“Veganism”: “a strict vegetarian; someone who eats no animal or dairy products at all” and “fashion”: “A popular trend, especially in styles of dress, ornament, or behaviour” aren’t usually two words that are often heard in the same sentence. They aren’t really on the same wavelength. The words “strict” and “popular” could be seen to present conflicting views; seeing as strict rules don’t usually allow for what could be described as passing fads. Yet, for me, I have (or at least attempt) to make them work alongside side one another, being vegan and a slave to all things fashion related.
The current trends for A/W12 are leather leather and more leather. As Harper’s Bazaar put it, “leather-lovers will adore A/W12’s top-to-toe approach”. Proenza Schouler went as far as double leather this season, with a head to toe approach of oxblood leather with the classic black. Their collection was loosely a third white wool, a third leather and a third beautiful oriental dresses. Not exactly a vegan’s dream! But it was a pretty amazing collection. The orange and mint green oriental jackets are in my top ten items for the whole season. They are beautiful. It is besides the point they are most definitely silk and therefore also not vegan. Yet although Proenza Shouler kept their leather tough and classic, most didn’t this season.
Leather’s buttery softness was encapsulated with fluid movement and used alongside silk and soft colours to reinvent its usual gothic persona. Valentino, for example, used leather in a variety of ways in its magical collection. Stated by Elle as its “most wearable collection to date”, the use of leather makes sense. A material that lasts years and years, perhaps because it’s an animal hide and that’s the point, means it is desirable for the modern woman. High-end fashion brands have been re-branded with the new technological age; Twitter, Instagram and Facebook have all made fashion more accessible, and this has also filtered through to the clothes. Valentino uses a lot of black leather but adds a sparkle to it: I think of Snow White running through the woods in the black cape or Little Red Riding Hood taking shelter in the leather jumpsuit. Perhaps that’s because I spend most of my spare time watching the TV show “Once Upon a Time”, but that’s beside the point. There’s definitely a princess-esque feel to the collection with a modern twist. The beautiful red leather dress embroidered with flowers is possibly the most impressive use of leather I’ve ever seen and again, it’s a completely fresh use of leather.
Alexander McQueen also went down the enchanted forest route by literally having an enchanted forest as their catwalk. Their use of leather fitted in with this aesthetic, particularly with one leather coat which belted at the waist and had a flurry of shearling fur round the bottom that looked almost like a skirt (and was very, VERY typically Alexander McQueen). Again, the princess, fairytale premise was very pertinent.
Apart from the catwalk, the high street took this fresh approach to leather wholly on board. American Apparel (having never really featured much leather previously) announced its leather mini pencil skirt about a month and a half ago. It sold out in most colours within the month. The range of colours went from black to baby pink to bright orange and I myself could not resist the baby pink addition. American Apparel typically chose a laid back approach to leather; they didn’t go for the gothic or fetish approach. This was their chance to embody a leather trend that actually worked with their aesthetic, with leather becoming as workable as any other material. The baby pink skirt is wonderfully easy to wear and a fantastic addition to any wardrobe. Seeing as American Apparel had shown very little interest in leather as a material before speaks volumes to its newfound popularity.
Leather clothing on Topshop has eight pages, with a number of biker jackets with interesting and new patterns. I was almost drawn in by another leather item. Topshop bought out a beautiful leather skirt with hand painted pigeons and foxes. Of course, this made me very confused, as pigeons and foxes are both in my top five animals (it goes: dogs, pandas, foxes, flamingos and then pigeons) and I did consider buying it. I decided against it though, knowing I would look at the pictures of the animals on it and feel bad. ASOS also has embraced the leather resurgence; particularly with its Markus Lupfer for ASOS black collection. This collection could not embody more the idea of using leather and making it more fluid and less tough and masculine. With beautiful patterned leather trousers and dresses with cut out backs in soft shapes, leather has been morphed into a multi-dimensional fabric. I really do would love it all, if only it was faux leather!
The previous paragraphs are probably now making you think “this girl is perhaps the worst vegan in the world” and that could possibly be true. Fashion has a tendency to make me forget everything else I care about. When I am lusting after an item I become slightly crazed (I challenge most fashion lovers to say they act otherwise). But I do wholly believe in the cause of veganism. I do believe that eating animals is completely unnecessary and not the most effective way of using our dwindling resources. I am completely passionate about animal rights. I have virtually no problems giving up meat and diary products up but leather is my biggest issue. I have had no relapses with meat and I only once or twice on dairy products. I would assume most people would find the other way round easier. I can’t remember the amount of people that have either said, “How can you live without meat?” or, “What can you even eat?”. A lot of things actually! I have always found leather the hardest aspect of clothing to give up, mainly because of shoes. Shoes are my biggest obsession (everyone has one type of clothing they buy more than any other) and I do try to buy mainly faux leather shoes or at least vintage leather shoes. Again, this does not always go to plan. Even non-leather shoes sometimes use animal glues and it’s usually impossible to find whether they do. China, for example, use mainly animal glues and they also import lots of faux leather shoes. There are a few vegetarian shoe websites but these do not offer a huge variety. This season has made my faux leather searches even harder, although the high street does usually offer faux leather alternatives to most fashion clothing. My faux leather biker jacket, for example, bough from New Look about a year ago and I have had numerous compliments on it about how expensive (and real!) it looks. I also am lusting after a pair of leather trousers and have found some wonderful alternatives on both ASOS and Topshop, which look just as good. Faux leather skirts are also readily available; I recently bought a caramel coloured faux leather skirt off Forever 21 and it even feels a bit like leather. I would highly recommend Forever 21 for cheap, on trend (and usually vegan) alternatives.
Yet no matter how much I love fashion, there are some aspects of the fashion industry that are highly intolerable and make me extremely angry. The fur and exotic skins industries are both equally disgusting. I have no excuse for buying leather, as I do not eat meat so leather is therefore, by definition, not a by-product for me as it would be for a meat eater. But the fur and exotic skins industries practise repulsive procedures such as skinning an animal alive and then pinning them up to a tree to die. Their lives were probably so miserable in a fur farm that death is welcome. I think sometimes people blur the lines between fashion and ethics; can an animal’s life really be worth so little that for us to look good we are willing to accept the murder of a defenceless animal? I don’t think many people do agree with the fur industry, thankfully, and it is decreasing less and less in line with public opinion. The exotic skins industry is mainly limited to high fashion, but snakeskin and crocodile skin are still widely seen on the catwalk. Many high-end designers such as Prada still use these skins.
Although I may have made veganism sound really hard, it really really isn’t. The few isolated incidences when I get all caught up are just that, isolated incidences. Particularly as a student, being ethical with my fashion choices really isn’t hard. With cheaper brands getting better and better at copying high end fashion for every budget, I rarely have to buy leather products to get what I want. I read an article about a year ago in Vanity Fair called “The Vegan Monologues” and it was really inspiring. It was an article with Kathy Freston, who is a vegan, and her motto was “progress not perfection”. This has stayed with me ever since as I realised that perfection isn’t always realistic. Many positive changes and reduction of certain items is still making a massive difference. Kathy herself still wears wool (apart from Australian wool as they practise the horrible mulesing on sheep) as that is the item of clothing she struggles with. I have never struggled with not buying wool but know that one day I will get to a place where I can give up leather completely. It would help if at that point I can afford to buy Stella McCartney shoes! It is frustrating that Stella is the only fashion designer leading the way with cruelty free clothes and it would also be amazing if there were a high street alternative. Companies such as TOMS shoes have a vegan alternative and high street brands such as Superdrug and Asda are both against animal testing, which makes all cosmetics products very easy to get hold of on a student budget. Lush is a fantastic brand that tirelessly promote the welfare of animals and recently did the controversial experiment on Jacqueline Traide, who volunteered to have some of the experiments done on her which are frequently practised on animals everywhere. This was a great way to get the cause on a national scale. The cosmetics industry is finally waking up to the needlessness of animal testing, but there is still a long way to go regarding the clothing industry.
On one hand, fashion is incredibly interchangeable and has to know what’s in before anyone else does. So therefore you’d think fashion would be the most modern aspect of any society, championing new ways to be ethical and less wasteful as we become more aware. Yet some of their practises are so dated and behind that it seems to me like a massive contradiction. Either fashion needs to make the change or fashion buyers need to be more aware and conscious of where their clothes come from and how they are made. I understand completely the idea that “ignorance is bliss” but any limiting of buying leather, wool, silk or fur products makes a difference. When fashion does eventually embody the idea of compassion, veganism will be a whole lot easier, but for now conflict will always exist. The feeling of finding a cruelty-free product that substitutes another I wanted is like no other, though. It almost makes shopping more exciting!