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Haute Stuff: Animal-free fashion alternatives

Even if you’re content to eat meat, are able to pay for leather, and aren’t too concerned about environmental impacts, here are a few brands worth looking into. They’re vegan, cheap and surprisingly well-known.

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By Karen Aney (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: October 17, 2012

Lately, it seems like every other student on campus is staying away from meat. Whether it’s based on cost (a vegetarian diet is cheap!) or ethical reasons, living the life of a plant-eater is becoming more and more common.

To be candid, I myself am vegetarian. It’s been over a year since I stopped eating meat, and I’ve spent that time wholly ignoring my choices and their impacts on my sartorial decisions. The thought of walking into Danier Leather makes me a little queasy, actually – and not just because of the prices. That being said, I’m still happily carrying my pebbled black leather Coach purse that my boyfriend got me years ago (and the thing is still good as new – damn, that’s a great bag). Go ahead, judge me.

Leather gives cause for concern even if you don’t share my carnivore aversions. Before the material can be turned into clothing, belts and other accessories, it’s treated with a host of chemicals. Cyanide, formaldehyde, and other long and unpronounceable substances all contribute to tan the leather and ensure that it will endure long-lasting wear. Most of Canada’s skins are considered a by-product of the meat industry, and are shipped to other countries for tanning. Because of that, it isn’t high on the list of environmental risks in our country. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the U.S., however, lists tanneries as one of their main “Superfund” focuses, meaning they consider them to be one of the biggest risks to the American environment.

One reason to incorporate non-animal clothing into your wardrobe is cost. Yes, just like with the diet, it’s cheaper to dress without animal products. Think about it – is it cheaper to buy a pair of boots at Walmart or from Frye? If you’re concerned about the source of your garment, going cheap is one way to make sure you aren’t getting leather. That being said, you could be compromising quality if you go this route.

Even if you’re content to eat meat, are able to pay for leather, and aren’t too concerned about environmental impacts, here are a few brands worth looking into. They’re vegan, cheap and surprisingly well-known.

Matt & Nat: this one gets top billing because I love it. It’s a Canadian company that is completely vegan, and many designs are created completely from recycled materials (such as plastic bottles or cork). They’ve partnered with Apple, so they often have pieces designed specifically for Apple products (Macbook messenger bags, purses with iPhone-sized zippered pockets). I have a few purses and wallets from them (all purchased on sale or at Winners, do not pay regular price for this!) and they’ve shown great longevity.

Neuaura: They’re available in a few stores in the Lower Mainland, but it may be best to find these through their website or even Amazon. This company is pretty well known in the vegan world; their designs are indiscernible from non-vegan companies and their products are high quality. I’m particularly interested in their ballet flats, which aren’t just, well, ballet flats. They actually have supportive soles and beds – that’s more than I can say for most shoes on the market!

Steve Madden: First, a warning: not everything from this name is vegan. However, their Madden Girl line is completely vegan and each of their collections (including clothing) include at least a few pieces that are as well. They aren’t selling outerwear on their website this season, but I’ve seen it on Overstock, on Amazon and in Winners. It’s worth looking out for.

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