Want a fashion update that won’t harm the planet? Go vegan. Vegan products contain no animal ingredients such as wool, fur, leather or even silk (unless it’s peace silk—more on that later), nor are they tested on animals. As livestock and poultry production tipped the scales in 2009, claiming responsibility for 51% of greenhouse gas emissions (according to the Worldwatch Institute), many environmentalists began to avoid animal products as the next step in an ongoing search to shrink their carbon footprints.
Who’s gone vegan? According to the Vegetarian Times, nearly one percent of Americans—more than one million people—neither consumer nor use any animal products, while seven million of us are vegetarians, and more than 22 million primarily follow a plant-based diet.
Veganism isn’t a science, and those who live cruelty-free make their own decisions when it comes to what they will or will not wear. Some flat-out won’t wear anything made from animals; others will wear “humanely-harvested” wool, or ahimsa, also known as “peace silk,” in which the worm is allowed to live out its lifecycle, rather than killed, to extract the silk inside its cocoon.
Vegan celebrities include Alanis Morrisette, Alicia Silverstone, Alyssa Milano, Andre 3000, Chrissie Hynde, Daryl Hannah, Elijah Wood, Ellen Degeneres, Emily Deschanel, Erykah Badu, Ginnifer Goodwin, Jenny McCarthy, Joaquin Phoenix, Woody Harrelson and Zooey Deschanel, to name a few.
And you can be sure these red-carpet regulars aren’t skimping on style. To prove it, we put together a short list of our favorite animal-friendly designs that show you can be as sexy and sustainable as the next ecoista—without harming a soul.
Take Vaute Couture. Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart started the line when she realized that, with most coats made from wool or down, vegans in her hometown of Chicago, IL spent their winters shivering. (After all, there’s only so much you can layer for a snowstorm.) Leanne’s gorgeous coats are made from recyclable fabrics and vintage buttons, and she uses excess fabric to create limited edition, couture pieces—like this upcycled origami-inspired windbreaker dress that she’s giving to one lucky EcoStiletto Member.
Or ecoSkin, which showed in the Vegan Fashion Show that we produced as part of last year’s Green Blogger Convention, and whose new WHOLEGARMENT collection is the first-ever to completely eliminate textile waste from its manufacturing process. Utilizing cutting-edge technology, each piece in the collection is woven entirely from French organic cotton yarn—no cutting, sewing, scraps or seams—to create gorgeous, sexy dresses and tunics that cling in all the right places. No wonder style-savvy boutiques like Fred Segal Emphatic are snapping this line up for spring.
As the founder of Olsen Haus, which created 2009’s Holy Grail of EcoStilettos, Elizabeth Olsen spearheaded the environmentally conscious vegan shoe and accessories movement in the U.S. Rather than depending on dioxin-emitting PVC, Olsen Haus looks for synthetic materials made as part of a closed-loop process, which emit no water or air pollution and biodegrade as fast as animal skin. This year, she launched a line of Babylon ballet flats crafted in faux suede made from recycled television screens. No, really.
Sold at high-profile stores like Kitson and Saks, MATT & NAT manufactures statement bags with a vegan twist. Their new spring collection—all custom studs and decorative zippers, with linings made from upcycled plastic that averages 21 recycled bottles per bag—remains true to the cruelty-free ethos that they launched with in 1995. When you consider that leather requires an estimated 225 toxic chemicals in its tanning process, those leather bags people invest in are So Not It.
Made from slinky bamboo, the ANGeLRoX wrap defies the mind: It becomes a skirt, dress, cape, shrug or top with ease, and looks seriously sexy in each and every incarnation. Don’t believe us? Check out the photos below or watch the video. Ingenious!
Forget fur. In addition to the sheer horrific cruelty of its manufacturing, animal pelts destined to become fur coats, blankets and more are treated with formaldehyde, chromium and napthalene—all toxic, all the time, and so not pretty. In contrast, Imposter’s new line of faux fur accessories, created in partnership with Farm Sanctuary and benefiting the Humane Society, are completely cruelty-free and bear an IM logo that may just be the only thing between you and a splash of red paint. (Their gorgeous hat is pictured above.)
The U.K. based, all-vegan, all-the-time Beyond Skin Sole ballet flats are fair wage handmade in an Indian factory that is currently going through International Fair Trade Association certification. With uppers made from 100% post consumer waste faux suede, and soles made from fair trade natural latex, these are flats to flip for.
Need a vegan evening gown? With silk dominating the category, it can be hard to find. Thankfully, 99% of Dalia MacPhee’s new eveningwear collection—sold at mainstream outlets like Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom’s—is vegan (as indicated by a “V” next to the style number in their online store). And although this means she designs using some not-so-eco-friendly, silk-alternative fabrics like polyester, Dalia is beyond conscious of her carbon footprint, and plants a tree in Tahoe’s fire-destroyed Tree of Life Grove for every gown she makes. Gorgeous!
We love the Hemptress’ totally vegan Sonja Large Clutch, fair trade made and lined with recycled PET, with zippers made from recycled materials and a tiny flash of gold on the strap. Not all Hemptress accessories are vegan—some feature recycled leather trim and silk linings—but they are all made from hemp, an incredibly sustainable crop that’s still banned in the U.S. because of archaic drug laws that side-step the fact that our founding fathers—Jefferson and Washington, among them—were hemp farmers. But we digress. With its detachable strap, the Hemptress Sonja is all vegan, all the time. Cute, no?
Some designers begin crafting vegan collections because they’re inspired to prevent animal cruelty; others come at it from a socially conscious perspective. Such is the story behind C. Marchuska, which was created by Christine Marchuska and Brooke Bresnan after the two were raising funds and awareness for Safe Horizon, the nation’s leading victim assistance organization. The two joined forces to create an environmentally friendly line and quickly realized the quickest route was to use organic, vegan fabrics like cotton and bamboo treated with non-toxic dyes, and to manufacture locally in their home base of New York City—they even tie-dye their current collection by hand at Brooke’s parents’ home in upstate New York. Now that’s thinking locally.
Written By: Rachel Sarnoff
Founder of Ecostiletto