Vegan Question: Can Fashion Be Ethical?

What's up with your fashion? If I can't wear leather what can I wear? No cool jackets? No warm shoes? What can we wear?

This is a tough one. I was shoe shopping in D.C. over the weekend and it became very clear that finding a good (comfortable, stylish, warm) pair of vegan shoes would be next to impossible. I found a pair made from what looked like a different kind of material than the run-of-the-mill leather or suede. The saleswoman broke my heart when she said they were a treated leather. Foiled again, Batman!

Many strides have been made in the world of vegan food, but when it comes to fashion, we seem to be stuck in a bad style time warp. It's not just style, but also quality that is lacking in most vegan shoes, or at least the ones I have purchased. The shoes I find are either the furthest thing from water resistant or made from a synthetic that will never biodegrade. Which begs the question, what is the point?

Here is the deal: the leather and fur industry are pretty dominant in our fashion culture. Why? It's quite simple. The early settlers and tradesmen were fascinated with the welcome gifts of beaver and cowhides that the Natives offered. When taken back across the pond and made into fur hats and fine shoes, they became instantly popular with the Old World, creating a very lucrative trade economy for the new settlers. Now, the highest luxury items among the super rich fashionistas are made from calf or kid (baby goat) skins. Hides are sourced from every animal, from bucks and alligators to ostriches and cows. And no, they are not the leftover McDonald's cows.

Today, America is the one of the biggest players in the skin trade. However, leather tanning and cultivation dates back to circa 5000 BC in Samaria and Egypt. These skins were worn as protection from the elements. So, when leather was first used, it was used to ensure survival. The question is, do we still have to kill animals to ensure our own survival? Is there a way to re-imagine the way we live? Not just how we eat and how we separate our trash but really deconstruct the (very old) pillars of modern society? Can we use our brains to come up with ways to live in unison with animals as opposed to seeing them as something that will taste great or make a nice handbag?

Despite our new environmental conscience, very little change has occurred in the world of fashion, nor have there been many new ideas on how to source more sustainable, less harmful material.

Here are your ethical options:

Pleather and Synthetics

Pleather is the tofu of the vegan fashion world; it has a reputation for being tacky but can still achieve that classic look. However, animal-free synthetics do take a toll on the environment, so do your research and pick your ethics.

Faux fur

It's like soy cheese; you know it's not real, but you get the idea.

Vintage fur

The seitan of the fashion world, this may sound evil but it gets a pass in some people's books because it's already in circulation, and so purchasing it is not actually causing the death of any animal. However, it still turns some people's stomachs.

Chuck Taylors

This classic is the Oreo of shoes; they did not set out to make it vegan, but it is and it's good!

Doc Martens

The wheat grass shot of the vegan shoe world, these definitely say something about you.

Here are a few popular vegan shoe sources:

It is slim pickins out there, but maybe this is a job for the vegan entrepreneur like myself! Now tell me, where do you get your vegan footwear, belts, coats, etc.? Tell me in the comments so I can get working.