Poor Birkenstocks. As the vegan fashion becomes more mainstream, more and more designers are explicitly distancing themselves from the famous footwear. For many, Birkenstocks represent vegan days gone by where the only vegan garments were unfashionable and made from hemp. Thankfully, a revolution has occurred. Vegan fashion today means high style, but with a conscience.
Elizabeth Olsen, founder of OlsenHaus Pure Vegan footwear (I know I’ve said it before but, I bow down to OlsenHaus shoes), uses a mixture of human-made, plant-based and recycled materials to make her shoes. “I didn’t want to be the brand that only hippies wear,” she said. No worries about that, OlsenHaus shoes are stylish and perfect for, well anything. I can easily see these strutting down the red carpet – just as I can see me strutting around in some of those cute ballet flats.
Alternative Outfitters has been selling their vegan fashions for years now. “We try to show people you can still be really fashionable and not wear animals,” says Jackie Horrick, owner of the Alternative Outfitters vegan boutique. “We don’t carry the very earthy… , what a lot of people think when they think of vegan.” And it’s working. Just as Holly Miller, a customer who was shopping at Alternative Outfitters. Miller was shopping for a vegan belt. She says, “Why wear something that comes from an animal when I can get something else? People say, ‘Well, the animal’s already dead, and you’re just wearing the leather, so what difference does it make?’ You vote with your dollars. When you buy something that comes from an animal — an animal that lived in captivity and probably suffered when it died — you’re implicitly saying that’s OK.”
And she’s right. You can bet that any animal used (regardless if it’s for fashion or food) has suffered prior to it’s death. And, since there are so many great alternatives out there, animal products are unnecessary – almost antiquated even.
Vegans may still be in the minority, however, ethical clothing and footwear is becoming more mainstream every day. With the rise of environmentalism in recent years, more and more people are making the switch to veganism. In a poll done by Vegetarian Times, almost half of the vegetarians said they are vegan because of the environmental impact of animal production. Which for me, misses the point. Yes, factory farming creates greenhouse gases and is a huge pollutant. But does that mean that if we found a way to “farm” without creating havoc and destruction that I would start eating animals again? No. Think about this. Before there were cars, humans used horses and carriages as their primary transportation. But with the invention of the motor car, the use of horses and carriages dwindled in numbers until finally the car became mainstream. We used technology and it allowed us to evolve into a new era. The use of animals is the same. We have the ability to create man-made fabrics, materials that are similar, or in some cases better, than the animal counterparts. With these advances in technology, why aren’t we evolving past cruelty to animals?
But as Inder Bedi, founder of Matt and Nat – a high-end vegan leather retailer, sees it, style has a lot to do with it. “The product/design has to be there first. At the end of the day, when it comes to fashion, people still buy the product first and then the story.”
Thankfully today, awesome vegan fashion is popping up everywhere. As it spreads into more and more closets, those stories behind the fashion get louder and louder. Evolution beyond animal use is powerful – and now fashionable – will you be a part of it? Because, as you all know, in fashion, one day you’re in and the next you’re out. Animal use is out, vegan fashion is in.
As for myself, I’m in.