No one planned on Angelo, a baby lamb, being born. His mother had been raised to produce wool for clothing, but, along with several other sheep, had worn out her usefulness. Though pregnant, she was loaded onto a transport truck with the rest of her flock and sent for slaughter.
In the middle of the crowded transport truck, just a few short hours from being killed, baby Angelo was born. A woman shopping at an Italian market just a few doors down from the slaughterhouse approached the truck to get a closer look at the sheep as they were unloaded. She was shocked at seeing the newborn lamb and convinced the slaughterhouse manager to let her take him home. Today, Angelo lives at the Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, New York, far away from the fate of his mother's flock.
Vaute Couture founder Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart shares this story to help explain her passionate support of all things vegan—even in fashion. Angelo's experience taught her that there's so much more going on behind the scenes of fashion than people are aware of and that every animal deserves a chance at life.
"Vegan isn't just what you eat," Leanne says. "It's also how you dress and live while hoping to harm less."
This basic premise is what led Leanne to launch Vaute Couture, her own line of vegan clothing. While conscientious fashion—being mindful of the earth (eco-friendly fashion) and human workers (fair trade, living wage, sweatshop-free)—is nothing new, consumers aren't as well acquainted with vegan fashion and the need to be mindful of animals.
As a result, there are several myths about vegan fashion that are leading to muddled definitions, false assumptions and general confusion about what it means to dress vegan. Are you falling victim to misinformation?
"The most common thing I hear is: 'I didn't know that vegan extended to fashion. Can I eat the clothing?'" Leanne says. Vegan fashion has nothing to do with what you put in your mouth; rather it is about wearing apparel and accessories that are created without the use of any animal materials. That includes the obvious exclusion of fur and leather, as well as wool, shearling (sheepskin or lambskin), silk and angora (rabbit fur).
Myth 2: If animals aren't killed for the sake of fashion, you can't say there's cruelty involved.
Leanne wastes no time disputing this myth, describing graphic and gruesome practices by some of the manufacturers she's come across in her research:
Wool: Weeks after birth, most lambs have their ears punched and tails chopped, and most males are castrated—all without anesthetics. Shearing isn't any better; it's done for speed rather than precision and often results in bloody slashing and mutilation.
Down: Starting at 9 weeks old, baby geese are strung upside down and their feathers are ripped out. This happens every six weeks until they are sent to slaughter.
Fur: Fur comes from anal electrocution (literally sticking a metal rod in animals' rectums and electrocuting them from the inside) or catching an animal in a steel-jaw leg-hold trap, which often leads to the animal trying to bite off its own limb to escape before the trapper finds it.
Myth 3: Vegan fashion is too expensive to actually wear.
Vegan fashion actually comes at many different price points, depending on the label that makes it. Whether you're in the market for a $30 vegan bag or a $1,000 vegan coat, you can and will find something on any budget. "It's a matter of scale," Leanne says. "A small, independent label using cutting-edge fabrics will have higher costs per piece because they aren't spreading out a large production run."
Myth 4: It's too hard to find vegan fashion, so it's not a practical choice.
It may surprise you to hear that it's likely you've already stumbled upon vegan fashion pieces at your favorite stores. Target, Bakers and Payless all sell vegan shoes, and even designers like Steve Madden and Stella McCartney are getting into vegan fashion with footwear and bags. If you seek it out—and even if you don't—you'll find it.
Myth 5: Vegan fashion is not fashionable.
Au contraire. From feminine pleated-skirt peacoats to beautiful bronze metallic T-strap pumps, vegan fashion isn't just animal- and eco-friendly, it's also stylish, sexy and chic from head to toe. The proof is in the pictures—check it out!
Learn how you can go vegan on a budgetHow You Can Go Vegan
According to a report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, animal agriculture (raising animals for production) is the number one cause of global warming. It's the largest contributor of greenhouse gases—more than all transportation combined. By opting for vegan fashions, Leanne says, you're doing your part to make a difference for the world beyond your wardrobe. Here, she shares her tips for how you can do this practically, simply and on a budget.
"Practically, just the little things make a huge difference," Leanne says. Rather than throwing out all your clothes and restarting your style from scratch, simply make more vegan choices moving forward, like avoiding anything with fur (even trim). In addition, next time you're out shopping at the department store or mall, keep an eye out for vegan bag and shoe options—they're everywhere.
It's also a good idea to surround yourself with other women who are living conscientiously and get tips from your favorites. Leanne's favorite tip-sharing online newsletters include:
Even though it's not hard to find vegan clothing, you'll still want to look at the labels to make sure what you're buying is truly animal-free.
Materials to look for: waxed cotton (leather alternative), organic canvas, bamboo, hemp, tussah (silk alternative), acrylic, even plastic-based materials like recycled soda bottles!
Materials to avoid: angora (rabbit fur), cashmere (sheep), shearling (sheepskin), fur, leather, down
"Don't forget to look for 'all man-made materials' on the inside of shoes and bags," Leanne says. "Many shoes have leather soles and were made overseas, so you also want to educate yourself on words that mean 'leather' in other countries." This includes "cuero" (Spanish), "cuoio" (Italian) and "cuir" (French).
To keep your budget well balanced with all of these fashion temptations, Leanne suggests investing in quality pieces that you know you'll wear often. "You can get dozens of wears out of a gorgeous, quality investment piece over multiple seasons, or you can get two wears out of a throwaway piece. Which is really more expensive?" she says. The goal is to create an edited closet rather than a pile of clothes, so think about the true price of clothing in terms of how often you can wear it.
Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart is the founder of Vaute Couture, a line of vegan coats and apparel that have been purchased by Alicia Silverstone, Emily Deschanel, Ally Sheedy and Ginnifer Goodwin. The fall-winter 2010 line debuted at New York City Fashion Week, featuring down alternative coats, the first vegan and eco-conscious insulated coat line. More at VauteCouture.com.