Like most women, Jessica Beebe’s closets at home are filled with shoes.
But, unlike most women, there’s also storage space for the supplies needed to actually make the footwear.
Since 2016, Beebe has been running her own vegan line, JBeebe Shoes, which features chic and cruelty-free custom-made sandals.
Each pair of shoes is hand sewn by Beebe and customized to meet every customer’s needs, whether it’s foot width, heel height or even the materials. Beebe just aims to outfit her customers with comfortable – and cute – shoes.
Launching a business was unexpected for the Wayne native, born out of a JCC Manhattan shoemaking class she agreed to take back in 2012 with one of her colleagues in the Northern Valley Regional School District.
Until then, Beebe, a high school art teacher, didn’t even know she had a knack for shoemaking.
“I fell in love with the process,” the 37-year-old said. “It is very laborious to make one pair of shoes and it takes a long time – with all the design aspects and making it – but you are showing your artistic and creative skills.”
She added: “This was also a different way of being creative and I’ve always loved fashion, so this was a way to show that.”
As a kid, she would customize her sneakers, adding lace or ribbons, just to dress them up a bit. But hand-making a pair of high heels was a completely new experience.
During class, she made her first pair of heels, which took almost nine months.
“The teacher said to me, ‘You’re getting the hang of it’ and to keep experimenting,” she said. “For a few years, I made shoes for myself but after awhile I wanted to branch out and have other people wear them, so I made starting hand-making sandals – which are easier to make than heels.”
“I wanted to create very stylish, comfortable shoes, which is a challenge. My friends and family would wear the shoes, give me feedback and tell me what works. Then I would refine it. The stylish part is always there – but the construction and comfort are the hardest part.”
Soon after starting JBeebe Shoes, Beebe learned from her mother than her late grandfather was also in the business of shoemaking, which she said was reassuring.
“Hearing that drove me even more to continue what I was doing,” she said. “Maybe it’s in my genes, but it felt right and like I was fated to do it.”
After that, Beebe continued designing and making shoes, but needed to make a big decision. She had become a vegetarian, which made her rethink using leather.
That was a tough choice, but Beebe, an animal lover, wanted it to be a vegan line featuring comfortable, light airy shoes, so she switched to cruelty-free materials.
In recent years, as the demand for cruelty-free clothing and footwear has grown, more companies have added vegan products. Popular brands, such as Vans, Dr. Marten’s, Skechers, Adidas and Reebok, have animal-friendly, vegan footwear. Even Kat Von D, celebrity tattoo artist, recently started up her own luxury line.
The popularity has helped changed some of the misconceptions about vegan shoes, some of which are that the footwear as “crunchy and hippie” or “Birkenstocks,” Beebe said.
While Beebe said “there’s nothing wrong with that look,” her custom sandals are geared towards shoppers seeking something that is stylish, pretty and comfortable, and can be worn everyday to a variety of places, whether it’s work or out to dinner.
Her sandals have been featured in numerous fashion blogs that show models wearing the cute, fun flats everywhere from the beach to the city.
It takes Beebe five to seven hours spread across a few days to produce a pair of sandals. She strives to make “the perfect” pair for each customer and will custom-make the sandals to accommodate specific requests, like a wider or narrower foot, or if one foot is different size than the other.
Customers can also follow her on Instagram (@beebeshoes) to watch the progress of their shoes.
“My favorite part of the business is helping my customers get the best fitting for their feet,” she said. “I love seeing my designs on them, too.”
She works out of her Hackensack condo, which she shares with her husband, Matthew, also an artist, and their two cats.
“I have a very supportive mom and husband. He has been awesome and he’s super creative. He’s also good with construction and is very analytical, which is helpful. He’s also my photographer,” she said.
JBeebe Shoes are available online (jbeebeshoes.com), as well as at The Gathering Shops in Westfield Garden State Plaza and Suburban Revival in Maywood.
By Kimberly Redmond
Photos courtesy Matthew Beebe