Billie Eilish wears vegan shoes. Should you?
Off Brand is a quarterly column that explores fashion and beauty trends.
LEATHER SHOES are so prevalent that most of us don’t think about it. Animal skin has been the dominant material for footwear since Mesopotamian civilization, with some notable exceptions – ranging from silver and gold sandals in ancient Rome to mother-of-pearl shoes in 18th-century France. Leather is ideal for footwear: it is comfortable, durable and readily available. Although the world’s population is currently hundreds of millions of vegetarians, many still regularly lace up smooth leather Nike Air Jordans, slip on sheepskin Ugg boots, and slip into pairs of smooth calfskin pumps.
But veganism, a more stringent type of vegetarianism that bans animal byproducts and is generally linked to environmental concerns, is on the rise, and with it, a demand for stylish vegan shoes. “Vegan”, like “sustainable”, is a word openly open to interpretation, but a vegan shoe is generally defined as a shoe made neither of leather nor silk, cashmere, sheepskin or any other substance derived from it. wildlife. Bonus points for shoes using recycled or biodegradable materials. Even shoes that look vegan, like fabric flats, can be lined with fine leather or tied with animal collagen glue.
Vegan shoes can be made from synthetic blends or a host of other experimental plant-based materials such as derivatives of corn, wood, mushrooms, hemp, cotton, cork, pineapple, and bacteria. Yes, the kind of bacteria that gave us kombucha can be turned into the “leather” of vegan shoes.
While these restrictions may seem extreme to your average Joe, they are getting adopted more and more. GlobalData consumer analyst Carmen Bryan said the percentage of Americans “aligning with vegan diets … increased” from late 2019 to late 2020. She explained, “This is due to an awareness increased individual carbon footprints, environmental concerns and the impact of healthy eating on mental health. The pandemic, especially in the early months, forced many American citizens to slow down and reassess their priorities, leading to sweeping lifestyle changes.
This lifestyle is further trended by vocal vegan celebrities such as pop star Billie Eilish and actress Natalie Portman. Others who have flirted with vegan diets and associated ethical positions include Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus, RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan, and Jaden Smith, who collaborated with New Balance on a vegan sneaker last year, the Bouffant Vision Racer of the space age. On the red carpet, these stars often wear sneakers or have shoes designed specifically for them. French brand Dior made bespoke vegan shoes for Natalie Portman to wear at events as an Ambassador. But a stylist told me that some vegan celebrities cheat by discreetly wearing non-vegan shoes.
Vegan stars: they’re like us. Historically, sticklers who wanted to wear shoes not made of animals or animal by-products had few options. Some take the route of canvas sneakers like the Converse and Vans, or the popular vegan sneakers made by Vegas. The Leatherless Doc Martens have been the shoe of choice for die-hard vegetarian fans and punks since the style began in 2011. But vegans who were also on-trend or had a formal event to attend were frustrated.
Longtime animal rights activist, fashion designer Stella McCartney and her eponymous label don’t use leather, fur, exotic skins, feathers or animal glue. Her luxury shoes and handbags are a must-have for well-heeled vegetarians. And they’re beautiful, even if they’re pricey: This season, she’s offering $ 850 zip-up ankle boots that look as polished as any pair of leather. Which does not mean that it has not been criticized. Vegans and eco-types have called her out for her use of traditional silk and synthetics which cause emissions when they break down. (She is now experimenting with human “peace silk” that does no harm to silkworms, as well as faux silk options.)
Synthetic leather replacements are a huge point of contention in the vegan world. On the one hand, the polyurethane / polyvinyl blended materials are the most convincing dupe of leather. But on the other hand, these materials aren’t the most environmentally friendly (Twitter user @ bunny6gamer attracted over 200,000 likes last week for pointing out, “’vegan leather’ is a great marketing term. it’s literally just plastic lol ”). Many conscious consumers avoid buying new shoes of any material at all, or pursuing the dream of a shoe that is 100% organic and biodegradable.
This vision was the original goal of the new Aera consumer direct line. When New York-based CEO Tina Bhojwani launched the business alongside Creative Director Jean Michel Cazabat and investor Alvertos Revach, she thought, “Let’s make a 100% biodegradable shoe made from organic products. . And in fact, it’s still the dream. But Aera also wanted to create timeless and stylish shoes that would last, so for now, they’ve landed on a 50% organic and 50% synthetic mix. Simple styles – like a $ 475 flat boot that Katie Holmes wore during the pandemic – are the type of chic vegan shoes that weren’t there before.
Other small innovative designers saw the potential of this growing category. Californian brand Simon Miller makes vegan mules and sandals in bright, graphic colors. They are favorites of New York stylist Beverly Nguyen, who has worked with Ms. Portman as well as other environmentally conscious stars such as Selena Gomez. A former principal designer of Bottega Veneta, Mirco Scoccia, has just launched the line of vegan shoes O2Monde. Mr Scoccia was disappointed with the waste involved in traditional shoe making and decided to start experimenting with plant-based materials. He makes a pretty pump partly in certified wood and a woven straw dish.
Good shoe making is a complicated process that was developed with leather in mind, so the use of alternative materials defies factories. Aera’s Bhojwani said her shoes take 50% longer to manufacture than leather shoes, but the son of the Italian family who own the factory Aera uses saw the light and was studying durability. Ms Nguyen believes that it is also possible for American manufacturers to participate in the vegan shoe game. She said, “Maybe there will be a resurgence of shoemakers in the United States, a school or something like that. I think it’s about teaching people how to make the shoe itself.
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