It’s never been better to be a vegan in the UK. Recent survey results suggest that there are now c. 3.5 million of us (7% of the population), and our food options increase daily, with so many new vegan restaurants opening, and several major chains bringing out a vegan menu (thank you Wagamama). But it’s not just food – for a small island, we punch above our weight when it comes to homegrown vegan fashion brands, and I’ve listed my Favourite Five below, plus my favourite products from each of their new collections. These aren’t new brands – many were started when there wasn’t much around when it came to vegan fashion – primarily footwear and bags – and have been pioneers in creating beautiful, fashion-forward collections. They have changed the landscape of vegan fashion, and along the way helped challenge stereotypes and change perceptions of what vegan fashion can look and feel like. All care deeply about creating sustainable supply chains that respect and benefit humans and the wider environment (and they put their money where their mouths are); and all are also constantly experimenting with, and investing in, innovative materials that mean we need never use leather again. They also have inspiring brand stories that show how hard work and determination to realise their visions have paid off – I have no doubt that we’ll see these companies all grow exponentially in the years to come.
One of my perennial favourites, Brighton-based vegan footwear brand Beyond Skin is one of the most established and popular vegan fashion brands out there, with fans including Natalia Portman, Miley Cyrus and Evanna Lynch (and even Chrissie Hynde, an early supporter). They have such a superb range – I particularly love their ankle boots, court shoes and embossed slipper-shoes (see feature image). However, it hasn’t been an easy journey since their beginnings in 2001, when founder Natalie Dean decided to start the company to enable women like her to be both stylish and cruelty-free – and there were simply no gorgeous vegan shoes to be found anywhere (happily we have moved on from those dark days!).
Natalie also had a mission to produce her collection in the UK, historically the home of many high-quality artisan footwear factories, which have since died out due to cheaper competition from abroad. This was far from easy, but she persisted in her vision and after two years eventually found a UK factory in East London that could make beautiful non-leather footwear. Just as they were about to start production, the factory closed down, so they found another factory in London’s Holloway Road and in 2003 began to trade from their home on Agar Grove NW1. They initially launched a super-small collection of made-to-order shoes and boots in two colourways and six styles, and grew this over the years (having to move factories again when their second factory closed).
Their hard work paid off – their exposure grew (helped by Natalie Portman wearing a pair of Beyond Skin shoes to the Golden Globes and the Oscars), they started to be featured in the mainstream fashion press (including Vogue, Elle and Grazia) and won many awards from both the consumer and fashion business press, which led to demand from retailers to stock their collection. Due to the high cost of UK manufacturing, they couldn’t provide their main Beyond Skin line at the required trade discounts, so they created a new line called Sui Generis by Beyond Skin, which was a high-end luxury line of vegan dress shoes. However, the real demand was still for the Beyond Skin line, so in order to reduce their costs they moved the manufacture of these styles to Alicante in Spain, and eventually had to stop production of the Sui Generis line in the UK as they were stretching themselves too thin – not uncommon for a still small but fast-growing brand.
All of their styles are now made in sunny Spain, where they work closely with carefully selected, high-quality and sustainable factories to produce their beautiful and now pretty extensive collections. Their hub is still in Brighton, where all their shoes are designed, orders fulfilled and the company is run, and they have major plans to expand in the future, including introducing different types of ethical materials in their Essentials range, expanding their luxury footwear line, and launching accessories and menswear. World domination is bound to follow shortly after. They’ve just launched their A/W 18 range – my eyes are on their Buzz Embroidered Slippers, the Eva Kitten-Heel Ankle Boots and the Gigi Strappy Stilettoes.
If you’re looking for fashion-forward, sophisticated and sustainablably-designed shoes, then Bourgeois Boheme could be for you. Founded in 2005 by trained podiatrist Alicia Lai, and entirely independant and self-funded, this London-based vegan fashion brand makes beautiful, utilitarian shoes for men and women, combining a flair for British heritage classics, sleek Scandinavian design and innovative materials (they have been pioneers in using Pinatex, made of pineapple leaf fibres, a by-product of the pineapple harvest). Alicia started the company in order to create the kind of shoes that she – as a long-term vegan – wanted to wear but was struggling to find, and has combined her footcare expertise with her love of beautiful footwear. Championing innovation-led slow fashion, Bourgeois Boheme use the finest European vegan leathers and progressive, environmentally-sound materials; and all their shoes are made by artisan-makers in carefully-selected Portuguese factories. Their shoes are a bit of an investment – but then they’re also incredibly high-quality and really last. I have a pair of boots bought three years ago (they were my first vegan fashion purchase!) that I wear all through autumn and winter, and they still look amazing.
Their recent Summer collection for me has been stand-out – my favourites include their Miley Pinatex Silver Sandal, their Mickey Ecostone Sneaker, and their Emma Bordeaux Sandal. For Autumn/Winter 2018, they’ve continued to invest in cutting-edge materials, with strong references to the environment. They say their inspiration is from both traditional British shoemaking and futuristic, sustainably engineered design, fusing the classic and the innovative – and you can really see this in their new collection, which is somehow both very modern and traditional at the same time. They’ve also introduced more casual styles, including some gorgeous teal trainers that I have my eye on.
Materials play a key role for them, as they seek to show how leather is out-dated as a luxury material, and there are so many more beautiful, hard-wearing and modern alternatives. This includes using Ecostone – paper-thin layers of natural slate stone backed onto cotton fibres (the first real stone that can be sewed like a textile), which they’ve used for selected women’s heels; Bio-Polyoils – plant-based polymers made from food-free crops, seeds and cereals which they use for their linings; Cork – a natural, sustainably harvested and easily recyclable material derived from cork trees, which they’ve used for their uppers and insoles; Mycro© – their signature PVC-free eco vegan leather, which is a breathable and water resistant microfibre with a structure very similar to that of natural leather, used for a majority of their uppers; and recycled rubber, seeds and grass, which they’ve used for their soles. I’ve had a sneak peak of their A/W 18 range which hopefully will be on their website soon – and trust me, it’s worth saving up for!
LaBante London is a labour of love, which founder Vanita created when she saw a gap in the market for high quality vegan fashion products that were not only beautiful and vied for, but were also cruelty-free and sustainable, and at the same time accessible. Vanita comes from a fashion background – in her early teens she spent many happy hours in her uncle’s fashion company, watching the creation of beautiful garments for big-name fashion brands, and therein starting her love of fashion. A later pivotal moment also helped shape her future when, whilst studying at university, she used to pass a butcher’s shop where animals were kept alive and caged before being killed in front of customers (from that moment she became a vegetarian). After university she went on to a career in banking in the United States, but always had a niggling thought in the back of her head about combining her love of animals and fashion.
She decided to start LaBante in 2009, with an ethos of ‘Fashion With Respect’, producing bags and jewellery that were covetable but also vegan, environmentally-friendly and ethically produced. The company grew and quickly gained the interest of fashion buyers, as well as press – they were named by The Telegraph and The Independent, among others, as one of the top vegan fashion brands to watch. LaBante’s aim is to give consumers the experience of luxury and of the finest craftsmanship, while respecting our natural world. This means that their suppliers need to confirm to strict manufacturing standards (they must have a SGS certification, and undergo a social audit) and all materials are ethically sourced. They aim to change people’s opinion of faux leather handbags, showing that they can be just as sumptuous and ‘buttery’ as real leather, while being humane – and the team travel wide to source the softest and best quality faux leather they can find. They also use recycled products wherever possible – all their bag linings are made of recycled polyester, and their dust bags and swing tags use recycled materials. They make sure they give back too, with 10% of their profits going to charity.
They have a delectable bag collection – my favourites are the Ida Bordeaux Across-Body Bag (I have this and wear it all the time) and Aricia Black Carryall Bag, and I’m also really liking the Windsor Brown Shoulder Bag and Grant Brown Carryall Bag from their new A/W18 range. They also have a jewellery collection (great for presents) plus they’ve launched a sunglasses collection which includes some very cool styles made of wood.
The idea of The Lovely Things started during the time when Monica, the brand’s founder, was transitioning to a vegan lifestyle. During that time she noticed how many people were unaware of the animal cruelty in animal agriculture and the fashion industry, so after doing further research she decided to combine her passion for fashion and veganism to start a vegan fashion business, with the intention of promoting animal-free bags and accessories and help raise awareness of animal cruelty. Hence The Lovely Things was born at the end of 2016.
I think this is one of the best value vegan fashion brands out there – if you’re looking for cruelty-free bags that are stylish but also highly affordable, this is the brand for you. Monica works hard to keep the costs down to make the bags as accessable to everyone as possible, which means if you set out to buy one bag, you can easily end up buying two! Don’t think this means they compromise on quality though, which is surprisingly high given the price points (I have two of their bags, including a very hard-wearing large tote that gets tossed around on weekends away and still looks impeccable). On my lust list currently are the Structured Backpack in Grey, the Textured Crossbody Bag in Brown (I also love the Navy) and the Minimal Structured Backpack in Khaki. Since it’s birth less than two years ago the brand has been growing, winning the attention and loyalty of many a vegan blogger, and from July 2017 they started donating a percentage of profits to different animal rescues or organisations every month – they aim to increase their donations as the brand grows.
They update their collection continually, so there’s always something new to get excited about, and they’ve recently launched a Clothing collection, focusing on soft linen dresses, tops and trousers in delicate summery shades. They’re also working on a small collection of cork leather products which will launch later on this year, with the aim of introducing this as a material to those who haven’t encountered it before, and also changing perceptions of how it can look. I have a feeling that The Lovely Things has a very bright future ahead of it!
Established in 2012 by founder Will Green, Wills Vegan Shoes aims to provide anyone interested in choosing cruelty-free footwear – whether vegan or not – with a great range of fashion-forward styles at high street prices. The brand is positioned as for everyone who just wants to make good fashion choices, and accessibility is key to its purpose. They have an extensive collection of both women’s and men’s styles – my favourites are the Two-Strap Footbed Sandal (which looks exactly like a Birkenstock – my partner has the men’s version of these in brown and loves them); the Wine Slides (perfect on-trend summer style) and the New York White Trainers. I’m also a big fan of their smart court shoes, which come in several colours (see my feature Five Best Vegan Court Shoes).
Like all the vegan fashion brands in this article, Wills are passionate about ethical and sustainable production: they ensure that everyone involved in making their shoes is treated well and paid fairly; they use recycled materials where possible (their insoles are made in Spain from recycled rubber); and they don’t use any plastic bags or plastic packaging. They also work hard to ensure that everything they do – from making their products and operating their online store, to shipping out parcels – is carbon neutral, as a result of investing in renewable energy projects such as wind, hydro, geothermal, solar and biomass, which offsets their carbon emissions to zero.
In terms of leather alternatives, they use vegan leather created either with bio-oil sourced from organic cereal crops grown in Northern Europe (which is hardwearing, soft, breathable and water resistant); or high quality Ecolabel-certified vegan leathers and suedes made in Italy and Spain that meet Oeko Tex 100 and REACH regulations. They say that unlike leather or suede, their materials don’t spoil or mark even when in contact with road salt and snow slush in the winter, and their footwear is easy to clean and requires little attention to keep looking as good as new.
Five Best Summer Vegan Sandals
Vegan Fashion Brands to Watch in 2019