If you like animals, there’s no good reason why you should wear them! Finding animal-free clothing and accessories is relatively easy if you know what to look out for. To make things easier, several designer labels like Vaute Couture, ecoSkin, MATT & NAT and Dalia MacPhee have started offering fashionable all-vegan collections in the past few years. But any guy or girl with an eye for fashion knows that no look is complete without the right pair of shoes. Unfortunately, most shoes (especially the dressier variety) are either made of leather, use glue that contain animal ingredients (e.g. casein or other animal proteins) or are tested on animals. Further, several non-leather alternatives are frequently low quality, made from oil and use sweatshop labor in developing nations. So how can you reconcile your fashion sense with your ethics? Where can you find a pair of winter boots, cool kicks or stunning stilettos that are animal, people and environmentally-friendly? We present the solution!
Firstly, you need to find a good substitute for leather that does not create as many problems as it solves. Cheap department store shoes are frequently made from vinyl (i.e. Petrochemicals). Oil and all its attendant pollution, land use and human rights issues should be avoided where possible. Vegan shoes can be made from cotton, hemp, non leather composites or recycled materials like rubber inner tubes. It may not sound very glamorous, but the results will surprise you!
Beyond Skin, a vegan shoemaker in London, uses recycled materials as much as possible, to minimize waste and their carbon footprint. Vegan Wares (based in Australia) uses microfiber, made from a blend of polyamide fibers & polyurethane. Vegetarian Shoes in the U.K. also use microfiber and their shoes are made in the countries oldest cooperatively managed factory. Novocas (taken from Spanish and Portuguese for “no cow”) produces shoe collections for men and women that are made from high quality microfibers and manufactured in worker-friendly factories in Portugal, according to labor standards set forth by the European Union. Bourgois Boheme (another London-based manufacturer) offers stylish shoes, boots and accessories that meet their simple philosophy (“No one should trade ethics for fashion, nor sacrifice style for conscience”). Simple Shoes, with stores worldwide, are part of an ethical buying group and strive for 100% sustainability by using recycled and renewable products such as recycled inner tubes, bamboo, hemp and organic cotton. Neuaura Shoes contain no animal products in materials or glues. They come from a factory in Brazil where hydroelectricity provides the power and 68% of materials are reused. The factory employs ecologists, grows it’s own veggies and teaches local children gardening and art! They have stores in the U.S. and Europe. One of the recycling sensations in the vegan footwear market is olsen Haus (founded by Elizabeth Olsen). Their goal is to offer vegan shoes that showcase alternative materials that are clever, sophisticated and fun. For example, in early 2010, they announced that all their heels, peep toes, and booties were going to be made with a new polyester microfiber made from discarded television screens. Cri de Coeur is another designer brand that makes very fashionable shoes that are completely free of animal-derived materials and eco-friendly!
A popular sweatshop-free shoe that has recently become an ethical buyers sensation is the Black Spot Sneaker. Created by designer John Fluevog, they are street smart shoes reminiscent of famous brands but without the unethical baggage. The Black Spot Sneaker sports a tongue-in-cheek ‘sweet spot’ for “kicking corporate ass”. They are made with hemp, recycled rubber and microfiber and come in basketball shoe and desert boot styles. The desert boot has a 100% recycled tire sole, complete with original tread. Unusually amongst manufacturers, Black Spot is an open source brand, which means that anyone else with the same philosophy can adopt the brand for their products. You can find a Black Spot seller at Adbusters.
If you’re looking for a one-stop shop that offers a variety of vegan shoes from multiple designers and labels, New York City-based MooShoes is the mecca. You can shop online or visit their physical location in the Lower East Side and hang out with the friendly cats that roam the store.
If buying designer vegan shoes doesn’t fit your lifestyle or budget, buying second hand shoes is a great option. And if you’ve got a little creative genius in you why not try making your own? Simple cloth shoes are easy to make from recycled/reused items if you have a sewing machine. Knitters can make their own slippers in a matter of hours using this pattern at Knitty.
Remember, you don’t have to compromise when there are so many ethically conscious alternatives. Stay awesome, stay fashionable and buy vegan!