By Daria Zeoli, Guest Contributor

I complimented a pair of camouflage loafers someone was wearing at work the other day. She thanked me and said she got them at the nearby, newly opened UGG outlet store.

I said something like, “Oh, I don’t wear UGGs because they use sheepskin.” She replied that she didn’t either, but the price was right. I congratulated her on outlet store shopping. And totally failed the moment.

So let’s talk about UGGs for a minute. Not only do they use the wool and skin of sheep (eight sheep for every pair of boots, in fact), they also use suede and leather. It’s not a secret. They don’t hide the materials that go into their products; in fact, they have an “animal welfare FAQ” on their website, explaining that they source their sheepskin from the meat industry. But I’d venture a guess that most people don’t think about exactly how those materials are procured and who suffers for it.

FURTHER READING: Vegan Fashion: Cruelty-free and Fashion Forward

I’ve been wearing a cheap, vegan-alternative to UGGs for a few seasons now. They fall apart after a year or two and then I head down to my local Payless and buy another pair. Why? They’re comfortable and you can wear them with anything. No, seriously. As the story goes, UGGs became popular when Pamela Anderson wore them during her red bathing suit Baywatch days. Yes, longtime vegan and animal activist Pamela Anderson. And she didn’t think about the materials in her boots, either.

As she told People in September:

“I’m excited about my boots coming out, which you know has been this labor of love for me because I made those darn UGG boots popular. I didn’t know that

[animals] were being hurt. [UGG] used me a lot for promoting, but I helped them create their brand … I thought that [the animals] were being shaved and kept well. That was the beginning of my animal activism career, and since then I’ve been trying to create an alternative.”

We are all guilty of doing things we wouldn’t do if we knew that someone suffered because of our choices. It’s a cliche, but it’s true: ignorance is bliss. The hard part is remembering that we are all ignorant sometimes, about something. The harder part is remembering to be patient with people until they come around.

vegan uggs

Pamela Anderson’s new vegan boots, “Pammies

Pam Anderson came around – in October, she was named Last Chance for Animals’ “Vegan of the Year.” And later this year, her vegan-alternative boots, Pammies, will be available online. Once you know better, you do better.

Which brings me back to that fleeting conversation with my co-worker. Was I the best advocate I could have been in that moment? No, certainly not. Even after almost six years as a vegan, I feel like sometimes, I’m advocating with training wheels. But every situation, every conversation, is an opportunity to do better. And, with boot season upon us, something tells me I will have plenty of opportunities to advocate on behalf of the animals killed for food and used in countless other ways as a byproduct of that industry.

Admitting that we didn’t know is a great way to advocate – it’s something we can all relate to. “I used to [fill in the animal exploitative blank], but what I didn’t know was [fill in the staggering fact, statistic, or philosophy]. When I found out, it changed my viewpoint. So now, I [insert alternative action, choice, purchase].” What works about this method is that it doesn’t call out the other person. Stories resonate with all of us; telling our stories might make a difference whereas telling someone what they’re doing wrong might not.

There are so many reasons why I am grateful for my time as a vegan. This philosophy, this lifestyle, provokes me to question everything, from the sticky traps building maintenance uses at work to the fact that fish are still widely seen as something other than animals by people. I will never stop questioning the way I advocate for those who can’t. I’ll never stop trying to be better at it.

PS. The featured photo is of Me and Devlin at Woodstock Animal Sanctuary.