Because most of my family have been artisan shoemakers for four generations, I knew how it was done in Poland, and I wanted to find a way to do this in America. First, however, I needed to find beautiful, high-quality leather that was toxin-free and affordable.
I began to research leather and sheepskin companies here in the U.S., first in my state, but then, eventually - all over the country. I finally found an excellent small leather company in Colorado that produced beautiful, unprocessed, natural sheepskin hides that were lovely as well as reasonable. However, leathers of any kind are too stiff and hard to be worked into clothing and shoes until they have been processed - or "tanned."
I wanted to make my baby shoes with beautiful, soft leather and sheepskin that was also organically safe and non-toxic, but this is when I discovered that it's very hard to find anyplace that will "tan" leather naturally like this, without using chemicals, many of which are harmful and even toxic. There are many different methods of tanning leather, but they use different compounds that contain things like chromium, biocides, dimethylfumarate, formaldehyde, and fungicides like ortho-phenylphenol, 2,4,6 tribomphenol, and something called "thiocyanomethylthiobenzothiazole - a word I cannot even say and must look up to spell correctly.
This was not something I wanted for my children, or yours.
It took more than four years, 20 tanneries, and three trips to Poland, but I finally found the owner of a small tannery there that became interested in what I was doing, and started to help me. He knew of a kind of German technology that processed leather and sheepskin that was incredibly soft and silky, but did it naturally - without using toxic chemicals. Working together, we continued to develop this method to make it even safer. Our process uses extracts from things like the Mimosa tree, the Tara plant, and other organic plant materials to "tan" the leather; there are absolutely no harmful chemicals in Max & Ola's baby shoes at all.
I also work with a laboratory here in the U.S. that inspects and analyzes products and materials to ensure they are constructed well and completely safe. A product must pass many tests before it can be certified as safe, natural, 100% non-toxic, and chromium-free. All of our shoes proudly carry this certification. I put everything I make on my own children, so I know they are safe, healthy, and comfortable for yours.
Now, I design and create the patterns for my baby shoes here in Illinois, then I purchase my sheepskin leather hides from the small leather company in Colorado. I then ship the sheepskin leather and my patterns to my friend in Poland, who supervises both the natural processing of the hides, as well as the handworkers who assemble them. He then ships them back to me here in the States, where I go through the process of having them certified safe. This is how every pair of little shoes you see on our site has been made; it takes many steps.
With Max & Ola's, my mission is to carry on my craft, and take my family's tradition to the next level. We hope you and your children enjoy our shoes, for we have made them with pride and love.