In Good Company: Patrick Woodyard

Words by Leah Gwin

 

Eight years ago, before his idea of a socially conscious shoe company was in the picture, Patrick Woodyard, the cofounder and CEO of Nisolo, found himself in northern Peru. He was sitting in the home of a local entrepreneur named Doris, who operated a small grocery out of her home. At the time, Patrick was following his passion for economical and socio-environmental impact by working in microfinance and helping women in Peru grow their own businesses. This passion led him to Doris’ doorstep, where his life’s calling would be revealed in a single moment. While discussing marketing strategies with Doris, Patrick heard all sorts of noises from another room in the house. He turned the corner to find Doris’ husband, William, making with his own two hands some of the nicest leather shoes that he’d ever seen. William’s skills in shoemaking were matched by his ambition to provide for his family, yet all this was juxtaposed by the fact that he and Doris lived in a humble home on the outskirts of the city and were struggling to provide for their four children.

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From this simple moment in Doris’ and William’s home, Patrick’s questions arose: “How could William’s shoemaking business ever scale? How can these talented shoemakers in this region of Peru benefit from their incredible skill set if they have no access to distribution channels?” These questions triggered a new vision for a company that would connect underserved, high-skill producers to consumers worldwide. “After visiting over a hundred shoemakers in different locations ranging from one- or two-person operations to 50-plus person operations, I saw huge opportunity to create significant social impact in the lives of the people I had met,” says Patrick. Out of that vision and opportunity, Nisolo, a certified B Corporation, was born. Nisolo would grow to become a business wherein shoes and accessories benefit both the producer and the consumer, fostering stable livelihoods for producers and helping consumers impact the planet in a positive way.

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This revolutionary idea of fashion being a force for poverty alleviation in underserved communities around the globe was not common in 2011. “Industry experts told us that simultaneously pursuing what’s best for people, the planet, and profit was a lost cause—that the issues the fashion industry faces today are too complex,” recalls Patrick. However, despite the experts telling him not to pursue it, Patrick knew the Nisolo impact would resonate with current generations, who are calling for and seeking social and environmental responsibility.

He decided to follow his gut instinct, and with the concept of Nisolo coming to full fruition, Patrick states, “I wanted to create a brand that allowed consumers to not have to make sacrifices when purchasing: to get a competitive price point and great quality, design, and the knowledge that the product they buy is manufactured and sourced responsibly.”

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The Spanish word “Nisolo” translates to English as “neither alone.” Patrick chose this name as a tribute to the connections of everyone’s lives on this planet as well as the interconnectivity of everyone’s lives with this planet. Nisolo incorporates the philosophy of interconnectivity into every shoe made and every person connected to the brand.

Because of Nisolo’s facilitation of ethically and fairly produced goods, they have seen the lives of their producers improve drastically. When asked what he is most proud of, Patrick excitedly rattles off jaw-dropping stats. “Now, our producers are experiencing an average annual income increase of 85 percent (with the women, on average, experiencing an income increase of 126 percent); 83 percent of our producers who started with us three years ago without any savings are now saving; 100 percent of producers now have a bank account; 100 percent of producers’ children attend school; and 100 percent of those who have made it to university will be first-generation college graduates!”

Each leather shoe of Nisolo’s is made with laid-back Californian inspiration, where they can be dressed up or worn casually. In Nisolo’s store, consumers can find a variety of designs, from leather sneakers to wedges to boots, with each of them designed to be of exceptional quality and competitively priced. Nisolo’s business model is focused on being direct-to-consumer; and proves to their customers and the doubting fashion industry that affordable, ethically produced, beautiful, high-quality fashion is possible in a business world of fast turnarounds, underpaid workers, and habits of cutting corners.

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Patrick determinedly states, “Our vision is to push the fashion industry in a more sustainable direction—where success is based on more than just offering the cheapest price—a direction that not only values exceptional design, but also the original producer and the planet just as much as the end consumer. We don't plan on stopping until Nisolo has become a household name. We will force the biggest names in the industry to pay attention and adjust their practices.”

Inspired from that day he met William and Doris, Patrick and Nisolo are proving one day at a time that you can treat people within your supply chain, the planet, and your customers well while also being profitable in the fashion industry.