You’d be forgiven if the words 'vegan shoes' conjure up images of clunky, ugly footwear (we’re not talking the trendy form of 'ugly' here). For a long time, vegan shoes have been more closely associated with hemp-clad eco-warriors than à la mode. But things are changing.
Increased interest in ethical and sustainable fashion, rising demand for cruelty-free products and sophisticated innovations in leather alternatives have created an evolving range of vegan clothes and accessories that have caught the attention of brands and consumers alike.
"Brands (new and old) are really stepping up to the bar, offering more 'aware' wares that are directional too," writes Hannah Almassi of Who What Wear, in her piece on conscious fashion brands. "Until now, I have felt that being conscious alone wasn’t enough to break through: Each piece has to be just as gorgeous as anything else. Let’s not beat around the bush – design should never be the second motivation; a product’s aesthetic will always be a priority for the majority of style-savvy consumers out there."
Not to mention the high-profile platform offered by celebrity advocates. Sustainable fashion enthusiast Emma Watson showcased a range of stylish options last year during the press tour for Beauty and the Beast. Spotted in trainers and boots from vegan French brand Good Guys Don’t Wear Leather, she’s also a fan of the animal-free SUSI Studio and eco-conscious brand Veja (as well as a vegan line, they offer recycled leather options), whose trainers have also been spotted on the Duchess of Sussex during her first royal overseas tour.
Combine that with a host of established brands branching out – from Dr. Martens' vegan line to the adidas and Stella McCartney Stan Smith collaboration – and there’s never been as much choice of animal-free footwear. It’s set to become big business, too. By 2025, the faux leather market is expected to be worth $85 billion, with footwear seen as a major driving factor in market growth. "Increasing focus towards animal rights led by several organisations and rising stringency in laws governing real leather are propelling demand for synthetic leather," the 2017 report by US-based market research and consulting company Grand View Research states.
Global fashion search platform Lyst has seen a 47% increase, year on year, of searches using sustainable-related keywords, such as 'vegan leather', 'organic cotton' and 'econyl'. Over the last three months, meanwhile, searches for vegan trainers have jumped by 31%.
Booming interest in a vegan diet and higher awareness of sustainable consumption are also influential drivers. The number of vegans in Great Britain quadrupled between 2014 and 2018, according to the Vegan Society, now totalling over 600,000. Increased awareness of environmental issues and global sustainability has also seen more and more of us cutting down on our meat consumption – 12% of Brits now follow a meat-free diet, according to research published by The Grocer, which notes that younger consumers are driving the trend.
From alternative leather materials made from banana leaves, to pieces crafted using ethical production techniques and local craftsmanship, the advancements of vegan shoe design and innovations are ever increasing. And although no pair of shoes is truly made without any environmental cost, it’s certainly a step in the right direction.