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A Much Needed Change

Renee Willoughby cruelty free eco friendly fashion vegan

This past Monday night, I attended a panel discussion about vegan fashion and sustainability.  The event showcased four amazingly talented, vegan designers: Joshua Katcher (founder, Brave Gentleman), Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart (founder, Vaute Couture), Stephanie Nicora (founder, Nicora Johns) and Rebecca Mink (founder, Mink Shoes). Plus! They had Vromage cheese samples. If you are around or ever find yourself in Los Angeles, do you and your taste buds a favor and check them out!

The discussion moderator was faculty member Taryn Hipwell from FIDM. Taryn asked the designers various questions such as “Why vegan?” and “What are the challenges of cruelty-free design”? With each word spoken, you could feel the passion oozing from them. Each designer eloquently contributed much insight into the trials and tribulations of starting a cruelty-free, vegan label and advice for those looking to do the same. They also spoke a lot about the future of fashion and how it appears, and should be, moving towards a more sustainable approach. The reliance on animals in the industry needs to go.

vegan fashion and sustainability


One of the specific topics brought up was the use of leather in the industry and how it is marketed to the masses. Some people tend to see leather as a sustainable, high quality material and they poo-poo on synthetic leather. The word “synthetic” has an unfair, negative connotation associated with it. Some may hear “synthetic” and think of a chemical laden product, which yes, in some cases may be true but not all synthetic fabrications are created equally. To paraphrase, Joshua explained the textiles he uses for his leather products, “…it is not the same PVC material from your grandmother’s couch.” He uses textiles such as a PU-based microfiber that is biodegradable and suede that is made from 80% recycled polyester. Rebecca also joins Joshua in taking a creative approach to their textile development. She passed around a very cute, gold-speckled stiletto, where the “leather” portion was made from recycled water bottles. What most people do not think about or know is that a lot of leather products need to be chemically treated in order to preserve that leather jacket or make those Christian Louboutins’ shine. Another falsity is that leather is a by-product of the meat industry, therefore if not used, it is a waste. Leather accounts for approximately 10% of the total animal’s value, making it the most valuable part, pound for pound.

As I noted above, the designers gave advice for those wanting to start their own line. As someone who is journeying down that path, this panel was incredibly inspiring and eye opening. It felt great to be in the presence of people that feel what I feel; an enormous compassion for animals and the desire to create change in an industry that needs it.♥ 

For more information about the leather industry:

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