4 Minutes with Alicia Lai - The Girlboss behind Bourgeois Boheme

4 Minutes with Alicia Lai - The Girlboss behind Bourgeois Boheme

October 26, 2017


Some of you may or may not have heard of London shoe brand Bourgeois Boheme, if you haven't well you should jump on their Instagram right now and take a look at their 100% vegan and ethically produced shoes. Designed in London and manufactured in Portugal, there's just a small team behind the global brand and we spoke to Alicia, the founder to find out more about BB. 

What were you doing before you started BB?
I was a podiatrist.

How does one start a vegan shoe brand? 
It all started with my wish to show that there was a better way to produce fashion for the environment, factory workers and animals. As a sustainable and vegan company this extended to showing the best alternatives to animal derived materials as well as keeping true to our ethics of doing things more sustainably and fair. I launched Bourgeois Boheme in 2005, as I couldn’t find any quality and style-led vegan accessories and footwear on the market at that time. I began selling online vegan accessories and footwear based on my ethics as a vegan- that no animals should be harmed for anything, even fashion. 

Tell us about the BB mission.
My mission has always been to champion slow fashion and redefines the perception of leather-free footwear.   We do not consider ourselves as just another shoe brand as we strive to create perfect vegan shoes without ever compromising on quality, finish, or design. All BB shoes are Vegan Society trademarked and PETA approved, which is something I am very proud of. 

What’s your main ethical focus, and what aspect or process would you like to explore or improve on more?
Our motto has always been that a good vegan shoe is not just about excluding animal materials. We care first and foremost about designing animal and environmentally friendly shoes which stand the test of time, but also being pioneers of new innovative materials which sets us apart from other brands. We are also focused on the fact that our shows are made ethically and our producers are looked after and paid fairly.

Can you tell us a bit about the suppliers/artisans you work with?
Our shoes are ethically made by two factories in Portugal, which I visit regularly. Our shoes are lovingly crafted without any animal-derived materials such as fur, leather, wool, silk and animal-based glues. There’s absolutely no PVC either. We’re proud that the shoes are all handmade – this does take more time but gives a premium finish and we ensure that our shoemakers are treated well – that’s very important to us.


Why is having an ethical supply chain important to you?
We couldn’t have moved forward without using an ethical supply chain, because of our company ethos – it just wouldn’t have been right.  Therefore, much research in regard to materials and partners was completed to ensure we were all on the same page.

What's been the biggest challenge you've had to face?
We make our lives so hard for ourselves here at BB 😉
There are always easier and cheaper ways to do things but that is not how we work.  We aim to stand by our ethics in every aspect of the business from sourcing materials, production, partners we work with and so forth.  There are continual challenges but we are proud of what we do and will continue to do our best to make a difference and show there are alternatives out there to the” norms”. 

What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned since starting BB?
We make our lives so very hard by ensuring we stand by our ethics and principles. This is often not understood both by consumers and retailers. We need to make BB relevant across the markets and continue to communicate and stand tall. The ethical fashion community is very supportive and collaborative which is great.

What advice do you have to offer to other businesses wanting to switch to ethical processes? 
Go for it! It’s so exciting seeing new brands getting involved in ethical processes, and increasingly current brands are switching over, which is really promising to see in action.  Speak to other ethical brands, we are a friendly group and there are organisations such as the Ethical Fashion Forum where you can source advice and information. 

Lastly, what advice do you have for others wanting to start a business?
There are too many challenges to mention when setting up your own business!  My main tips to overcome them:

  • Take your time and do not rush.
  • Identify what you are good at and enjoy doing in the business
  • Delegate the tasks you do not like or not good at so you can concentrate on what you love to do
  • Network
  • There are many options for business advice too, utilise them
  • Remember you are running a business, not a hobby!

Lastly, it is a continual struggle to juggle work and life (my husband and two young vegan daughters) but running a business based on my strong ethics as a vegan is amazing and provides the continual drive to keep going.  Ensure you take time out to enjoy your family and friends.

Visit Bourgeios Boheme's Website here
Visit Bourgeios Boheme's Instagram here
Visit Bourgeois Boheme's Facebook here

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