Male Standard was privileged to sit down with Founder and Chief Inspiration Officer of Civic Duty Shoes, Steven Weinreb. After losing his job at 47, this entrepreneur set out on a mission to create a company and product that not only represented himself, but everyone else affected by the economic downturn.
How was Civic Duty founded?
Back in 2008, I was working for a footwear distribution company. Business was so bad that the guy who owned the company couldn’t afford to pay me anymore. I was looking for another job within the industry, but I honestly couldn’t find one. There were no jobs, and the economy was in the tank. I quickly realized that when you get to a certain point in life, you have to create your own direction. I had an idea a couple of years prior, to make Tyvek shoes, so I began working earnestly to create my own product.
How did your personal challenges influence the direction of Civic Duty?
Being unemployed and trying to figure out how to make a living was extremely challenging. You don’t have a paycheck to fall back on. The average guy on Main Street was suffering due to bank bailouts. It was difficult functioning day-to-day. I wanted to get people involved in their communities so that they could be of service to each other. We decided we would pick different social causes and design products specifically for them. After we sell the product, we are then able to donate all the profits of that shoe to their cause.
How did you overcome those challenges?
Every time something was thrown my way, I told myself, “That’s okay. I’ll figure out how to do this.” I worked twice as hard, and continued to move through my obstacles. I had a vision in my mind of how I wanted this company to run, and it made it easy to work through the challenges. I realized that it was a matter of putting the company together and manifesting my vision.
That’s inspiring! How else is Civic Duty creating change?
We’re creating an eco-friendly and sustainable business that influences communities. The Tyvek material itself is a sustainable product and can be recycled. We also develop recycling programs within the communities that we support. We’re essentially bringing attention to social causes at different times through certain footwear designs that we create.
What made you choose Tyvek as your core material?
Tyvek is the material that they use to make FedEx envelopes. If you’ve been on a construction site, you might also have seen houses wrapped in Tyvek. It’s a protective material and is extremely lightweight. It looks and feels like paper, which is interesting, but it is so much more than that. Tyvek is extremely durable. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to tear one of those FedEx envelopes, but it’s close to impossible.
That’s neat! What is it like working with innovative materials?
It wasn’t easy to do because nobody had used Tyvek material to make footwear, so we ran across all types of issues. The material doesn’t respond in the same way those other traditional materials do. We had many hurdles in front of us, and it took a good 6 to 8 months to figure out how to be successful, but we finally ironed out all the kinks and came up with a way to mass-produce the product. Once we did that, it was a matter of figuring out what we wanted to stand for.
What other qualities did you consider vital when making Civic Duty shoes?
Being lightweight, water resistant, and durable are superb qualities to strive for. We also wanted our shoes to breathe, and be comfortable. When you take all these excellent qualities that Tyvek offers, a light bulb goes off. They align with our goals perfectly. What I like about Tyvek is that the shoe is the opposite of what is seems. Our shoes have the look and feel of paper, which is extremely fragile, but the Tyvek reality is entirely different.
Is there a noticeable difference when wearing Tyvek shoes?
You can’t feel the difference in the shoes because we apply an ultra-soft cotton lining to the Tyvek, when you put on a pair that’s what you feel against your feet. We put a lot of time into developing our footwear. We have even applied an extra layer of padding for comfort towards the heel where most of a person’s body weight hits the sole. People write us and tell us how shocked they are that something so light and flexible could be so comfortable.
What has been your favorite Civic Duty shoe to date, and why?
Boy, that’s like asking a father who his favorite kid is. There are two designs that standout. We have a model called the Sensation, with hidden laces. It’s ankle height, and it has a super-cool look to it. It’s got real street-influence. I like that the laces are hidden so when you tie the shoe there are no eyelets seen from the outside, making it appear clean and minimalist. The other shoe that I love is Recreation, which is a traditional saddle shoe that has a classic silhouette. We carry them in some fantastic colors.
What’s been the most popular design you’ve had to date?
I would say the most popular design we have is Dedication, which is a slip-on shoe. Sensation is incredibly popular as well. The saddle shoes are also popular, and the Exhilaration is a darned good shoe in my opinion.
How did the concept of Shoe for a Cause come into fashion?
Primarily, I wanted to create a charity that began at home. I also intended to develop a business model through international distributors, so they could follow the same model, and support their own home wherever that may be. It’s crucial to create a system that others can use that supports America, and promotes the Civic Duty ethos of community. There is tons of potential to support communities around the world, but we’re pioneering our brand in American foremost. I will then be working with distributors to do the same for other causes internationally.
What sparked your interest in supporting Common Ground Relief?
Common Ground Relief provides food and legal representation to residents of New Orleans still afflicted by Hurricane Katrina. I spent a week volunteering with them, helping to paint and restore houses. I spoke to residents, who couldn’t sing Common Ground Relief’s praises loud enough, and was inspired by their community values. It was an obvious choice to collaborate with them. They’re working on projects to restore the wetlands so that they can support the ecosystem so that the next time some disaster strikes, it won’t be as damaging.
Wow. That must have shaped your life in many ways?
It truly did. Now, we have a phrase that we trademarked called ‘Conspire to inspire’. We’re actively encouraging people to come together to get involved and help in any way they can. It’s not about donating money. Yes, if you have the means, that’s a wonderful thing, but there are so many other things that you can do to get involved, like volunteering, which is ultimately what we want to inspire people to do.
How influential are men’s shoes, in terms of making a strong impression?
When you look at somebody, you see all the different components coming together; it’s not just the clothing or their shoes. Each component says something about the person. There is a reason why I choose every piece that I choose to put on that day. When people choose to wear fashion they resonate with, it gives them a self-image. They carry themselves with confidence than you would otherwise. The more confidence you have, the better you project yourself, and the better results are going to be overall.
What’s your ‘Male Standard’?
The best piece of advice I give is to find something that you are passionate about, and then figure out how to monetize it. It’s my belief that in order to be effective at what you do, you have to be a move away from the daily grind mindset. You need to have a passion. If it doesn’t seem like work, then you generally do it better. The product becomes a natural extension of yourself, and become a better product that you put out there.
Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom, Steven!
About Civic Duty Shoes
Civic Duty Shoes is a socially minded footwear company founded upon the simple premise that a leisure shoe can be attractive, fun, and comfortable while causing minimal impact to the environment in its production. While we’re at it, we hope to inspire those around us—our partners in manufacturing and distribution, our customers, and those who benefit from Civic Duty’s charitable contributions and endeavors. Civic Duty Shoes deliver fashion that is fresh, innovative, and unique. Footwear that is not only comfortable and stylish, but durable and environmentally friendly. Utilizing Tyvek® material to make footwear that is lightweight, water resistant, breathable, and practically indestructible, Civic Duty is setting the bar high. With unisex styles and vibrant colors they are perfect for any season and outfit, these are also pre-wrinkled to give that vintage, one of a kind look right out of the box!
For more info, please visit www.civicdutyshoes.com/