We had the good fortune of connecting with Casey Dworkin and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Casey, risk taking: how do you think about risk, what role has taking risks played in your life/career?
I believe that risk taking and entrepreneurship are incredibly intertwined. As a Founder, risk has been a huge part of my entire professional journey, but perhaps most prominently so with launching my own sustainable shoe brand, Sylven New York. While starting my own business at a young age felt risky in and of itself, it was also a risk to create footwear from new and unique materials that even my heritage Italian factories had never heard of or worked with before. Those risks may have presented their own set of challenges (i.e. extra development time and costs for our artisans to learn how to work with materials like apple leather – our go-to vegan “leather” crafted from organic apple waste) but as just about anyone talking about risk will share, the risks are offset by their rewards. Here, the reward is that we get to be one of the first American brands creating high-end footwear out of a brand new plant-based vegan material. To me, taking risks is really equated with doing things that make sense for you, and in your own way. Not knowing the outcome may feel off putting, but in other ways, it leaves room for doors and windows to open that you may have never dreamed imaginable.
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
Sylven New York is a plant-based luxury footwear brand. We work exclusively with nature-derived renewable materials like vegan apple leather made from organic apple waste and insoles made from coconut husks. We are challenging the notions of traditional footwear production by redesigning our plant-based and vegan footwear from the inside out, and are creating high end and intentional products rooted in environmental and ethical values.
Growing up, I was enamored with shoes and fashion. I was also fittingly born on Earth Day, so I often joke that championing the environment is in my blood. But it wasn’t until an apartment fire ravaged through my New York City apartment and left me with only my health and the clothes on my back that I felt called to launch something of my own. The fire was challenging and grief-laden, but also strangely liberating and inspiring. Previously, I dreamt distantly about starting my own shoe brand, but in a strange way, the fire redirected my path. It encouraged me to view time as incredibly precious, and reminded me to place my values above all else. Losing all of my belongings also enabled me to think about relationship to material possessions in a new way. It has definitely influenced the way I design and continues to shape the styles and collections I create.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I know this is an LA publication, but as a New York based designer, my week takes place in Ridgewood, New York. We would absolutely eat at Julia’s – my favorite spot. And if I’m being honest, over the course of the week we would probably go back at least 1 or 2 more times. For coffee, we would hit up Porcelain. Both spots have great distanced outdoor seating and an incredible ambiance. My ideal day is spent plant-shopping, and while there are some super cute plant-specific stores in the neighborhood, my best-kept secret is bodega shopping. For additional shopping, I would take my guests to Shop Stay Forever – an incredible woman owned shop full of small brands and little wonders. To hang, we would definitely do a little rooftop picnic overlooking the incomparable NYC skyline. And I love to cook, so I would have some homemade plant-based meals prepared as well. At night, we would pick up bottles of natural wine from Foret, and if we were feeling like picking up a cocktail, Sundown bar is right next store.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Major shoutout goes towards my peer, mentor, confidant, and head of Sylven New York’s marketing and communications, Brian Michael. His professionalism is only outweighed by his positivity, and constant ability to lift my spirits and help me pave my way forward in business and in life.