“This is a tribute to the animals & an ode to the end of animal exploitation in all forms.” – Vegan Fashion Week

Ethical, Sustainable & Vegan Fashion is now the new norm and everyone and their grandmother is jumping on this bandwagon. Last month was the first launch of  Vegan Fashion Week in Los Angeles, held at the Museum of Natural History – a venue to appreciate –  hosted over 2 dozen designers from around the world who are expressing new ways to wear, reuse and consume fashion.

Photo: Margarita

Vegan Fashion Week, Los Angeles also hosts footwear brands like Wills Vegan Store, MIREIA PLAYÀ, and MANAVAI(uses pineapple fibers) and other handbag, cosmetics and apparel goods. Check the Instagram story.

Photo: Margarita

As penned in VOGUE, the show creator, Emmanuelle Rienda says, 

“It’s about answering a lot of questions. What is our responsibility as a generation? What do we want to leave for our children? Those are the things we need to put on the table, but let’s do it in a way that’s fun, creative, attractive. Let’s make it something amazing so it’s not so hard to answer those questions.”

– Emmanuelle Rienda

In footwear, this concept is still debatable in regards to true vegan shoes that are “non-violent” to the earth, humans and animals. So I asked London-based designer and The Shoe Review Creator, Jemma Cotterrell, her thoughts on this phenomenon from her side of the pond.

How much of an impact is ethical fashion having in the UK?

Ethical fashion is big in the UK and is growing season (after) season as more brands realize consumers want to do their bit in order to help the environment. Whether that be buying a brand that makes their shoes from recycled, plant-based or biodegradable items; choosing those that manufacture closer to home, therefore limiting CO2 emissions; searching out brands that ensure fair wages and environmentally safe working conditions; or swapping leather for vegan footwear and getting behind animal welfare.

Ethical fashion is now a global “trend” covering home furnishings to pet products, why is this an important practice for footwear?

The footwear industry is still trailing behind apparel when it come to supply chain sustainability. Brands need to become more transparent in their practices because footwear production is one of the worst pollutants after fossil fuel energy. For example, it was recently discovered that leather tanneries in Bangladesh were pouring 50 tonnes (tons) of tannery effluent and wastewater untreated, into the Buriganga River every day.

Contaminated water puts their people at risk (to contracting) disease and reduces the limited water they have access to.  Unfortunately, the tanning industry is relocating to countries such as China and India, where environmental laws are much less strict (in some cases) and they can get away with this and benefit from cheaper leather too. The labour is cheap and workers are exploited without tougher regulations. During the production process of leather in shoes it can cause asthma, skin cancer and other deadly diseases.

In addition, these workers often lack the funds and support to seek out the medical help they need. The footwear industry also sees women homeworkers tasked with carrying out labour intensive work stitching leather uppers – however, these women, who suffer from numerous health problems from long hours of repetitive work, are often invisible within the supply chain and are particularly vulnerable to exploitation.

Options in Footwear

Therefore, it is vital that our industry becomes more transparent. Thankfully, The Change Your Shoes project, is a dedicated campaign calling upon all global brands to disclose their supply chain and take the steps needed to protect workers from dangerous and hazardous working conditions and ensure all workers are treated fairly and equally in line with their responsibilities under UN guidelines.With this in mind, I feel it is important to support brands that are committed to using local artisans and those that find employment for women that need it most.

Sseko  provides employment for women in Uganda, Ethiopia and other parts of East Africa. They are known for summer slides and their interchangeable sandals so expect to see more of them this Summer. I’m loving their strappy interchangeable ribbon sandals. You can pick your base and then choose extra ribbons and accents to create your own sandal style! 

Sseko – Stitched Caramel Ribbon Sandals

Beyond Skin is a footwear brand dedicated to proving that fashion and ethics go hand in hand and are fast becoming an established brand for vegan shoes.  They have started to use a new material called ‘dinamica’ faux suede. This is made from 100% recycled PET plastics. It’s incredibly durable & better still it doesn’t water mark! It’s also currently used by Jaguar & Mercedes-Benz in their car interiors. Take a look at their trend- led designs for Spring Summer ’19.

Beyond Skin – Jazz Faux Snakeskin Vegan Chelsea Boots

Another inspiring company is Yatay. They are a beautiful minimal collection of very fine sneakers made in Italy. They are also the rare combination of being vegan and sustainable. Their uppers are made from recycled materials and Bio-Polyols and their soles are made from bio-based polyurethane. The laces are organic cotton Italian hemp. All I can say is yay, I want some. 


As a footwear brand director working closely with designers, what aspects of vegan, non-leather, materials do you find most inspiring to use and why?

Recently, I have been mostly excited about using synthetic leathers which are made from cotton-backed polyurethane (PU) and are sourced from Italy. PU looks a lot like PVC leatherette, but unlike PVC it’s much kinder to the environment. PVC contains chlorine, a toxic chemical which produces dioxin during its manufacturing process and has been linked in numerous studies to estrogen-mimicking chemicals and nasties that cause asthma. PU provides all of the glamour of PVC but without being so harmful to our environment.

Although PU (polyeurothane) is made from petrochemicals, turning animal hides into leather is a much more energy intensive, nasty and polluting practice. What’s more, if you choose a lifestyle where animals aren’t harmed, then this material is adding a lot more style options to your shoe wardrobe.

Lastly, as this is a current trend in climate talks…plastic or leather?

There’s clearly a lot of complexity in this debate. Vegan shoes are basically plastic so not biodegradable which means they will be around forever. Footwear made from vegetable tanned leather which is a by product of the food industry is a much more sustainable & environmentally friendly type of footwear.  I think it is really important that footwear manufacturers consider how we dispose of our footwear. If we are promoting plastic shoes we need to find a way of recycling them rather than putting them in a landfill where they will just do nothing for thousands of years….


Just about every FW this year has introduced some kind of sustainable, vegan, ethical platform. Read about BERLIN FASHION WEEK with Vegan life-style blogger, Hosannah Jønsson. She shares her insight from a non-trade perspective with her background in textiles and sales. Its a good read and will better prepare you for next year’s BFW!

Tanita Gray

Editor-In-Chief, Publisher and Founder of Last-Report.com, and CEO of Shoes Waste. Gray is a footwear, accessory and apparel designer/developer by day - writer and content architect by night. With over 17 years of experience in the fashion industry, you can find her teaching sustainability classes, drawing thumbnails, writing in her journal, giving her husband & children enormous hugs, or eating french fries.

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