You Don’t Have To Wear Leather To Be In Fashion

By on August 1, 2014
Vegan Shoes

Vegan materials such as faux leather have long been relegated to the bargain bins of discount shoe sellers, but in 2006, Stella McCartney started a revolution with her all-vegan line of high fashion shoes and accessories. Her designs were a huge challenge to conventional wisdom about shoes: namely, are vegan shoes by definition “cheap” because they are made of synthetics instead of leather?

Looking at the current high fashion scene, the answer appears to be “no.” Only two years after the launch of McCartney’s line, designer Gina Ferraraccio launched her own vegan shoe and bag collection, Cri de Couer. Several other designers have since followed in McCartney’s footsteps, including Victoria Bartlett, whose 2012 shoe collection featured many vegan styles. Vegan footwear company Melissa Shoes has partnered with increasing numbers of big-name designers; currently, it features collections by Jason Wu, Vivienne Westwood, J. Maskrey, and Karl Lagerfield. It seems that even non-vegan designers are eager to make their own contributions to this new frontier in shoe design.
Vegan Mens ShoesClearly, the vegan shoe’s appeal has gone beyond vegan circles and companies wishing to cut costs. Part of this may be awareness of the fact that the fashion industry is behind other industries when it comes to progressive causes. Stella McCartney explains in a 2013 interview, “The fashion industry is…in danger of having to play catch up with other industries that are more aware of their environmental impact or of just being a little more conscious and, I guess, sympathetic to some issues.” With her advocacy, McCartney is the leading designer in a growing effort to move the industry away from its tendencies to default to using animal products such as leather. And leather—possibly the quintessential material of traditional shoe design—is one of the most ethically and environmentally problematic materials used in fashion. Millions of cattle die each year in order to supply leather to the fashion industry, and vast amounts of resources are used to raise, feed, and house these animals. The facilities themselves do not always follow humane slaughter guidelines, nor do they maintain safe and clean work conditions for human workers. Once cattle have been slaughtered, there is still significant processing that must be done in tanneries to make their skin into usable leather. Leather tanneries release chemical byproducts into the environment and, like factory farms, often do not maintain safe work conditions for human workers.
Vegan High Heels PumpsIt only makes sense, then, that vegan shoes would cease to be synonymous with “cheap” to fashion designers, and instead project an image of environmental and social responsibility in an industry that has a reputation for ignoring progressive causes in lieu of appearances. Besides, is there truth to the conventional belief that leather shoes are by definition superior to their vegan counterparts?
The truth is, while leather shoes have advantages such as breathability, synthetic shoes also have their advantages. With modern processing, synthetics have been engineered to mimic the look and feel of leather with considerably less negative environmental impact; fewer chemicals are used in the production of synthetic shoes. Synthetic materials are more durable than leather and are less likely to lose shape over time. They are also more resistant to water, snow, and other weather conditions that damage real leather shoes, and they are easier to clean. New materials, such as microfibers, are tougher and lighter than leather, making for sturdier and more comfortable footwear.
Vegan SneakersIt’s no wonder that designing vegan shoes is an appealing prospect to so many designers and that purchasing them has become of interest to consumers as well. Slowly but surely, the high fashion world is changing popular perception of synthetic materials; they no longer have to be merely “cheap” but can instead be socially savvy, durable,and fashionable. Maybe Stella McCartney is right and, despite fashion’s inherent dependence on appearances, the new trend in footwear is to look a bit deeper.

About Dean Iodice