Bubbly lines, soda pop colors, big bold patterns, and kitten heels. In more ways than one, Roni Kantor’s style catches the eye. The 35-year-old designer of vegan shoes and vintage dresses draws from a long love affair with repurposed designs. Roni Kantor’s 2016 winter collection brings her blossoming brand into its eighth year of production, adding to the line of shoes that has become known by brides around the world.
As the founder of her eponymous label, Roni Kantor (pronounced “RAH-nee CAN-tour”) was inspired to start her label by her travels. Born in the small coastal town of Atlit, she served in the Israeli army as a military teacher, immediately buying a one-way ticket to South America after her service terminated. She then lived in New York for six months, honing her hustle on the streets, where she peddled handmade jewelry items using techniques she learned in South America. She financed her six month stay in Williamsburg by splitting an apartment and waitressing before moving back to Tel Aviv to get married and attend university.
While vacationing in Thailand, she discovered a stock of unworn vintage dresses at a market stall. Through a friendship with the woman selling the dresses, Roni found a tailor nearby who altered the dresses to make them wearable.
Roni brought this initial batch of 50 dresses home to Tel Aviv to sell out of her living room. After a collaboration with an online fashion magazine that resulted in some unexpected press, she soon found her small apartment filled with shoppers vying to get their hands on a Roni Kantor frock. But they also asked for something unexpected – vegan shoes.
Inspired by her new customers’ interest, Roni got to work figuring out how to make shoes free of animal products tha
t complemented the retro style of her vintage dresses. She enrolled in shoemaking classes at Shenkar, the leading fashion school in Israel, and started to search for ways to manufacture her designs. She knew she was onto something. The universe seemed to open before her. As Roni says, “When you do what you’re supposed to do, when you find you’re calling, everything you adjusts for you to make that happen.”
Roni’s husband Amir, who she met in South America, became CEO of the budding company. Quite the power couple, both have the business brains to match their passion, receiving respective degrees from Tel Aviv University in Marketing & Management and Engineering & Management.
With the design know-how to match her hustle and business brains, Roni set about securing the materials and means of production for her shoe line. Since Roni Kantor shoes are first and foremost vegan, materials are extremely important. As Roni says, “I want to sell things that I believe in and that reflect my beliefs in life. I’ve been vegetarian for many years. So it was obvious that I wasn’t going to design and sell shoes that had any products from animals.” This included animal-based glues, which contained gelatin for the most part, a product derived from bones. Finding an animal-free materials that met her standards was a challenge.
Her searches finally led her to Guangzhou, China’s third largest city, on the Southeastern coast of the continent just north of Hong Kong. Perched on the Pearl River Delta and a starting point for the historic Silk Road trade route that connected Asia with Europe for millennia, Guangzhou (“gwang-JOE”) forms part of one of the biggest “super cities” on Earth with a core population of 13 million and a metropolitan population of 44 million people.
In Guangzhou, Roni found what she was looking for: pliable, breathable faux leather, perfect for her retro shoes. She still travels to Guangzhou every six months to ensure that she’s getting the best materials as close to the production source as possible, helping to keep the costs of her shoes low.
At the same time that Roni was researching materials, she was also looking for a factory to assemble the shoes. She reached out to the woman in Thailand who had initially sold her the stock of dresses, who in turn started looking for a factory in Thailand. Together, they identified a small-scale family-owned factory.
After designing the collection and traveling to Guangzhou to procure the materials necessary to produce the designs, Roni delivered the materials and the designs in person to the newfound factory in Thailand, where Roni Kantor shoes are still produced today. There, each shoe is handcrafted with love in a lush tropical setting. Even after eight years, Roni is hands-on with every step of the production.
When the first pair of shoes came back from the factory, Roni couldn’t contain her excitement. “I learned how to design the shoes of my dreams,” she says. She soon moved sales from her apartment to her first storefront, which she outfitted to feel like the intimate living room her customers were used to. “You felt like you were going inside my life,” Roni says of the quaint 1930s shop in which she spent four years. During this time, her customer base continued to grow, and her wholesaling business picked up, allowing her to sell her dresses to other stores under her own label.
After four years, she outgrew her first storefront and moved with newfound confidence to an expanded storefront on Dizingoff Street in the busiest shopping district in Tel Aviv. She launched an online store, and continued to sell through Etsy, bringing each new collection to the fingertips of as many people as possible. Roni Kantor is now a global brand and releases a new line every six months in the summer and winter.
Roni draws inspiration for her collections from her own life, pulling in influences from travel to books she’s reading and music she discovered. As an aesthete, or lover of art, she is one of the leading organizers of the second-largest burn outside of Burning Man, the famous annual art festival that takes place in the southwestern American desert that Roni attends regularly. This year’s collection takes special inspiration from the band Benjamin’s Brother, a folksy alternative rock set with a dreamy and surrealist music video set to their song Story About A Broken Heart.
Each Roni Kantor shoe is a labor of love, the result of nearly a decade of inspiration and commitment to a cruelty-free lifestyle. The shoes that are designed to compliment vintage dresses, are built to last and eventually become vintage themselves. This holds true to the designers original inspiration. As Roni says, “The value of using something that is already there–like reused vintage–and not creating new things was there in the beginning. It will always be there.”