alternatives
were not very pleasant. So when Sara came up with the idea, I latched on right
away. As far back as high school I remember telling everyone about my career
path and it still amazes me that this is what actually became of me. Thank goodness,
because I really did not have a backup plan [laughter].
The first reaction many people have to “vegan shoes” is usually “ugh.” Can
you dispel the myths of stiff plastic sneakers and hippy sandals?
EK: We must answer the question, “If your shoes are not leather then what
are they made of” at least five times a day. So if it’s okay I will
give you our token answer, which is, our shoes are made from a polyurethane synthetic
micro fiber. The material in our shoes is made to breathe and act just like leather,
minus the cruelty.
SK: When we first opened, our options were very limited. Since then, the vegetarian
shoe companies have really expanded their selection and more and more mainstream
shoe companies are experimenting with vegan lines.
What has the response been?
EK: Overall we have received a great response. Our customers are extremely supportive.
We definitely did not have nearly as large a selection when we first opened,
and our customers let us know what they were looking for. Since then we have
tried to provide them with what they were looking for.
SK: We have noticed a steady increase in business with every year. Although it
was a costly decision, moving to the Lower East Side proved to be extremely beneficial.
I love being on the same block as both Bluestockings and Tien Garden. Even the
non-vegans/vegetarians are a lot more receptive to our products compared to our
last location. Our clientele really varies. It is really difficult to pinhole.
We do love seeing people around the city in our shoes.
How do you incorporate a vegan/animal rights message into the store and products
you sell? How is it more than just a shoe store?
EK: We never hide our veganism. Even our shopping bags sport the message. We
have an entire table of free literature about the latest animal rights happenings
and issues. If someone comes in wearing fur we gladly give them some literature
on the fur issue—and maybe just a little stink-eye.
SK: How are we more than a shoe store? We definitely act as a vegan concierge
to our very many out of town customers. We can talk for hours about all of NYC’s
unbelievable vegan eating options.
Where did the name MooShoes come from?
SK: It’s funny, we get that question often and to this day we do not have
a clear answer. It just came up in conversation one day and the name just stuck.
In the years since you’ve opened you’ve gotten a lot more
competition with other vegan shoe boutiques and online stores opening. Do you
feel like vegan
pioneers in a sense? Is there a fine line to walk between too much competition
and wanting more vegan businesses to open?
SK: Since more stores like ours have opened, our business has only grown, which
leads me to believe that this is a growing market. However if another store like
ours was moving to the block, I can’t imagine that there would be enough
room for the both of us.
EK: I do feel that with our experience I know more than I did in the beginning,
so I guess in that way I do feel like a vegan shoe pioneer. Although Robin Webb
from Vegetarian Shoes in England is the original pioneer.
Many people love your store, but every once in awhile you hear people
that vegan shoes are too costly. I think a lot of people don’t understand
how much it costs to manufacture and buy these shoes, pay rent, etc. Could you
walk us through the economic realities of getting these shoes on people’s
EK: I actually think our shoes cost the same as their mainstream leather counterparts.
I think many vegetarians and vegans are used to places like Payless and we will
never be able to compete with them. Unfortunately, it costs more if you want
to deal with animal-friendly, earth-friendly and people-friendly companies and
products. All our items are cruelty-free in all respects.
SK: There are less expensive options and we do not pressure our customers to
buy any of our shoes. Like with most purchases, I do think that you get what
you pay for, but I do not want to fault anyone who cannot spend a lot of money
Your store doubles as a haven for rescued critters. Can you tell us about the
animals who live at MooShoes?
EK: We have five cats living here. We adopted Edith and Emma
from Kitty Kind. Edith is famous for her snaggle tooth and her ridiculously pleasant
When we moved locations, our friends at Mighty Mutts generously showed up with
two more cats for us who we named Marlowe and Zoe. And the fifth one we found
walking home from work one day on the Bowery, who is now appropriately named
Bowery. Even though he is famous for his need to throw himself at the window
whenever he sees a dog, and for scratching just about anyone who tries to touch
him, everyone loves this mean guy.
MooShoes is located at 152 Allen Street, Manhattan. For information visit www.mooshoes.com or
call (212) 254-6512.
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