The Very Best Vegan Couture
For compassionate fashion and shoe lovers, finding crush-worthy vegan style has become undeniably easier.
Fashion’s future is vegan and luxurious. With the vegan revolution rolling along nicely, the demand for desirable, ethically made, environmentally friendly fashion is surging. Savvy, socially conscious brands are building their entire business on animal-free collections that are both stylish and sustainable. Designers such as Vivienne Westwood and Jean-Paul Gaultier are collaborating with vegan brands, while fashion giant Hugo Boss has launched its own vegan-leather line. Faux-leather, fabric and synthetic shoes have certainly been around for decades, but rarely any that you’d want to wear. Before Stella McCartney started her eponymous line in 2001, cruelty-free clothing and accessories barely skimmed the surface of high-end fashion. For compassionate fashion lovers, finding crush-worthy styles has become undeniably easier.
Fans of Stella McCartney will love Taylor + Thomas’s gorgeous statement-making shoes. The Los Angeles–based label’s animal-loving co-founders Elizabeth Thomas James and Jessica Taylor Mead create ethical footwear that’s completely sustainable, cruelty- and sweatshop-free, with part of the profits going the charity 1% for the Planet. The line is crafted from natural, sustainable materials: the insoles from castor beans and recycled rubber, while the lining is from renewable corn.
Inspired by the rocking 1960s and 1970s, Taylor + Thomas produces classic styles that look fabulously retro yet fresh. “These were times of creativity, freedom and political activism,” says James of the thinking behind the designs. “We get inspiration from strong women: musicians, style icons, trailblazers.” And the shoes are all named after free-spirited female rock stars and muses: Marianne (Faithfull) court shoe; Debbie (Harry) faux-snakeskin boot, Brigitte (Bardot) stiletto; Edie (Sedgwick) black ankle boot; and Jane (Birkin) loafer.
Since launching last summer with a capsule collection of flats, heels and boots, T+T has been winning the hearts of style-conscious animal lovers and vintage enthusiasts. It plans to eventually expand the future-focused line to women’s accessories and ready-made clothing with the same ethos and aesthetic.
“We are trying to redefine the status quo that luxury means leather,” says James, who is vegan, pointing out that the consumption of animals whether eating or wearing them is extraordinarily damaging to the planet. “Fashion is one of the dirtiest industries on Earth and the leather used by the industry is the most polluting material when you take into account water and air pollution, waste, greenhouse-gas emissions, water and land usage. Plastics, formaldehydes, lacquers and butanes are also used in the tanning of leather.”
Another lovely Los Angeles-based line, Susi Studio has become the vegan go-to-glam footwear worn by Miley Cyrus and Emma Watson. Designed by founder and creative director Bianca Moran Parkes, who is big on reinterpreting iconic vintage styles, the line features kittenish T-bars that look like something a 1960s starlet might’ve worn on the French Riviera and sexy sky-high platforms a New York disco queen would’ve stepped out in at Studio 54. Susi means ‘key’ in Filipino and the idea is to unlock responsible approaches to fashion. Not only are the shoes made from natural and recycled materials, but the company also collaborates closely with the artisans working in its factories in Portugal and Hong Kong (which is owned and operated entirely by women).
“The vegan philosophy is simple. You can live a fulfilling and stylish life without partaking in inhumane practices,” says Parkes. “The biggest challenge is breaking the stereotypes. For decades, consumers have pictured vegan shoes as ugly, awkward sandals and we’re trying to change that.”
New York-based Olsen Haus is a luxe vegan shoe and accessories brand loved by the fashion pack and frequently seen on the red carpet on stars including Natalie Portman and Cameron Diaz. Founded in 2008 by former Calvin Klein designer Elizabeth Olsen out of her passion and concern for animals, this pioneering brand is known for its sassy strappy stilettos, boots, kitten heels and colourful flats. Crafted from a mixture of man-made, plant-based micro-suede and repurposed waste materials, each shoe is hard wearing and made to be worn season after season. Before creating her line, Olsen was creative director for Tommy Hilfiger and a stylist for Universal Studios. She saw the horrendous animal abuse and hazardous working conditions on her visits to tanneries, which she described as stepping into Dante’s circle of hell. Illuminating the cruelty of the industry and what modern luxury can be in one fell swoop, Olsen is ceaselessly creative. Standout pieces include inky-black ultra-suede, turquoise-heel stilettos and 1940s-style, lace-up peep-toe pumps with a glitter heel.
Featured regularly on the pages of Vogue and Elle, multi-award-winning Milanese brand Nemanti’s footwear for men and women fuses classical aesthetics with sustainable innovation. Passionate about animals and nature, Nemanti founder Paola Caracciolo found herself frustrated by the unimaginative, unsexy fair and animal-friendly alternatives, so she created her own with a sleek, pared-back aesthetic. Handcrafted in Italy in a small, ethical family-run factory, Nemanti shoes are seductive, seriously beautiful and look and feel just as luxurious as any couture shoes. Fashioned from apple pulp, a by-product from the apple harvest and requiring no extra land, water, fertilisers or pesticides, the material resembles super-soft leather and suede that’s every bit as supple as the real thing. As a Vegan company, Nemanti is continually innovating and exploring the most ethical materials and methods to ensure every element of production is 100 percent cruelty -, waste- and solvent-free. In addition to producing shoes that are crafted with care and look like works of art, Nemanti also offers a bespoke service.
For fine-quality men’s footwear, Brave GentleMan boasts designs that combine sharp, classic style that are sustainably produced without harming animals or the Earth in fair-labour conditions. Designer Joshua Katcher launched the first-ever luxury all-vegan menswear brand Brave Gentleman in 2010 following the success of his green lifestyle website, The Discerning Brute, which he began in 2008. Alongside its fashion collection, the label offers its unique future-is-now range of shoes and bags cobbled out of ‘future-leather’ and ‘future-suede’, an Italian-milled microfibre superior to animal-derived leather that is also weather-resistant and biodegradable.
Brave GentleMan also champions slow fashion to protect animals, the planet and the people involved in making their products, and recently opened its first buzzy boutique in Brooklyn. “We’re on the brink of a new industrial revolution and one day all leather will be animal free,” says Katcher, also an author and activist, who taught at Parsons Art and Design School in New York about the ethics of fashion and sustainability. “The beauty of a fashion object can reflect the beauty of how it was made. We must use beauty like a cool pair of shoes or an amazing suit to prove that an ethical lifestyle can be fun, sexy and powerful.”
Actress and activist Rooney Mara launched her vegan clothing and footwear line Hiraeth in 2018, after she couldn't find any cruelty-free combat boots. Founded in conjunction with personal shopper Chrys Wong and her childhood friend Sara Schloat, the LA-based label now produces a vegan line (including combat boots for US$650) which is sold at Dover Street Market and on their own site. Mara has been vegan for eight years, while her fiancé Joaquin Phoenix has been vegan since the age of three. Hiraeth is a Welsh word which translates as nostalgia for somewhere that may never have been.