2019 is already being called by many the “Year of the Vegan”, which I’m sure is music to all our ears, but also no surprise. The last few years have seen a steady growth in both the number and quality of vegan fashion brands, covering clothing, footwear, bags, accessories and beauty. We are now in the amazing position of having real choice, particularly at the premium end of the market, which had previously been underserved. Vegan fashion is now high quality and fashion forward, making it even easier to make the switch without feeling you’re having to compromise on quality or style. The brands below cover bags and footwear, and come from UK, Europe and US (all offer worldwide shipping). I’ve chosen these as I think each has something unique to offer, whether that’s in terms of materials, design or product range. I’m excited to see what these brands will do throughout 2019, and look forward to seeing even more new vegan fashion brands launch and develop their collections to meet the growing demand. Here’s to a great year everyone!
This New York-based vegan fashion brand has gone from strength to strength since its launch in 2016, adding many additional product lines to what is now a pretty extensive collection. They say that when they started, they were told they needed to use leather, and that nobody cared about animal welfare – which fortunately they paid no heed to. They’re committed to not just being a cruelty-free brand, but to also using the best vegan leather possible, in order to produce bags that look and feel as good as the best designer fashion.
JW Pei specialise in their use of Patina fabric for their bags – a trademarked luxury material made from high-grade polyurethane resin and ultra-fine microfiber bundles, that mimics the microscopic structure of leather. The Patina strand is smaller than the diameter of a strand of silk (which is approximately one denier), which is itself about 1/15th to 1/100th the diameter of a human hair. The technology isn’t new – it’s been used for decades but mainly on high-end sofas and luxury car seats – but JW Pei are now bringing it to vegan fashion, as it’s soft, beautiful and durable. An additional benefit is that no pesticides are used for producing these synthetic fibers (as opposed to cotton). Plus, starting in 2018, many of their bag linings have been made using recycled plastic bottles and, whilst over 50% of all their plastics are recycled now, the aim is to make this 100% in two years.
They’ve worked hard over the years to ensure their supply chain is fully ethical and fair trade. The factories they work with in China have been carefully vetted (they also produce lines for Calvin Klein and Prada), and are certified by GRS (Global Recycling Standards) and the Oeko-Tex Standard; and like many good vegan brands, they have a Giving Back programme, with 10% of all their profits being donated to animal sanctuaries around the world.
Over the last year they’ve been adding different styles to their collection, and expanding their colour range (they have some fantastic bright colours, alongside classic neutrals – see my Crayola Colours article featuring two of their styles). Recently, they’ve set aside the main JW Pei brand for their more expensive, luxury range of bags, comprising five different classic styles, including their best-selling Fiona crossbody (featured image, shown in Mink) which now comes in 16 different colours; and they’ve launched a new line for 2019 called Friday by JW Pei, which has a more extensive (and more affordable) range of bags, covering crossbodies, totes, backpacks, backpacks, make-up bags and wallets. This range is being added to all the time, the concept being that they drop new, limited edition designs every Friday at 5pm. So there’s always a good reason to keep going back!
Collection & Co
I’ve had a crush on Collection & Co for a while now and have shared several of their beautiful vegan shoes and boots, including their fabulous Louri sandals in Five Best Vegan Summer Sandals (which are still available to buy). This UK-based vegan fashion brand was created in 2016 by fashion industry professional Felisha Papa, with the aim to provide a high-end sustainable footwear collection made without animal leathers or glue, to address the gap in the market. They have an online store, which ships worldwide, plus they also have a lovely shop in the heart of Bristol (which also sells some clothing which isn’t available online).
Their fashion credentials show – their styles are always perfectly on trend – but manage to be classic too. They have a good range of styles. including sandals, pointed courts, heeled and flat boots, and unisex faux leather trainers. They’ve also added a limited collection of vegan bags to go alongside their footwear, following the same clean lines and fashion-forward designs.
Protecting the environment is one of their key values, and they use a variety of up-cycled and eco-friendly materials, including pineapple leaf fibres (Pinatex), recycled plastics, hemp, and even recycled fishing nets (used for their summer beach bags). Plus they try to reuse materials left over from previous collections, creating minimal waste. They combine this careful attention to sourcing with responsible manufacturing, and as a result, they only produce limited quantities of each style in a small factory in Greece, so once it’s gone, it may well be gone forever. My tip for 2019 – get yourself a pair of their shoes now, before everyone finds out about them!
Fablou are another UK-based vegan fashion brand, this time from London, who have created a unique collection of bags that manages to be both fun and stylish at the same time. They have three styles: the City tote bag, the Cosmopolitan backpack and, my favourite, the Chelsea Crossbody (which comes in nine different colours). All have a simple, pared-down minimalist look that I love, but the range of colours and boxy style also adds playfulness. I love wearing my Chelsea bag with jeans and a sweater at weekends, but it would look equally at home in the office.
The concept behind Fablou is the ‘realityproof bag’ – all their bags are scratch, stain and water resistant and can be easily cleaned with soap and water (they say any marks can be removed, even pen ink). No need to worry if you’ve spilled a vanilla latte or red wine all over your bag, all you have to do is wipe it down and it will look brand new (I can attest to this, having one myself, and I’m pretty accident-prone). They also don’t scuff and don’t fade in the sun. Plus they’re great to travel with – you simply roll the bag up and it will bounce back into shape when it’s out of the suitcase.
Their secret? Fablou bags are made from silicone, a polymer made from naturally-occuring silicon, oxygen and other elements, most typically carbon and hydrogen. Silicone is NOT a plastic and, unlike plastic (which is a petroleum-based material) it is free from harmful estrogen-mimicking chemicals like bisphenol-A (BPA) or BPS. When it comes to the environment, silicone is highly durable and more ocean friendly than plastic, being much longer-lasting, and able to endure extreme fluctuations in temperatures, from very cold to oven hot. Silicone can also be easily recycled and, if disposed of at a landfill for incineration, can be converted back into inorganic, harmless ingredients: amorphous silica, carbon dioxide, and water vapor. It’s also odour and stain resistant, hygienic and hypoallergenic, with no open pores to harbour bacteria. A bit of a miracle material and – together with their very cool designs – one that makes Fablou really stand out from the other vegan brands out there.
Ashoka Paris is a French luxury vegan fashion brand named after an ancient Indian Emperor who is known as the father of vegetarianism in India (legend has it that as a result of the horrors experienced in his warrior conquests, he became aware of the value of life, and during his reign he decided not to kill any more animals on his land, thereby changing the mindset of his time).
Founded and run by a Parisian couple, Gwenaëlle and Frédéric, they decided to create Ashoka in order to change the perception of tradtional luxury, and show the world (and France in particular) that high-end fashion could be made with eco and vegan leather. They had the idea in 2017, and launched the brand a year later in April 2018 at Veggie World Paris, to very positive feeback from consumers and bloggers alike (French vegan blogger, model and animal activist Chloe Tesla is their house model). They have a small but timeless collection of refined, Parisian-style bags and accessories – I particularly love their Camel tote bag (shown here) and their classic Brigitte Oxymore shoulder bag.
The quality of the vegan leathers they use is key to their luxury aesthetic. They work with some of the best manufacturers of imitation leather, based in Milan and Florence in Italy, who have over 50 years of experience of manufacturing without animal materials. They use Eco-Nappa (made from an environmentally-friendly form of polyurethane, known for its beauty and durability); and the revolutionary Apple Skin, produced from the skin of apples growing in the orchards of Bolzano, in the north of Italy. Dried and reduced to a powder, it is then sent to their factory in Florence to be transformed into Apple Skin leather, which they’ve used for their Eclipse Half-Moon Bag. They can proudly say they are the first French brand to produce an apple-based handbag! Expect to see many imitations in the future, and get your hands on the real thing if you can.
Blanlac is the new kid on the block: an exciting new footwear brand from Luxembourg, launched in 2018, with the view that ‘our society is sufficiently endowed with sustainable natural resources to free itself from animal exploitation’. They specialise in feminine, elegant styles, with a very French aesthetic. They have a small but perfect capsule collection, of a few different high-heeled court shoes, alongside a low-heeled court and both a pointed and round-toed boot. Their colours are also extremely classic – black, navy, dark cream and a beautiful deep red. Invest in a pair of these and you’ll be wearing them forever.
As a luxury vegan fashion brand, their materials and manufacturing are of course key. All their shoes produced in Italy and made from innovative Italian eco-friendly and animal-free vegan leathers. They started in 2018 by making all their styles pre-order only, but now the majority are available to buy straight away, with a small number pre-order still (although I think they’d be worth the wait). They are at the higher-priced end of the spectrum (but then this is luxury); however, as their styles are all seasonless, and so timeless and classic, consider these an investment in your vegan wardrobe that will keep paying back.
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