Michelle Facos slid her hand out of its moose-leather mitten and exposed it to the blistering Arctic air. With it came the rush of inspiration. Moose leather had been too stretchy to be used for clothing until tanning advances in the 1990s, but the material that Facos felt at a Swedish trade fair on that frigid day in 2004 had a soft, supple grain. And she had a project.
Facos is the co-founder and chief designer of MooseBooties, a Bloomington-based baby shoe line. Her stepdaughter handmade the first pairs, and Facos—currently an art history professor at IU—sent them to friends in colder climates, who fell in love with their warm, flexible design. “They really liked how soft the fleece was, and the fact that most infant shoes made from leather have very thick and rough seams on the inside, and ours don’t,” Facos says.
Facos had friends in Poland, which has a robust leather-making tradition, who helped ramp up production. The Scandinavian moose leather is tanned and dyed in Finland, and a group of women in a small village near Krakow stitch on the polished polyester fleece lining and German-sourced, nontoxic leather shoe ties. The finished product is washable and durable—and, most important to Facos, safe for wee ones. “Even if you ripped out the lining, it would still be just a lot gentler on babies’ feet than most booties,” she says. “People have said, ‘When are you going to make adult ones?’” But when your product is worn by Saint West (Kim and Kanye’s son) and Sweden’s Prince Oscar, who needs to think bigger?
“There’s an overabundance of moose in Scandinavia and no natural predators, so every year, the governments do an inventory, by helicopter, of what the moose herds look like,” says MooseBooties founder Michelle Facos. “Then they figure out how many need to be culled. Otherwise, they would starve to death in the winter.”