Ma Elisa about her experiences as founder of D’Cuero

High quality, classic, leather shoes, made ethically, supporting artisanal communities in rural Ecuador. What’s not to like!? We had an e-sit down with D’Cuero founder Ma Elisa to learn more about the philosophy behind their beautiful shoe line, and loved hearing about the details that add up to make this not only great shoes, but a great addition to humanity and the planet.

Why did you to start D’Cuero?

I have a major in International Business and I was taught how big corporations participate in foreign trade and how in my country, they export traditional products (commodities) most of the time. I always wondered what happened with small businesses (99% of all companies in Ecuador) with non-traditional products and no volume capacity to export. So I developed my undergrad thesis on internationalizing a small shoe workshop in my hometown through an online retail store. I wanted to help an Ecuadorian SME to sell abroad with its own brand and without the high costs and requirements that conventional foreign trade implies.

What is greatest crisis facing consumers right now? If you could just pick one thing that’s keeping you up at night about the way people shop… 

Cheap prices. It is hard to compete with Asian-made products being sold at half of the price you sell yours. A lot of people still prefer low price over quality or ethical production. However, I see a change in this mindset especially among young generations.

Tell us some concrete steps D’Cuero takes to help the environment.

We are using organic glues in the production process as well as recycled paper for the packaging. We also reduce waste material by reusing leather scraps for making tags, insoles, keychains, wallets, belts and decorative shoe details.

What were you like in high school? Have you always been passionate about social causes or was your life shift to ethical a gradual process? 

I have been passionate about social causes my whole life. In high school I was a volunteer in a cancer hospital for children and I also worked in summer camps with low-income kids. In college I also worked as a volunteer with organizations and non-profits related to education, humanitarian relief and health. Now I am involved in a global movement working in favor of women entrepreneurs.

How would you describe the culture at D’Cuero? How do you evaluate if someone new will fit in with this culture?

Team-work culture. We all work together as a family. We try to preserve human relations above everything else. “We value people over profit” that is our motto. If someone new will try to fit, that person has to have empathy and high social skills.

Founders experience a lot of set-backs. What has been your biggest and what did you learn from it?

At the beginning I thought the e-commerce channel was going to be successful immediately. However, I realized consumers in my country still prefer physical stores, so it took me a while to understand how to adapt our sales channel to each market and to be very patient about getting results. It’s all about perseverance, hard-work and patience.

How do you evaluate success at D’Cuero?

The brand perception and positioning, the motivation of our workers, the opening of a physical store, the sales reached and the number of clients coming back to us several times after wearing our products.

Do you have a favorite product at the shop right now?

Yes! Leather-sole boots are my favorite. If I was a guy, I would wear them all the time.

What’s one ethical product that is missing from your life that you’d love to see become available? 

Cowhide leather. I have struggled on finding another raw material for making shoes that is as resistant and durable, but less harming for the environment and animals. However, the industry hasn’t been able to develop a vegetable or bio leather for shoes. There are pineapple, strawberry and mushroom leathers to make bags or small leather goods but I would love to see some day an ecofriendly leather type for shoes.

Has your work life spilled over into your personal life, or is it vice versa?

Yes. Sometimes I work too much and then I am too tired for anything else. Or when some problem arises at work, it can affect my personal mood and relations as well. It is hard to keep a balance but not impossible.

What are your expansion plans for D’Cuero?

I want to reach new markets and open retail stores in other cities (first in Ecuador, then other countries). Hopefully in the near future we can start exporting in larger quantities as well. I also want D’Cuero to be in large marketplaces such as Amazon, eBay and MercadoLibre.

How do you convince people that buying ethically matters?

Talking to them kindly, showing them videos and pictures, giving them real-life examples. I try to focus our communication strategies to make people understand how they can change lives with every purchase.

What makes Ecuador the perfect location for D’Cuero?

It is a developing country and it still has a lot of problems with education, sub-employment and poverty. D’Cuero aims to empower local artisans from a rural community to make them believe in themselves and their work.

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