Much like the curtain drawn between the behind-the-scenes of factory farming and the end products that we see in the supermarket, most of mainstream society isn’t aware of how the materials we wear are produced. People would prefer not to know what happens to animals in the process of getting them to our wardrobe, but if they did, their fashion choices would likely not seem as alluring to them any more!
Before going vegan, I hadn’t really thought much about my shoes and where the materials came from. In fact, I don’t think it ever really registered that I was walking around wearing animal hide. If I did think about it, I probably assumed that the animals who were being killed for leather, like those killed for meat, were treated humanely until anesthetized and slaughtered (something I’ve since learned is to never assume anything!). This “ignorance is bliss” phase ended when I learned about factory farming and decided to become vegan. After being vegan for a few months, I remember looking in my closet and feeling creeped out by the leather in my bags and shoes that I had previously been totally unaware of. I decided that I would slowly start building up my collection of vegan shoes and accessories, and eventually give my leather shoes and bags to friends and family. In the meantime, I started researching places to purchase vegan shoes… and realized how entrenched and insidious leather is to the fashion industry.
The limited amount of vegan shoes out there posed somewhat of a problem, because I was already fairly picky when it came to shoes. Comfort is my number one priority, but also I would prefer not to walk around wearing frumpy-looking shoes!
There were really cheap and poor quality – although often cute – shoes that you can find at mainstream stores, and then expensive, couture-type shoes that were way out of my price range. This particular fashion challenge could not withstand my tenacity when it comes to online shopping, however. After years of trial and error, I did manage to discover some winners that I’ve come to rely on.
Roundup of favorite vegan shoe companies
I have gotten lots of compliments on my vegan shoes, which is interesting because people didn’t generally comment on my footwear when I wore leather. Just as my omnivore friends tend to be really impressed by how tasty meals at vegan restaurants are, they are also surprised when they find out that my shoes and bags are vegan!
Wide selection, sturdy, and comfortable. The shoes I’ve gotten from here have lasted the longest.
Vegan company based in the UK, with an eco-friendly, plastic-free, and carbon-neutral supply chain!
Brazil-based company that makes quality eco-conscious sneakers. For each item purchased, they plant two trees in the Brazilian rainforest! I like their IBI sneakers, which are made of bamboo and recycled plastic.
Comfortable sneakers made from lightweight and eco-friendly Tyvec (they also have a canvas line).
Not a completely vegan company, but they have a collection of extremely lightweight but durable vegan footwear. Wearing their shoes is the next best thing to walking barefoot!
In addition to their extensive collection of handbags, Mat & Nat has a great line of stylish shoes.
UK-based company with sophisticated vegan shoes.
These sites sell vegan shoes, many of which are sourced from the companies above. If you’re in the NYC area, be sure to check out the MooShoes store in the East Village.
Nice selection of espadrilles that are handmade in Spain. Some of their uppers are made of leather or suede, but most of them are made of canvas.
What’s the problem with leather?
Before I wrap up this post, I feel that it’s important to discuss why leather and suede should be avoided.
Let’s briefly examine the ethical problems with leather:
- Most leather comes from India and China, where there are no laws regulating the treatment of animals
- These animals are confined in overcrowded, filthy, factory farms where they are reduced to economic units
- They are mutilated – dehorned and castrated – without anesthetization, and otherwise roughly manhandled by workers
- On the trip to the slaughterhouse, they are crowded into trucks where they go without food or water, and are often subjected to extremely hot or cold weather. Many die of either heat exhaustion or being frozen to death in transit
- At the slaughterhouse, they are strung upside down and have their throats slit. Due to the inefficiency of stunning practices, many of them will be skinned and dismembered alive
- When animals are killed, their corpses immediately begin to decompose and rot
- To arrest the decomposition of flesh, 225 chemicals – many of which are highly toxic – are used in a process known as tanning
- Some of these noxious chemicals include formaldehyde, chromium, lead, cyanid, arsenic, aniline, and chlorophenols
- The tanning process creates a massive amount of industrial waste run-off that finds its way into the air, land, and water
- Exposure to chemicals causes many workers to develop cancer, jaundice, musculosketal disorders, and leukemia
For more information, please read the About Leather section of Olsenhaus’ website.
Is all of this really worth it just for a pair of shoes that could have been made with vegan materials?