Perhaps it’s fitting that upon entering a vegan, cruelty-and-animal-products-free shoe store for the first time I am greeted not by a human, but by an animal.
A fluffy, fierce dog of a cat who used to go dumpster-diving with rats, Bowery hopped off the counter and approached me slowly. He sought out direct eye contact, determined. What was this guy’s intention? But then I looked down, where Bowery was rubbing himself up against my shoes. Shoes, I might add, that were almost certainly not cruelty-free.
“It’s okay,” Erica Kubersky, co-owner and co-founder of MooShoes told me later. “I don’t think he knows.”
Bowery is one of the rescued in-store cats of MooShoes, a cruelty-free vegan shoe store founded in 2001 by sisters Erica and Sara Kubersky. MooShoes started, ironically, in a defunct butcher shop on 26th St., but once the Kuberskys moved to their business to the Lower East Side at 78 Orchard St., sales doubled in two years. And today, MooShoes is known as a pioneer in what’s described as the Lower East Side’s emerging “green” retail district.
|Erica (left) and Sara (right) Kubersky|
Erica and Sara Kubersky grew up in Queens, but it was an experience meeting a baby calf on an Israeli kibbutz that made Erica decide to go vegetarian. She was eight years old.
“It just started suckling my hand,” Erica said. “And I was so blown away and so touched by it. And the wheels started turning, as they do for most kids.”
Erica and Sara’s realtor parents didn’t raise them vegan, but because of Erica and Sara’s enthusiasm, the Kubersky parents have since gone veggie too.
“Most parents would probably try and make you forget about it,” Erica added. “But my parents were like, ‘No, you’re right.’”
And today, MooShoes is considered a keystone of the Lower East Side’s vegan community. Aside from selling vegan shoes, handbags, cookbooks and accessories of all kinds, MooShoes also hosts adoption days and other vegan-related events. Just last week, MooShoes hosted a booksigning for the “Color Me Vegan” cookbook with author Colleen Patrick-Goudreau.
“I'm grateful to Erica and Sara for all they do for the animals,” said Amy Trakinski, a loyal MooShoes customer from first week they opened. “They're making it easier for people to embrace veganism by providing not only shoes but a sense of community.”
“They're kind of heroes of mine,” Trakinski added.
It seems like the Kuberskys’ brand of compassion-based veganism is more about inclusion than anything else.
“Erica and Sara are not preachy,” said Trakinski. “Everyone is welcome and hopefully visitors will not only buy a pair of shoes, but will come away with the realization that harming animals in the name of fashion is just not necessary.” Hear that, leather-lovers? No moral high-horses here. Only cats.
So I don’t feel too badly walking into MooShoes wearing shoes possibly made out of moo. At least it’s not as egregious a faux-paw as some of the other things Erica and Sara Kubersky have witnessed on their customers.
“The first time we opened our store we had to deal with people wearing fur coats,” Erica told me.
Luckily, the MooShoes that resemble bits of animals are made of polyurethane synthetic microfiber. This material lacks vinyl, so like leather, it stretches and breathes. And in terms of MooShoe variety, the store offers everything from sneakers to stilettos. But their most popular item is a leather-looking boot. It’s called the “Leo”.
At the end of my exploration of the store, I found a tame Bowery lazily grooming himself at the cash register, and Marlowe (another cat) curled up in a shoebox.
It was as if the cats had given me their passive approval for the next item on my agenda. Now that I was done ogling shoes, it was time to make a bee-line for vegan bakery sensation Babycakes, located just around the corner.
To find more green businesses on the LES, look no further.