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Leila Tamar Kerze was born and raised in Los Angeles, but followed her heart and moved to a tiny Tuscan town to be with her Italian sweetheart. Today, she's reshaping the image of compassionate design by creating high-quality vegan shoes and accessories for discerning stylistas, and using her talents to make the world a kinder, more beautiful place.
You’re a California girl who designs vegan shoes and accessories. How did you end up in Italy?
I followed my heart. I have this dream to make beautiful, luxury, quality shoes without cruelty, so I went to fashion school. I had the opportunity to travel and live for extended amounts of time in Italy with my last job, and I took it. In the beginning of 2012 I got very present to the reality that the only time we have is now and took the leap to push my dream to the next step and start my own company. I met my husband by chance while researching materials for Krže at Lineapelle in Bologna that fall, and we married this January 1st. Now I live in Italy full time and am getting involved in new projects to make it all work.
How did you know when the time was right to launch Krže Studio?
It was both heart and mind. The way people buy fashion and the ethics of companies are changing; being vegan and/or cruelty free is becoming more and more important. I was ready to move on from my last job and thought, "if I’m not going to start my own collection and get my dream into action now, then when?"
Describe a typical day in your life.
I usually rise between 7 and 8 am, shower to wake up ( I tend to be confused in the mornings--I'm not a natural morning person!). I dress and prepare breakfast for Nico (my husband) and myself, which is usually espresso, fresh orange juice, biscuits, and fresh fruit. If I have time, I’ll walk or jog in the countryside around our house before showering. Right now I’m having fun harvesting wild chamomile, and the other day my walk was interrupted by a shepherd and herd of goats, which was insanely beautiful, because that just never happened in Los Angeles!
In the morning, I ideally spend my time only designing, usually from home. Nico and I have lunch together or with his parents, who live nearby. The meal often consists of some kind of amazing pasta Nico makes (yesterday we had pesto made with pumpkin seeds) and salad by me.
In the afternoon I go to work on making shoes at my modellista’s studio, or to visit shoe factories I’m working with, or to research materials. In the evening I answer emails and tend to not leave enough time for them and often fall behind and then guilt trip a little for it. Nico and I make dinner together and goof off in the night. Sometimes I write or design while he plays the guitar, sometimes he plays and we sing together, sometimes it’s watching old Italian movies, or going out to watch live music somewhere, see a friend, and so on.
What are some of the ways you manage stress?
I can be a self-saboteur sometimes with worry. I can worry about how to make everything work, or that I’m not doing enough, and so on, that’s something wrong in general, but all it does is get me stuck in my head and away from the present. I avoid stress through prayer, meditation, and intentional thinking, things that take me out of automatic machinery mode.
The two strategies that I have always used to manage stress are exercise and writing. Practices that have started in more recent years are prayer and meditation. I also create possibilities and intentions for my life and even just for my day, write them down, and sometimes will keep a reminder note with me throughout the day. Within the last year I took a note from a friend and started to write down things that I am grateful for. It’s beautiful to do, the more I pay attention to practicing gratitude, the more I have to be grateful for. It rapidly transforms my thinking and way of being.
What are your thoughts on alternative therapies?
I use only natural therapies whenever possible. I actually considered getting a doctorate in naturopathy, and before studying fashion I was taking pre-med courses. I believe Hippocrates nailed it with “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” I am a fan of acupuncture; it helped me get my period back when I had amenorrhea years ago due to stress. I don’t try to suffer through bad sicknesses or wicked headaches when they happen and will take an aspirin or whatever medicine is going to help.
What do you do to unwind?
I’ll stretch and do yoga, go on a walk or run outside, drink a glass of wine, write, design, or a combo of all. If I have been sitting down and working for too long, I’ll play a song like Florence & the Machine’s “Shake It Out,” and dance around like a nut to it. That is especially fun to do with colleagues or friends if we’ve all been working and sitting too long together, it’s good to get silly and free.
How would you describe your personal style?
Aggressive hippie minimalism. It’s the easiest and most enjoyable way to say it, I like more aggressive and tough looks, folk-inspired and ethereal fashion, and I like to keep it minimal, put together, clean and sophisticated.
Where do you shop for groceries?
Coop, a market chain in Italy based on a system of cooperatives. They always carry fresh local produce as well as some produce from other countries and they are really good on making things more sustainable. They carry biodegradable non-plastic bags in the market for groceries and also more recently for fresh produce.
Describe your favorite place on earth.
Sycamore Canyon is one of the most special places in the world to me. It’s a state park just north of Malibu in California. I’ve gone camping almost every year of my entire life in Sycamore. My family moved a few times while I was growing up and I have moved around a lot myself, and Sycamore has always felt like my home base. There is incredible hiking there, surfing next to sea lions, campfire cooking, guitar playing, storytelling, tent sleeping, meteor shower watching, book reading, book writing, and some of the best times ever.