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Taking positive steps

Juta Shoes are made from sustainable materials, like leather upcycled from factory offcuts and reclaimed vegan faux fur.

Smiley Team

3 weeks ago
It was a chance meeting and a YouTube video that gave rise to Juta Shoes. In early 2016, Joanna Hamer visited a community centre in east London as part of her postgraduate course in social innovation. Whilst there, she briefly met Sabeha Miah, who was running projects at the centre for marginalised local women.

“Sabeha and I discussed an idea she had about setting up a craft-based social enterprise that would be a pathway into work,” says Joanna. “About six months later I taught myself how to make espadrilles from a YouTube video, using quite a simple sewing technique. I hadn’t forgotten my chat with Sabeha, and I emailed her to suggest we start a business together!”

Following some brainstorming sessions and a successful Kickstarter campaign, Juta Shoes was launched. Selling bespoke, hand-stitched shoes, the Bethnal Green-based social enterprise offers an employability scheme to local womenwho face barriers to work. The women – known as ‘makers’ – are often from migrant or refugee backgrounds, and receive training, a support network, and the opportunity to work for the business at a fair wage.

“A lot of our makers have amazing craft skills and really want to work in the creative sector,” Joanna says. “But they face a variety of obstacles, like a lack of flexibility around child care, little previous experience, or because English is their second language.”

All Juta Shoes are made from sustainable materials, like leather upcycled from factory offcuts and reclaimed vegan faux fur. Sabeha’s family work in the leather trade, and were able to provide information about the waste produced in the industry.

“It turns out that there’s a huge amount of waste generated, especially due to things like upholstery from cars,” says Joanna. “We went to several factories and asked if we could take away their offcuts, to divert them from landfill. They were happy for us to do that, and we now get factories from across the UK offering us their leftovers.”

Along with selling the shoes online and via a handful of other stockists, the business runs shoe-making workshops, where anyone can design and hand-stich their own shoes, which they take home at the end of the day. Group bookings have become popular, like birthday treats or hen parties, and Joanna says that corporate team workshops are on their agenda.

“After operating for a couple of years, we are going into a new phase of growth,” she says. “Hopefully we can take on more makers, run more workshops, and try to build more partnerships with other brands. It’s really exciting.”

By Theo Hooper

Photo by Kanahaya Alam

If you are interested in buying some shoes, booking a workshop, or becoming a ‘maker,’ all the details can be found at www.jutashoes.com
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