If you listened to my podcast on Our Hen House a few weeks ago, you might have heard me utter these words: “I became vegan for myself. I remain vegan for the animals.” Nothing could sum up more succinctly my evolution as a vegan: I originally explored the diet in order to heal my IBS and my relationship with food. Over time, and with the help of a few special farm animals at the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, I came to admire and respect my animal neighbors, and learned to position myself against their exploitation. You can read the whole story here.
What does all that have to do with today’s post? Well, there’s a world of difference between a vegan diet and a vegan lifestyle; many people choose to eat 100% plant based diets, but don’t necessarily avoid animal products in clothing or cosmetics, whereas a vegan lifestyle, by definition, excludes animal products in personal care and attire as well as food. In truth, I found it relatively easy to transition to a vegan diet, but building a vegan wardrobe took me a very, very long time, and was more of a struggle for me. I’m a work in progress when it comes to my vegan lifestyle—not nearly as consistent as I want to be, but trying every day to evolve.
Last year, I put quite a bit of time and effort into finding a vegan parka—most parkas, as you probably know, are made of down. This year, the main wardrobe focus for me was to find more vegan footwear.
A few years ago, my policy was to keep wearing all of my pre-vegan clothing and shoes, but to only purchase new items that were vegan. Nowadays, I’ve actively worked to donate my non-vegan items. This may not be a choice that all of you would want to make, but it feels right to me. Why? Because, when I get a compliment on a pair of shoes or a blouse, I can say, “thanks! They’re faux leather from _________.” I get to set an example with my vegan wardrobe, and perhaps persuade others to explore faux leather, along with alternatives to silk, wool, and down.
So, with great trepidation and a little sadness, I donated about four pairs of my boot collection this winter: not all of my old boots (I wish I could say I’d been courageous enough to do that; I’m still very attached to two pairs), but most of them. And I invested in two new pairs of vegan boots, one brown and one black. Today, I’d love to give you a few tips on how to shop for vegan footwear, based on what I learned!
As a consumer of vegan footwear, I face two major dilemmas: 1) sometimes vegan footwear isn’t to my taste, and 2) a lot of the materials used in synthetic leather aren’t as environmentally friendly as I’d like them to be. Let’s address these two issues, one at a time.
If you’ve spent any time searching for vegan boots/shoes, you may have noticed that a lot of them look either like this:
Or like this
Both cute, but neither look is precisely my style. I don’t tend to love round-toed or knit footwear, and I really don’t love super high, pointy-heeled creations (I almost never wear high heels, and avoid them pretty much whenever I can!). The boots that tend to appeal to me are really in the “riding boot” style du jour: flat, sturdy, slightly tapered toe. Simple.
These aren’t particularly easy to find in the vegan realm, at least not within my budget. But this year, I made two good finds. The first was this pair of vegan buckled boots from Target:
The second (not pictured on me) were these black boots from American Eagle:
Both totally faux leather, both totally “Gena.” And both less than $59.00 retail, and even less used on eBay.
Yes, eBay! That’s my solution to dilemma number two, which is the slight feeling of eco-guilt that comes from purchasing synthetic materials, and/or supporting a chain, instead of an independent vegan shoe maker. Some vegans feel that purchasing vintage/used leather is better than purchasing new synthetics for environmental reasons; I see both sides of the argument, but in my effort to call attention to vegan fashion, I prefer to purchased used synthetics on eBay or Etsy. If you search for “faux leather” or “vegan boot” on either site, you’ll get a ton of hits, and can sort through them according to your own personal style. I highly recommend it!
One important lesson I’ve learned when it comes to vegan footwear is that you don’t always have to search on vegan sites; many mass market clothing companies (Old Navy, American Eagle, Payless, Target) make cute, stylish faux leather shoes. I do not think that supporting these behemoths is superior to supporting small, vegan labels. But if you purchase them used, you can alleviate some of the guilt that comes from opting for mass market goods over independent ones. And you might find that the styles are a little more “mainstream”—and the prices quite a bit lower—than some of the vegan specialty brands. Again, I urge you to support vegan shoe makers, but if you’re resisting vegan footwear because you don’t love many of the expressly vegan styles, shopping mainstream may be the motivation you need. And you can, and should, purchase them secondhand!
Meanwhile, I guarantee you there are vegan labels you’ll fall in love with. Check out Olsen Haus, Cri de Couer, Novacas, and Beyond Skin. Also check out some of my all time favorite vegan-specialized shopping sites, including Alternative Outfitters, Cosmo’s, and Lulu’s. All have fantastic, and increasingly fashion forward, options.
I resisted vegan clothing and shoes for a long time. This was, of course, absurd: I make every effort to avoid putting any animal products on my plate; how could I possibly justify wearing animal skin on my feet? The leather industry is enabled by the factory farming system, and drives it forward in a terrible cycle. If you’re taking steps toward a vegan diet, I really urge you to think just as hard about your footwear and clothing. I know it’s not easy—I’ve been there—but it’s really rewarding.
When I look back, I realize that my resistance to vegan attire had to do with insecurity about how I’d be perceived. I don’t like admitting this, because I pride myself on being a person who doesn’t put unnecessary stock in other peoples’ opinions, but that’s what was going on. I didn’t feel that vegan options were as fashionable or trendy as non-vegan ones. And I knew that I’d be stepping outside of the mainstream fashion dialog, as it were—the latest and hottest labels, the coolest brands—if I started shopping exclusively vegan. I’d never really had the money for fashionista status, but I did spend every spare penny on my wardrobe back when I worked in publishing. I’ve come to care much less about my wardrobe as I get older, but more importantly, I’ve learned not to care whether or not I’m perceived as being fashion forward, if that comes at the expense of my values. I’d so much rather be perceived as someone whose clothing and footwear choices are in keeping with my ideals.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with priding yourself on being fashion-conscious! Fashion is just like food: it can be art, it can be a form of personal expression, and it can (and should) be fun! Part of what held me back from vegan shopping was that I simply didn’t know about the amazing world of cruelty-free fashion alternatives; now I do. And I also know that some of the unfortunate tradeoffs inherent to vegan shopping—such as less environmentally friendly materials—can be offset by secondhand shopping. Win, win. You do not have to sacrifice your fashion-savvy image to enjoy the peace of mind that comes from a vegan lifestyle; you just have to get a little creative.
In the coming months, I plan on doing posts like this one on wool alternatives, silk alternatives, and so on—provided you find them helpful. So, tell me, do you? Are you interested in hearing more about vegan fashion? What kinds of topics would you find helpful? Is there more to say about vegan footwear?
And of course, I’d also love to hear how you navigate conscious shopping in your own lives.
Before I go, I thought I would link to this very useful link on the Humane Society’s Animal’s & Politics blog. In about ten months, many of us will be voting; this “congress scorecard” is a handy way to see if your federal elected officials are voting to protect animals or not! Check it out if you have a moment.
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Oh, Gena! Go figure, someone asks me about my (2 year old payless) boots today at work, and I decide I need to double check if they are vegan (they are) and do some online research about their factories because, while I’m definitely at the point where I don’t want to purchase clothing or other items made from animal products, I wouldn’t want 1 or 100 or 1000 people to be suffering in a factory under horrible conditions to make my vegan boots either. [Aside: have to say, if forced to choose, I’d choose fair conditions for the people and a leather product over a vegan product that people suffer to make- but it would be really really sad to have to make that choice] So, I’m plugging away in Google search and up pops a link to you! Next time I have any vegan question I’ll know to come see what you have to say, first. 🙂
Anyway, this is a pretty old post but it makes me so happy all this time later to see all the comments and and discussion about the extension of veganism and respect for animals into the other aspects of our lives. Someone commented about how it’s become a game of moral calculus and we all have (the right) to choose for ourselves and we need to support, not judge each other as we all struggle to make the best decisions we can – animal cost v human cost v environmental v what we can afford is a crap choice to have to make, but that people are become more aware that we HAVE a choice and are talking about it is creating more options and that is awesome. Just happy to end up here while being distracted at work this morning and wanted to shout out that your blog is wonderful and even your past posts continue to make a really important impact in the world. Keep on rockin’.
Thanks so much, Shayna 🙂
Hi Gena! I just wanted to tell you that this post inspired me to make my recent purchase of boots an ethical one. I hadn’t bought winter boots in about six years, and my old pair were falling apart. Part of me wanted to take the cheap and easy route, but instead I trekked to a local, independent vegan shoe store, where I found a great pair of non-leather boots. Like other shoes in the store, the boots are eco-friendly and produced without sweatshop labor. And they didn’t break my budget! In fact, they were a lot cheaper than some of the more popular boots out there. So thanks for calling on us to be more conscious consumers; I think most of us need the reminder.
I have a history of foot problems, and was advised to always wear leather because it ‘breathes’….As I was younger I used to buy cheap (plastic) shoes that left my feet (I’m sorry) sweatty and I would get an atlethe’s foot. So I wondered if the next generation of faux leather shoes is better? Now I buy eco leather shoes.
One issue with non-leather boots that I didn’t see mentioned in the post is their durability. I’ve been buying faux leather boots for the last few years, but have never had a pair last more than a year. It’s made me consider whether buying vintage leather would be more eco-conscious.
That being said, one of my favorite sites for non-leather shoes is http://www.gojane.com. They have an enormous number of choices that are constantly rotating. None of the shoes contain leather (although the glues and such may not necessarily be vegan).
LOVE the boots!!! Especially the brown ones. 🙂
Hello! Fantastic article and great way to open dialogue for discussion. We are a vegan boutique carrying primarily footwear – and we do, where we can, carry the smaller and larger sizes as we want all feet, regardless of size, to be able to take advantage of beautiful vegan footwear! The problem supporting industries such as American Eagle, Payless, Old Navy type is the lack of transparency (are the glues derived from animals?). Also, child labour and working conditions are a common issues/questions consumers are now questioning. That said, its difficult when you do have a budget. Often, though committed vegan companies such as Cri de Coeur, Neuaura, Beyond Skin, etc., are committed not only to animal welfare but to our planet; so they constantly source out quality alternatives. Our store is cognizant of our earth and her health and we area also doing what we can to make pricing as fair as possible. We want everyone to be able to get into vegan gear, even when you’re on a budget. Choosing to live with more compassion is so key to making a shift. Thank you to each and every one of you for being so beautiful and choosing to support vegan businesses and avoiding supporting the evil leather industries.
When I became vegan, I made the decision that applied to everything…food, clothes, make-up and toiletries. It always amuses me when people ask the old “what DO you eat” question, as food is the easiest bit! It’s the other bits that can be a minefield. Fortunately I haven’t found it too difficult to find trendy vegan boots here (England) but you do have to be so careful with other things. I check clothing labels as obsessively as I check food labels!
Thanks for this post, Gena, I found it really interesting. I am vegetarian, but I do have some leather boots and shoes. I feel bad for having bought them, and try to buy non-leather when I buy new stuff, but I often think about the message these faux leather goods send out. I am currently on a verrry tight budget and struggle sometimes to find cheap toiletries and cleaning products that don’t contain animal products and aren’t tested on animals. It’s certainly hard to balance my values and my budget sometimes, so thanks for some great tips. 🙂
I really appreciate this post. As a relatively new vegan, I am still in the process of trying to make better choices in my lifestyle. Cosmetics and products have been my first area of attack, but I’d like to continue to focus on my clothing and shoes. Thank you for the vegan shopping sites!
Great post… I’m not entirely vegan (yet, anyway), but I have stopped buying leather items. You mentioned faux leather not being environmentally friendly, but it stacks up pretty well compared to leather for a few reasons:
The tanning process for leather involves toxic chemicals and renders the leather non-biodegradeable anyway.
Large-scale agribusiness farming (which is part of the feedlot cattle business) uses a lot of petrochemicals to begin with, and that’s not even counting the gas used for machinery. Fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides — all used in non-organic agriculture to feed the cattle that become leather — are often created from petrochemical and other environmentally toxic sources.
I do a lot of resale shopping too but don’t have much success finding shoes that fit (big feet.) I still wear some of my older leather items but don’t buy any new and am slowly weeding out the old bits. Anyway, as far as buying vegan shoes goes, it’s at the very least I don’t think it’s any worse for the environment than buying leather. Of course, trying to purchase ethically-produced (non-sweatshop) items is also important.
Great comment, Kate. Thank you.
I’ve been a long time reader of your blog, so thanks for the Cri de Coeur shout out! We feel that as an ethical company, it doesn’t just stop with animal welfare – we’re also very careful to make sure things are as gentle on the environment as they can be (PU is actually relatively eco-friendly!), and that everyone who is involved in the making of our products is treated fairly! Just wanted to reiterate those two points, as they’re frequently brought up when discussing vegan accessories. Keep up the great work and recipes on the blog 😉
Love the boots and thank you for this post! My vegan transition is very similar to yours, gaining a strong passion for animals after I transitioned. Vegan shoes are tough for me since I have larger feet, many options do not go up to my size. I’ve been hanging on to a few leather favorites from my pre-vegan days, but am starting to feel more guiltly about wearing them now. The year I’ve found two great pairs of vegan boots from Target and Payless looking for ones labeled with all man made materials. I also browse the vegan section on Zappos a lot, but a lot of the options are either too casual for work or too pricey to justify now.
This is good!!! Completely looking forward to the rest of the series 🙂
Great advice here, especially for the newly vegan or vegan curious. So many people forget all about the clothing or just put their head in the sand since it seems rather hopeless. I personally have cut way down on shoes since going vegan and I could care less. I save the money for other more important things.
Amazing, thought-provoking post and comments!
I can certainly relate to your own struggles with this Gena. I’ve almost entirely stopped wearing my old leather items and donated them and now purchase faux leather/suede products. However, I’ve certainly thought about “promoting” this industry, whether it be fake or real leather and how others perceive what I’m wearing. There is no easy answer to this. Like you, I like to tell people that you can wear (eat) what you love without sacrifice. I like one reader’s suggestion of wearing a pin on bags and whatnot too. I hadn’t thought about buying second hand online, but I will certainly look into that. Thanks for the ideas and links!
So true. There are SO Many mainstream sites that let you search for “vegan” within the larger site. And I LOVE the vegan shoe sites, but yes, fair trade shoes can break you. If you get on all their mailing lists, etc….they do have tremendous deals. But of course, you can find vegan shoes anywhere, for any price. I can’t even believe how much easier it has gotten!!!! There is something for everyone, from Payless to 500 dollar shoes. It is fabulous, even though I can’t afford the 500 dollar ones, it’s important to have “high” fashion so some of the power vegans, and celebrities, vegan or not, can get more ad time in. Yes, PU isn’t eco friendly, but I have read that leather tanning is actually worse for the environment than PU! So buy whatever you can now, just like a juicer….start where you are and if you come into good fortune later on, think of it as charity if you are able to support the smaller companies that pay better wages.
I’m not vegan but I have been trying to reduce my use of animal products. I appreciate these tips and would love to see more vegan fashion posts. 🙂
Great post Gena! I look forward to future posts like this. I am of the thought that for myself, it’s ok to keep any animal product clothing/shoes I currently have, but of course going forward, purchase non-animal products. One thing I did do when I made this decision was donate the majority of items that contained wool. I never really liked the itchiness of it to begin with, so I thought what a great opportunity to “get rid of it”. I do find it difficult to find affordable and cute winter coats that don’t contain wool though. Like any new endeavor, these things take some time for initial research, however in no time you can become an expert and a great resource for others…just like you have become!
Thanks for this post, these are issues I’ve been trying to figure out for myself. I’ve definitely been wanting to promote the idea that vegan items are cool, through example, so I like your justification for donating old, non vegan, items from the closet.
I think the transition to a vegan wardrobe is going to be the hardest for me – just because I tend to own things for a long time and don’t have much of a budget for clothes – too many other things on my list. I’m going out of my way to avoid animal products in new products that I buy and love the idea of donating the old non-vegan products as I can. It’s amazing how many animal-derived products I own that I never realized before!
PETA’s Shopping Guide is a good starting place when looking for vegan designers – http://www.peta.org/living/fashion/cruelty-free-clothing-guide-vegan-companies.aspx
Thank you for this article, Gena. As an aspiring vegan, I appreciate your thoughts and sharing links to footwear sources as well.
I’m not sure how much weight I give to the idea “some of the unfortunate tradeoffs inherent to vegan shopping—such as less environmentally friendly materials—can be offset by secondhand shopping.” Yes, buying an oil based boot secondhand does reduce potential landfill waste. However, I am still supporting the ebay seller’s purchase of that item, and indirectly the manufacturer’s creation of that environmentally unfriendly item.
Nor do I think that being “a degree removed from the “original sin” (be it animal cruelty, human cruelty, or toxic chemicals used in production)” makes me any less a participant in that cruelty. If I eat a leftover hamburger I find in the fridge, I am not eating vegan, even if it was purchased by my husband.
Genevieve, thank you for adding the human cost of things to the discussion. It is so easy to feel overwhelmed in taking all the ethical aspects of a purchase into account. We definitely don’t have it all figured out at my house, but discussions like this inspire me to keep trying!
I’m not sure how much weight I give it, either, Lisa. Its far from an ideal, or even justifiable, solution. Thanks for the thoughtful comment.
Cute boots! I actually also like the one with the two flowers on the side. 🙂
I would love to learn more about where I could find vegan clothing. I agree that it’s hard to find styles that I like, but I try to buy vegan clothing and products whenever I can. Have you found a good place to purchase handbags? I’m looking forward to checking out the other sites you mentioned!
i have been perusing vegan handbags recently and am falling for
matt and nat – http://www.mattandnat.com/ (bonus! they also utilize recycled materials in their designs)
deaux lux – http://www.deuxlux.com/ (very sparkley)
gena – the two book pictures you posted made me laugh because they were very much like the range of vegan bags I have been finding! It seems like the marjority are embellished with either tassles and embroidered flowers or spikes and chains!
Thanks Mikaela, I’ll have to check them out!
Thanks, Gena! I’ve been looking all over for some inexpensive, classy vegan boots so I really appreciate your tips (though in CA we don’t have to worry as much about keeping our toes warm!). I think about vegan fashion like I think about vegan cuisine: anyone can make a hunk of animal flesh/mucus taste good because our brains are programmed to respond to the high concentrations of fat and salt. So you can make a steak without burning it or making someone get food poisoning and everyone thinks it’s great because that’s what people are used to eating – big deal!! Show me someone who can make a healthy, wholesome plant-based meal look and taste wonderful (some people, like you!, seem to do this with very little effort, even) and that’s who I’ll call a good chef. I’m not a huge fan of the cutesy knit stuff either, but I think vegan fashion can be much more innovative than the old stand-byes of leather, fur, etc. Vaute couture coats? Now that’s truly fashion forward in my opinion! Too bad, like Heather, I’m on a student budget 🙂
Thank you for talking about this. I look forward to future posts about vegan fashion. I admit that it’s not something I know very much about.
I love everything about this post, Gena. Especially this line: ” I realize that my resistance to vegan attire had to do with insecurity about how I’d be perceived.” On some level, we can all relate to this. I definitely went through a similar issue…but more-so because I didn’t want anyone to think I was acting “better-than” others. I often run into people who say that my lifestyle makes me seem like I feel like I am “better-than” others…which I don’t believe to be true at all. I try to practice what I preach…but I don’t preach unless it’s warranted with a question or attacking comment.
Anyways, I’ve found Target to be amazing too! The ankle boots that I’ve shown on my Fashion page are from there and are, by far, my favorite faux-suede purchase. The only issue I have is purchasing a vegan-friendly items from non-vegan stores. It’s something I struggle with internally. But I”m on a SERIOUS budget. As a college student, I have about $200 – $300 dollars to my name and $20 boots are what I need, you know? I’d love to hear your thoughts on that.
Thanks for always making me think. You’re good at that. 😉
Great post, Gena! As a taller lady with larger feet, I’ve found it SO hard to find vegan shoes in the past, but not so much now thanks to Target. Ever since I first got into vegetarianism when i was 18 I have tried to be leather free, but it was difficult because some companies (such as mooshoes) run small, so even their BIGGEST sizes wouldn’t fit my feet. I think as time goes on, vegan clothing is becoming more accessible. I admire your efforts and your dedication to spreading the word about your vegan wardrobe and the awesome companies that create the goods!
Even though I am not entirely vegan, I still keep animal welfare in mind as much as possible. My make up and beauty products are always vegan, and I keep my clothing as humane as possible, too. You’ve definitely inspired me to take it up a notch. Just because I can’t live without omelettes, salmon, and goat’s cheese doesn’t mean I’ll miss leather footwear!
Finding boots was my big goal this year too! (I- maybe stupidly- gave away all my pregan ones right away, and have spent the last six New England winters in canvas sneakers- ha!) In any case, I spent some time looking, pre-holidays, and pinned a lot of pairs on their own special vegan boot pinterest board. Now I have two new pairs that I love, and my feet are finally warm! 🙂 http://pinterest.com/amy02360/the-great-vegan-boot-hunt/
This is amazing! Thank you, Amy! 🙂
When I went vegan (a loooong time ago), I too held on to a couple of non-vegan shoes that I couldn’t part with. After a while the thought of this animal skin in my closet got the best of me and they were promptly donated; the time will come.
I find that for everyday footwear at a fair price, Madden Girl is a good bet. For more of a splurge I turn to Neuaura.
Being vegan doesn’t have to mean you’re not stylish!
Thanks for a very helpful post. I have been on the hunt for a cute pair of affordable vegan boots for about a year, so I was encouraged to see that you found some! Also, I am most appreciative to learn about the Humane Society Legislative Fund. I had not heard of them or this blog before. It is a wealth of information!
Great post! While I’m not a vegan, nor an aspiring one, I do consider myself pretty eco-conscious and I love your attention to reducing your impact by purchasing secondhand clothing. I’ve been trying to make an effort to buy quality clothes that will last awhile instead of cheap disposable ones, but my student budget doesn’t really allow for buying them new so I’m a big ebay fan too, and have also found that at least here in Manhattan, the local Goodwill is usually full of beautiful name-brand clothes that have been donated in nearly perfect condition.
Hi Gena, I love your site for the recipes but this is by far my favourite blog post of yours. Thank goodness for anonymity because I feel a little ashamed of myself– I’m not vegan but since meeting a woman (now my friend) who is vegan, I’m certainly rethinking my food choices (and most of my favourite raw recipes are from you!). My little ‘issue’ is that if I were to be vegan, I couldn’t just stop it at food. I’d want to extend it to what I wear (currently I buy mostly vintage or from thrift stores with the exception of jeans). My feet are the problem! I have feet that in the plus-plus size width and believe me there are no non-animal shoes ANYWHERE in my foot size. Leather for me is seemingly the only option as the shoes can be stretched a little across the width and I don’t get pain. I have to wear certain kinds of shoes for my problem feet. I can’t buy secondhand shoes because the widths are never available. So… I’m ashamed to admit I justify all this to myself as “well why be vegan in food choices if I can’t extend it to my shoes? It would be hypocritical of me to be vegan food-wise but not anywhere else”. And then I go eat some cheese…
I’m mindful of my food choices (raw, wholefoods) but as much as I would love to buy fair trade organic for instance, I simply can’t afford it (organic food tends to be very expensive in my country and I don’t work as I look after my special needs kids). As my finances are extremely tight, I can’t afford to live more of the ‘lifestyle’ I prefer (organic food, cosmetics, bathing, footwear, etc).
Love your site, love your work!
You can do exactly however much you want to do. You may not want to call yourself “vegan” if you still wear and purchase leather, but it does not preclude you from eating a vegan diet. You make the rules.
Interesting post. As a designer who uses repurposed wool and silk in my designs, this is something I think about often. I believe it’s better to give a second life to these non-vegan fabrics than to let them go to waste and make more new things using up more precious natural resources (as most faux leather is petroleum derived). There is a lot of discarded leather, silk, and wool in this world, and it can be put to good use. However I totally understand people who want to look vegan, and I respect their decision.
Great minds! Yes, I would love to hear more about conscious clothing. It’s a process for me, that’s for sure.
Hi there–just curious as to your thoughts on continuing to promote wearing real leather by wearing even synthetic leather. It still looks like animal skin.. wouldn’t that be unappealing to you? Like why you may not want your seitan fashioned to look like exactly like a real steak or something? I’m really interested to hear your thoughts as this is something I’ve also thought about when people choose to wear fake fur instead of real–it’s still conceding to and promoting the desire to wear animal skins.
I’ve heard some pretty awesome pro and con arguments for this one! Vegans tend to be somewhat divided. I do understand that wearing faux leather is in some ways still an advertisement. That said, I’m also very vocal about my faux leather, so in that regard I hope to be an advertisement of “see? You can maintain the wardrobe you find aesthetically pleasing while also being vegan,” just as I try to say “you can have a delicious diet while also being vegan.” That said, I have an inherent aversion to, say, fake snakeskin, which means that I do realize that wearing the imitation is in some ways reminiscent of the real thing. Not an easy thing for me to sort through in terms of right/wrong. But right now, I do try hard to promote vegan “faux” fashion, and many of the styles I choose do end up being canvas or cotton.
The sad fact is that animals-as-fabric has become such a part of our culture that everyone always assumes real is real and faux is real; tell someone that being vegan includes not wearing leather, wool, silk, etc. and they really can’t fathom there being any other options.
The catch 22 is that since these are the looks that are the “norm”, vegan and vegan-friendly companies can’t really go so far out of left field with their materials and still expect to make a profit; they want to attract the mainstream customers.
The best solution I’ve come up with has been to wear a button. For instance, on my wool-look coat I wear “wool is baaaad”. On my handbag, a “no leather”, etc. It’s not always possible to start a dialogue, so I hope that these make people think even when I don’t have the time to explain.
Well, Gena, this is one area where we’ll never see eye to eye, but I don’t want to reiterate my comment on your parka post of last year. Because what’s increasingly clear to me in all my conversations with ethically minded people is that as we shop, whether it’s for food or for boots, we’re engaged in some kind of moral calculus. In other words, we’re all shopping mindfully, weighing commitments to the environment, to sustainability, to animal welfare, to fiscal sensibility, to artisinal production, crafts vs. commodities, etc., to say nothing of aesthetics, and if in the end we make different choices, it’s not because we’re better or worse people, or even because we’re less evolved, morally speaking. One thing I’m learning as navigate the murky ethical waters of first-world consumerism is not to be so quick to judge someone for shopping at, say, Payless (because in my moral universe that’s tantamount to what eating foie gras would be to you). I do think I was pretty judgmental of your decision to buy a Lands End parka last year, and I apologize for that now. I’ll just say in response to this post that because of the dollars involved, and because the purchases are almost never urgent (meaning, i can almost always do without), I compromise LESS when it comes to shoes and clothing than I do with food (where, for example, I will often buy the Whole Foods brand of olive oil vs. the artisinal variety from a small producer, etc.). Maybe it’s because I’ll use up the olive oil, so I can kind of live with myself, whereas the boots, I could have them for decades. I will say, in my favor, that I’m a big fan of fixing and mending. I have $600 Armani riding boots, but they’ve been resoled multiple times.
A pair of cheap pleather riding boots I got on eBay have been resoled (not a joke) 4 times. So I can relate to the urge to maintain and protect clothing 🙂
I think moral calculus is just the right word. These are not cut and dry choices — they’re choices that involve sets of compromise. Thanks for such a thoughtful (and, I daresay, non-judgmental) comment; I admire your own stances, too.
gena! how cute! the other day I looked around in a room over 20 + ladies and almost everyone was wearing a high riding style boot…except for guess who – me?! do i need a pair, or what! I do if I’d like to look cute like you! adorable! thanks for the post – jasper
I’m also a “relatively new” vegan, within the past couple years, but in the same time frame I sort of stopped shopping altogether, which eliminates the problem of what to buy. Shoes seem to be the main issue, and I wouldn’t get rid of my Docs I’ve been wearing for 10 years (it’s already dead) but I also wouldn’t buy them again. Chacos are my favorite summer shoes!
Thank you, Gena. This is very helpful. I too am attempting to scrutinize my lifestyle choices–hair products, makeup, clothing, bedding, etc.–to reflect my values of compassion and nonviolence. As a relatively new vegan, I can find the task of searching out vegan alternatives daunting. I appreciate hearing others’ experiences and learning from them, so please keep sharing.
How appropriate, I’ve been looking for new (vegan) boots all week! I was slow to build a vegan wardrobe too, seemingly for no good reason. Like you I recently donated many non-vegan items, mainly boots (moving made that easier). I often check etsy for vegan apparel (there are sooo many options!) but I hadn’t thought of ebay, what a great tip!
Great post, loved it and I look forward to more!
Let me add Marais USA to your list of fashionable began footwear! These shoes are so simple and so chic! Though I can’t be sure that every single style the brand makes is vegan, several styles are made with imitation leather. These styles are not cheapies, but they are much more affordable than their leather equivalents.
On a more serious note, I’m increasingly interested in the human cost of the things I buy. Did anyone else listen to last week’s This American Life? Mike Daisy told a story about the deplorable working conditions of an Apple factory in Shenzhen China. (Of course you always hear about horrible factory conditions overseas, but this guy was such a good storyteller, he made it so painfully personal.)
Anyway, Gena, I just widened the scope of your post a thousand-fold. Whoops! But human rights are another important factor to keep in mind as we try to be the most ethical consumers we can be. You touched on this when you mention that buying second hand is a highly desirable option. Indeed, I agree. Not only does it reduce landfill waste, but it means that the buyer is a degree removed from the “original sin” (be it animal cruelty, human cruelty, or toxic chemicals used in production).
Thank you, Gena, for your vegan lifestyle conversation-starters. We all know you can spit out a fantastic recipe nearly every day (But I’ll never know how, you miracle woman!!), but your non-food related posts are always challenging and enlightening. It’s good for me to be reminded of how I can become a more ethical consumer outside of the grocery store.
I love Marais! Not every style is vegan, but most are. I’ve actually posted on them before.
I did hear that expose. It was really, really illuminating, and makes me appreciate secondhand shopping all the more.
I dig your boots…very stylish and very you. Glad you found two pairs, both for great prices.
I haven’t read the shoe labels or spent time in years in the store, but when I was in college and needed a quick pair of (cheap) shoes, I’d always go to Payless. Almost nothing was leather back then. It was full of pleather shoes (plastic “leather”) and there is that side of supporting big business, supporting fair trade practices, supporting how they manufacture things, etc..but I do know back in the day, they had plenty of vegan-friendly shoes, even if they were unintentionally vegan, so to speak.
Can’t wait to see more posts where you’re talking fashion and shoes. FUN!
This is perfect, Gena! Thanks so much! I look forward to the rest in the series!