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Hidden Gems: Meet Roxanne Peake of Dominic & Dempsey Co.

Today we’d like to introduce you to Roxanne Peake.

Roxanne, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
I’ve always had an interest in and love for fashion. My family and I have spent a great deal of time traveling the United States, as well as the UK and Europe, where I’ve always felt inspired and drawn to different fashion trends. In 2018 I became a mother, and our son Dominic joined our family travels. Due to a lack of leather-alternative footwear products on the current market, I would often purchase Dominic leather shoes, but as a plant-based family, this never felt right to me, and I wanted to stop supporting this industry. After copious amounts of time trying to find stylish, quality, organic and eco-friendly shoes, I came to the conclusion there really was just nothing on the market – my ‘shoe searches’ kept resulting in polyurethane (PU) products or genuine leather. I also knew I didn’t want to purchase PU products, as plastic has just as detrimental effect on the environment as leather. It was with this revelation that I decided to design my own shoes for Dominic. My design vision was so clear, as I had taken so much inspiration from our time spent in New York, London and Paris. My husband is a digital designer, so together, we designed out what we thought would make the perfect, unisex all-season boot. Coming from both a Nursing & Law background, I really had no idea what I was doing, the only thing I was certain on was that I wanted a really stylish & elegant, mature-looking boot for my son. The most obvious first step for me was to research leather-alternative companies and obtain a heap of leather swatches. I looked at Pinatex (pineapple leather), Milo (mushroom leather), Mycoworks (reishi fine mycelium) and Desserto (cactus leather). I personally love the look and feel of leather boots, and the cactus leather seemed to resemble this the closest. Once we had decided on a leather-alternative product, we needed to find a manufacturer.

I love our planet and I always want to be mindful of the impact myself and my family are making on it. Creating a beautiful product that is honest to our customers, respectful to the people making it, and our planet was of the utmost importance to me. From the very beginning, we wanted to create a sustainable path. With this, we looked for manufacturers who employed honest, ethical and safe working conditions. We spoke with companies in Spain, Italy and Mexico, but decided to work with a small, boutique-style, Mexican-based manufacturing company who aligned with our values. This also made the most sense economically, considering our leather-alternative material was also based in Mexico.

We started out by having a sample boot made. I wanted them in a brown/tan color, but unfortunately the closest we could find to this shade in Desserto’s cactus leather color range was a sandy beige/mushroom color. I was a little disappointed by this at first, but being a very neutral palette girl, I knew we could make it work, and after seeing the beige sand in person, I was very satisfied. Our manufacturers were really helpful, guiding us through the process, ensuring we understood each step of the process – they really listened to our wants and needs. After a couple of rounds of back and forth and approximately 2-3 months, we had a beautifully viable product. Our final sample was ready in November 2021, just in time for the hardest judge of all to test them out – my two years old son Dominic. Children are so incredibly honest, and right from the very beginning, he absolutely loved them and wanted to wear them every day. Every single time he wore them, someone would comment on them or ask us what brand are they. After time, it was this feedback that assured me we needed to share these with the world. We gave our manufacturers the go-ahead for a small production order in the beige color boot (now known as Beige Sand) and also had a ‘red wine’ color (Red Earth) boot made in the exact same style so that customers had options.

All of our shoes are handmade in small batches, and in addition to this, we adopted the very famous Goodyear Welt technique. This technique incorporates over 200 steps, which meant they took a few months to finish the production order. We didn’t receive our first order until late spring 2021. This wasn’t ideal timing because while they are designed to be an all-season boot, most parents aren’t looking to purchase children’s boots in the summer. We decided to launch with a pre-order in late March and received our stock in mid-May. We used the summer months to try and establish brand awareness by sending to influencers, contacting vegan magazine publications, utilizing PR resources, posting in Facebook groups, and taking them to local boutiques to gauge wholesale interest. Alongside this, we also engaged a marketing agency with light marketing efforts. As we weren’t making very many sales at this point, everything was self-funded, so our marketing efforts were not huge. Launching a children’s footwear brand leading into summer, where our only product were boots, definitely had its cons and has certainly become a huge learning curve that we would execute differently next time. This journey, so far, has taught me a great deal and made me realize there are so many avenues to discover, it’s okay to make mistakes and small failures can sometimes lead to greater achievements.

To date, we have the Petit Vagabond boot in both Beige Sand and Red Earth which is a unisex lace-up boot, and the Petit Aventurier in Black Night, which is a unisex Chelsea boot.

We are currently working on a couple of different samples for SS22.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
I certainly wouldn’t say it’s been a smooth road. Trying to tackle an industry that I have had absolutely no experience in has definitely reared a lot of challenges, however, through word of mouth connections, I’ve sought a lot of help along the way to try and understand what I have done right and wrong. Gaining brand awareness with such a small marketing budget has definitely been a struggle, and I’ve learnt that it’s not possible to do it all at once – it’s okay for things to take time and achieve awareness and customer trust organically.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about Dominic & Dempsey Co.?
At Dominic & Dempsey, we create timeless and elegant boots for the modern-day child. Our pieces have all been inspired by mine and my son’s life in New York and our love for both fashion and travel.

Dominic & Dempsey footwear is sustainable, utilizing both organic and recycled materials that are responsibly sourced in order to reduce waste and create a cleaner planet. The collection is a curation of versatile footwear that can take the child from school to play and city to country while complimenting their individuality.

The entire collection incorporates mostly biodegradable materials and is 100% cruelty-free. All of our pieces are designed in Austin, Texas, and handmade in Mexico under fair wage agreements and ethical production practices in a 1958 warehouse. The collection is handcrafted using antique machinery and the best-skilled craftsmanship.

The very first boot that we designed was the Petit Vagabond boot, inspired by men’s boots I would admire along our travels. My dedication to creating something sustainable, organic and cruelty-free initially came from my dog Dempsey and my strong belief that the love we have for our domestic pets should translate to a love for all animals. This is also where our brand name Dominic & Dempsey was born.

As everyone knows, the Amazon is the lungs of the Earth, and unfortunately, cattle are now the largest driver of Amazon deforestation. Almost all high-end shoes are made out of leather. It is argued that leather production is a by-product of the meat industry and that they are simply converting a product that would otherwise go to landfill into fashion – this is a valid argument if it weren’t for the tremendous harm the tanning industry is having on our environment. Chromium-tanned leather is the most popular form used when producing leather and one of the most toxic.

Even in modernized and ‘sustainable’ tanneries, it is nearly impossible to reclaim all of the pollutants generated by the tanning process. Tanning one tonne of hide typically results in 20 to 80 cubic meters of waste water with chromium concentrations around 250 mg/L and sulphide concentrations at roughly 500 mg/L. In addition to this, there are also pesticides added to reduce mold growth during transportation to the respective facilities.

Around 80% of leather worldwide is tanned using chrome. The leather industry releases large amounts of toxic chemicals and acidic effluents concentrated with heavy metal chromium, cadmium, lead, arsenic, cobalt, copper, iron, zinc and manganese. Unfortunately, all of these highly potent chemicals and heavy metals make their way into our waterways. It was due to my discovery of the harm the leather industry is doing to our planet that really drove my dedication to creating a product that is clean, cruelty-free and eco-friendly.

I feel like we can really stand out as a children’s footwear brand because we are not using plastic to create our leather-alternative, and while our product is on the higher price range, all of our materials are of an incredibly high quality, they’re gentle, and stand out for their low environmental impact, softness, and resilience.

The cactus leather is 100% USDA certified organic, and the crops are grown without the use of herbicides or pesticides on an organic farming system in the fertile and mineral-rich region of Zacatecas, Mexico.

Additionally, the cactus plantation is cultivated solely with rainwater, and cactus naturally regenerates soil – it’s a naturally occurring ‘carbon sink’, which together helps to preserve the local biodiversity, making it a much more sustainable alternative. When harvesting this cactus, only the mature leaves of the plant are cut without damaging the plant itself; this occurs every six to eight months, allowing the plant to regenerate before the next harvest. Once harvesting takes place, the plants are transferred into vegan leather thanks to DESSERTO® patented formula.

Each of our collections so far have been inspired by our time in New York, London and Paris, but built for our current life in Austin, Texas. It is imperative that the pieces we design be aesthetically pleasing, ALWAYS unisex, and gentle on both my little one and the environment.

Most of our boot designs are handcrafted using the Goodyear welt construction, which is a specific method of welting the upper to the shoe. This construction method allows the welt to be easily unstitched, which thus detaches the sole without damaging the rest of the shoe, meaning it can be replaced time and time again as it is worn down. This method is VERY rare to find in children’s shoes.

Nearly all ‘welts’ are leather, but in our case, we use a strip of specialized, recycled rubber instead of the leather.

A Goodyear welt shoe has many advantages: it’s flexible, comfortable, durable and often more breathable than the average shoe.

Any advice for finding a mentor or networking in general?
I’ve had so many friends and acquaintances reach out to me and ask how my new business venture is going. This has made me feel so supported, and through these chats and interactions, I’ve had several of my friends/acquaintances recommend speaking to one of their friends who just so happens to be in the industry. Putting myself out there and being honest about my struggles has landed me the opportunity on multiple occasions to discuss all sorts of challenges, in depth, with highly skilled professionals in the fashion/shoe/marketing industry. My advice to others would be to 100% put yourself out there, always! If you’re struggling with something, let people know, don’t hide it away in fear of judgment, shame or pride. Five degrees of separation has proved its truth to me, having been introduced to so many inspiring professionals and having them be so willing to help me has been really encouraging.

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