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Shearling, Reimagined
Written by Callie Griggs

A Q&A with the genius design duo behind Ross & Snow. Meet Leah Larson, Creative Director & VP of Product, and her creative counterpart, Peter Young, Director of Product. So what is shearling, exactly? “Truth be told, the material is often misunderstood. Equal parts fluffy, dense, and soft, shearling by definition, is wool or fleece from a shearling sheep. Not only does it instantly feel amazing, but it has a spectrum of amazing natural qualities. It’s healing, breathable, and moisture wicking. Is shearling warm? Yes, absolutely. But it also thermoregulates, meaning it regulates temperature - keeping feet warm when it’s cold out, and cool when the weather heats up.” “It’s one of the most magical materials out there. But it’s also a really difficult material to work with. Which is why everyone isn’t using it. If it was easy, everybody would be making shoes out of shearling.” Wait, so shearling isn’t just for cold weather? “Not at all. It’s time we get over the misconception that shearling is reserved only for winter months. Don’t get us wrong, nothing feels better when it’s cold outside. But why sacrifice that unbeatable feeling when the warmer months roll around? From shearling boots to shearling slippers and even shearling-lined sneakers, the material has a range of amazing qualities that most materials don’t. Depending on how you use it, it’s truly a seasonless material. Who wouldn’t want all of those qualities in their shoes year-round?” How is your shearling sourced and what type of craftsmanship practices are employed? “We only select and utilize only the best shearling that you can find on the market. It’s ethically sourced and handcrafted in multi-generational Italian tanneries that blend old world traditions with cutting edge advancements. Walking through our Italian factories you’ll see ancient machines, yet in other respects, they’re doing things that are incredibly innovative. There’s something really special about the tradition of employing old world techniques that still work, but also ushering in new innovations.” “It’s one of the biggest reasons that we’re in Italy – there’s this incredible old time heritage. When it comes to materials and craftsmanship, Italians are some of the best innovators out there. Italy is where everyone looks when forecasting future market trends.” How are you reimagining shearling? “There’s many layers to that question. For one, there’s an educational element at play – helping people understand the beauty and seasonless appeal of this magnificent material. We really want to reiterate that it’s acceptable to wear shearling year-round. Similarly, we want to challenge the status quo and preconceived notions about the material. Contrary to shearling’s limited exposure in the past, it encompasses more than a particular style or brand. More so, it’s unexpected in the fact that people can look at a particular silhouette and have no idea that the shoe, boot, or sandal would include shearling touches. We really want to change people’s expectations in terms of what styles traditionally feature shearling.” How are you updating go-to silhouettes? “It’s not about creating new trends. It’s about taking classic silhouettes that people love to wear and making them functional and appropriate for times they wouldn’t normally think of wearing them. If you go to the mountains, you’d typically wear rugged snow boots. What if you had a sneaker that also had a functional, all-weather outsole and cozy sheepskin interior? You wouldn’t have to schlep to dinner in bulky snow boots. Transitioning from slopes to aprés ski gatherings would be a snap in cozy, weather-ready sneakers." How do you use shearling in unexpected ways? “We’re not designing styles based on shearling. Rather, we’re designing styles and then adding shearling after the fact. If I want to wear a ballet flat, I’m going to figure out a way to enhance it with luxe shearling touches. If I’m looking to design an over-the-knee suede boot, I’m going to figure out a way to add shearling. It’s about enhancing go-to styles to make them that much better. It could be as extreme as an exposed Toscana cuff, as minimal as hidden Marino lining, or just a touch of shearling in the heel pocket.” How do you make classic styles seasonless? “It really comes down to functionally. Everyday casuals including sneakers aren’t traditionally thought of as “winter” shoes. We saw that as an opportunity. We made our styles seasonless for winter. Take our sneakers, for example. They are waterproof, shearling-lined, and they’ve been updated with a rugged, wear-everywhere Vibram outsole. Our sneakers are built to wear in the elements, versus reserved for Casual Fridays around the office.” What do you suggest for those who may be shearling shy? “One of the big things we want to stress, to men specifically, is that it’s okay to wear shearling. In a lot of cases people aren’t even going to know that you have shearling lining the inside your boots or chukkas. And that’s okay. It can be our little secret. Although, I think you’ll find that they feel so good you’re going to want to tell everyone about it.” What sets Ross + Snow apart? “There’s no question, couture hurts like hell. We’re offering amazing Italian craftsmanship for amazing value. All of our styles are a celebration of this incredible material and the craftsmanship that goes into making them. We’re working with small-batch, multi-generational Italian factories that know how to work with this magic material. Our shearling styles hold their shape. They’re built to last.” What can consumers expect in terms of longevity? “It’s time we move away from ephemeral, fast fashion that’s become so prevalent these days. Your shoes shouldn’t have to try so hard. The truth is, good design is timeless. Which is why we’re not in the business of designing one-hit wonders. At Ross & Snow, you can expect a long-term investment that’s backed by solid craftsmanship. We only make shoes that are designed to last. You can count on it.” What’s next for shearling? “One thing that we’re never going to do is lose the integrity of shearling. It just depends on our plan for the particular style in question. It’s about turning an amazing material into something people haven’t seen yet.” “Next up? Perforated Twinface. Stay tuned!”

by Amy Scerra •