If you are what you eat then could it be argued that you are what you wear? Many will say that the clothes don’t make the man but in some cases, how one chooses to consciously present themselves to the world can make a profound statement about their personal beliefs. The idea of veganism, unlike the sole notion of eating a plant based diet, extends far beyond what one chooses to eat and encompasses everything from what a person wears and even their personal hygiene products that they use on a daily basis. It is a lifestyle based on causing the least amount of suffering to other living beings and how it’s carried out can often vary from person to person. The tired stereotype of the dreaded vegan police debating labels as they critique each other’s lack of commitment to animal rights based on trivial nuances such as whether or not the honey in their green tea disqualifies them from being vegan sadly holds some weight. When people would find out I was vegetarian when I was in school, the one question I was asked almost as much as “where do you get your protein?” was always “are your shoes made out of leather?”
Personally, I’ve made a concerted effort to phase out leather from my wardrobe for ethical reasons. I figured since I didn’t feel comfortable eating animals I should have no business wearing them on my feet or back either. When I was younger and toying with the idea of vegetarianism, veganism felt like the next logical step.
This would mean I would be voting with my dollar, so when my old pair of black nubuck Adidas Gazelles wore out I knew I would have to find a synthetic replacement to appease my newfound convictions. This would mean I would be voting with my dollar, so when my old pair of black nubuck Adidas Gazelles wore out I knew I would have to find a synthetic replacement to appease my newfound convictions. Unfortunately, this was back in 2001 so there wasn’t as much available in terms of non-leather goods and footwear. What I noticed back then however was that a lot of skate shoes were vegan, specifically pro model shoes issued by their plant-fueled, skateboarding designers. As a skateboarder myself back in my late teens and early twenties, naturally I gravitated to such a choice of shoe anyway which helped a lot. They were functional as well as casual enough to pull off with little effort, not to mention that they went great with a tapered pair of worn denim for a relaxed look.
When I found out that Vans had put out it’s first ever all vegan shoe, the Rowley Classic, that became my choice of footwear for years to come. Now into my 30s, I’ve found that a pair of Converse Chuck Taylors usually does the trick although I’ll sometimes alternate my look with some black Vans Eras.
They’re both made from canvas which makes them leather-free and I find them versatile in that I can dress them both up or down, making them ideal for a fancy night out or a lazy afternoon of lounging. When I needed a fancier shoe, I discovered not too long ago that Doc Martens also makes vegan footwear. I picked up a pair of shoes for more formal occasions where I’d be wearing a suit as well as a pair of boots for more casual outings. I also swapped my tattered old leather wallet for a vegan one made by a company called The Vegan Collection which suited me just fine. It looks and performs just like genuine leather without the cruelty. Belts are easy to find as well, Truth Belts is a Canadian company operated out of Toronto which designs belts as well as wallets which are completely animal-free. All in all, the internet is full of resources when it comes to finding fashionable cruelty-free alternatives. I would highly recommend a great online company called Moo Shoes for a wide range of non leather goods.
Fortunately for today’s conscious consumer, there have never been more options available. The fashion industry has taken notice of the increased demand for more ethical and eco-conscious attire and has responded with innovative and creative alternatives to the drab and outdated leather and fur goods of the past. For one, Gucci has banned the use of fur in it’s fashion collections. The ban will take effect later in the year and they’ve even went so far as to become a member of the Fur Free Alliance, an international organization which aims at ending the killing of animals for their fur. Marco Bizzarri, CEO of Gucci explained the transition, “Do you think using furs today is still modern? I don’t think it’s still modern and that’s the reason why we decided not to do that. It’s a little bit outdated”. They’ve joined the ranks of Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, Armani and Ralph Lauren, all of whom have also went fur-free. While many people see fur as a cruel and outdated status symbol, interestingly leather often gets overlooked as it’s such a commonly used material when it comes to making shoes and jackets. There are even several high end fashion houses who are switching over to synthetic leathers as well as leathers made from biodegradable and natural fibers.
Hugo Boss is one such company which is on the cusp of launching a line of men’s vegan footwear, starting with leather made out of an unlikely ingredient: pineapple. Constructed from Pinatex, a patented natural fiber made from pineapple leaves sourced from the Philippines, the fashion heavyweight touts the new collection of shoes as “footwear that makes a minimal imprint on the planet and offers a sleek BOSS look”.
Aside from mushroom leather, apple leather and even coconut water leather products currently being developed by several fashion designers, one American company by the name of Modern Meadow is aiming to create the world’s first lab grown leather made from a strain of yeast. The company has managed to raise more than $50 million from investors and is working with a number of businesses in the shoe, clothing, automotive and furniture industries. According to the company’s chief technology officer, Dave Williamson, Modern Meadow is scheduled to unveil it’s finished product on the catwalk by 2019.
Similar to the meat industry, the fashion industry looks to be following suit and is slowly starting to wean animals out of the manufacturing process. Accordingly, the Future 100, a report which uses global data to forecast upcoming trends in the largest sectors of the economy has predicted that vegan fashion, specifically amongst luxury brands, will be a major trend to look out for in 2018. It seems that since I’ve went vegan over a decade ago, things have become incomparably easier for those looking to adopt a more compassionate lifestyle. As I mentioned, my best options when I first embarked on this journey were limited to a handful of skate shoes and some canvas inspired footwear. High end fashion was not only out of my budget, it was usually synonymous with leather and suede as far as shoes were concerned. Despite the lack of variety, I managed to make it work back then and with the huge variety available today for conscious consumers looking to make the switch it has never been easier and more convenient. When considering the benefits of a plant based diet, one’s health as well as the ethical and environmental rewards are glaringly evident. However, when adopting a vegan lifestyle, you can be a superhero for the animals and the earth while still looking more stylish than ever thanks to modern innovation. Perhaps it’s time to consider not only leaving animals off of our dinner plates but off our bodies as well.