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vegan fashion vaute couture matt nat stella mccartney olsen haus

New York’s semi-annual Fashion week kicks off at Lincoln Center today, as designers, models, celebrities and paparazzi descend upon the city to mingle with each other and witness the unveiling of 2011 Fall collections. While the fashion world still largely remains the exclusive domain of the rich, skinny and gorgeous, it is great to see ethics and eco-consciousness emerge and establish itself as a trend. This is evident from the rise of eco-labels like Edun, Lavuk and C.Marchuska to the launch of the Ethical Fashion Program and Eco-Fashion Week.

Of course, the industry has a long way to go, because millions of animals are still killed to manufacture clothing and accessories that use fur, leather and other animal-derived materials. However, several fresh new ideas are blossoming that may actually do some good for animals, the planet and future generations. Here’s our spotlight on eco-conscious and ethical designers that are paving the way for a kinder and greener future of fashion:

1. Stella McCartney

There is probably no other designer that has made going green feel so easy. Stella McCartney has successfully established her name and her cause, to protect animals and the environment side by side. While she still uses wool in her collections, when McCartney designed her hit collection for H&M in 2005, she insisted on including specific terms in her contract that would guarantee no animal skin would be used in producing her collection. Her clothes were made of organic cotton and all proceeds went to several charities, including U.K.-based Fauna & Flora International’s Gorilla Conservation Program. Stella has now expanded to a skincare line, Care by Stella McCartney, offering products that are free from chemical preservatives, genetically modified ingredients, endangered plant species, animal-derived ingredients or petrochemicals, and are not tested on animals.

2. Vaute Couture

What do stylish vegans do in winter? Freeze! Well, not really, and especially not since Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart launched Vaute Couture, a label committed to stylish and functional winter outerwear that is 100% vegan, eco-friendly and sweatshop-free. Leanne uses recyclable materials and Polartec ® wind pro fabric for weather protection. Her coats are lined with 100% recycled polyester from Teijin Eco Circle and finished with buttons made of dead stock metal or tagua nut. The winter coats range from sophisticated pea coats for men and women to colorful jackets like the KINDER and uber-stylish and elegant women’s coats like the Belden and the Audrey. Leanne was named 1 of the 7 best Emerging Green Designers of 2009 by Ecouterre, she won a Polartec ® Apex Award, has been featured on, Teen Vogue, Marie Claire Magazine and her coats have been worn by vegan celebrities like Alicia Silverstone and Ginnifer Goodwin.

3. Cri de Coeur

Parsons New School of Design graduates, Gina Ferraraccio and Julie Dicterow run this New York-based designer label that focuses on vegan footwear and accessories. The name Cri de Coeur (which is French for “cry from the heart”) is intended to reflect the label’s heartfelt desire of transforming the fashion footwear and accessories market to one that is eco-friendly and ethically produced. All products are completely free of animal-derived materials and the label is committed to educating people that the vegan lifestyle applies not only to what’s on our plates, but also what’s on our bodies. All Cri de Coeur shoes are made in Europe, using cotton, hemp and sustainable synthetic materials. The label offsets its carbon emissions by partnering with The Carbon Fund, whereby they have a tree planted for every pair of shoes sold. In 2010, Cri de Coeur also launched a handbag line made out of Polyurethane faux leather and recycled ultra suede, with organic cotton linings.

4. Matt & Nat

This Montreal-based brand is focused on creating stylish bags and accessories for men and women that are not only eco-friendly, but also vegan. Matt & Nat uses sustainable materials like recycled paper and plastic; each product contains at least one recycled element and on average 21 plastic bottles are recycled to make linings for their bags. In October 2010, Matt & Nat teamed up with electronics giant Apple to launch a collection of beautiful laptop bags for Macbooks, with custom pockets for stashing away an assortment of Apple products. Matt & Nat’s products can be found on their website, as well as stores across Canada, the U.S., U.K, Italy, France and various other countries. In 2010, Matt & Nat was chosen as one of the two finalists in the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the year competition, which recognizes high-achieving entrepreneurs in Canada and around the world who drive growth, build communities and transform industries. Throw away all your preconceived notions of ‘faux’ leather, because this label has developed a high-quality eco-friendly leather alternative with an amazing look and finish. You don’t have to be a vegan to appreciate Matt & Nat’s unique and stylish designs! Don’t believe us? Check out some of their new arrivals or ask the label’s celebrity fans like Natalie Portman, Ellen Page or Ellen DeGeneres!

5. olsen Haus

After years spent designing for companies like Tommy Hilfiger, Nine West , Calvin Klein and others, Elizabeth Olsen launched her own brand, olsen Haus, with a focus on designing and manufacturing shoes that are not only 100% animal and cruelty free, but also support her commitment to social responsibility, human rights and the environment. The brand uses sustainable and renewable plant-based materials such as organic cotton, canvas, velvet, linen cork, and a synthetic eco lining. The brand’s commitment to sustainability is also reflected in their manufacturing and distribution practices, from using recycled materials for packaging, manufacturing as local as possible, to condensing shipments into few packages. In early 2010, they announced that all their pumps, wedges, stiletto booties, and knee-highs were going to be made with a new polyester microfiber made from discarded television screens. Olsen Haus’ sophisticated designs, using creative and sustainable materials have been worn by celebrities like Maggie Gyllenhaal and Emily Deschanel.

6. John Bartlett

Harvard graduate, John Bartlett burst onto the fashion scene in the early 90s with his daring and over-the-top creations that earned him significant critical acclaim and numerous awards. Poor commercial sales eventually led Bartlett to shut down his line in the early 2000’s. After spending some time traveling in the Far East, he made a comeback in 2003, with a small menswear collection and in 2008, Bartlett was appointed as creative director of Liz Clairbone. Bartlett is an amazing example of a designer, who’s personal ethics and creations have evolved in tandem over the past two decades. Although he started out using fur, leather and other animal-derived elements in his work, Bartlett went vegan last year and announced that he would discontinue using leather in his collections (Bartlett had stopped using fur in the early 2000’s). Further, he recently made it clear that his goal is to launch an entire vegan collection that is also free of wool, down and other animal-derived materials. To have a high-profile designer (that is also on the Board of Directors of the Council of Fashion Designers of America) commit to ethical fashion is a sure sign that the future of animal-free fashion is incredibly bright.

Admittedly, most of these designers and labels cater to the high-end market, which strengthens the misconception that stylish, eco-friendly fashion comes with a huge price tag. However, the trend of using sustainable materials that are not animal-derived is still fairly new; as more designers push the envelope to create ethical and earth-friendly alternatives, we are bound to see broader distribution, at better prices. For example, Pure Citizen (a new site that features daily deals on eco, vegan, fair-trade, organic, handmade, cruelty free and sustainable products) is currently offering Matt & Nat Bags at a 60% discount (till Feb 11, 2011) and select Vaute Couture coats and t-shirts for half off (today only). It is only a matter of time before stylish eco-vegan fashion regularly makes its journey from the runway to your closet without breaking the bank!

Image Source: Matt & Nat, Vaute Couture, Olsen Haus and Stella McCartney.