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The rise of cruelty-free footwear

The rise of cruelty-free footwear

Few phrases make a fashionista’s heart sink like the words ‘vegan shoes’. Right now, you’re probably picturing hefty wooden clogs, sweaty jelly shoes or the sort of orthopaedic hemp sandals seen on hippies in sitcoms. That’s how I used to think too. But there’s a shoevolution happening – this spring you may well discover those divine heels you spotted Anne Hathaway wearing on the red carpet are 100% cruelty – and jelly – free.

New spring designs from Beyond Skin

Why are so many people following in the ethical footsteps of vegan celebrities like Olivia Wilde and Alicia Silverstone by choosing not to wear animal skins? Cruelty issues are paramount: as almost all makers of leather goods import their materials from countries such as China or Thailand, where European laws regarding animal welfare will not protect the animals used. Pigs and cows may be skinned or dipped into scalding water while still alive, in front of other animals awaiting the same fate. And let’s not forget recent reports exposing China’s dog leather trade – as a consumer it’s near impossible to know what type of creature your shoes or gloves are made from. Things are no better for the exotic animals whose skins we covet, as most are kept in cramped factory farms. According to Florida regulations, it is legal to cram as many as 350 six-foot alligators into a space the size of a typical family home. This knowledge makes those designer crocodile heels look a whole lot less stylish…


The idea that leather, being a ‘natural’ product, is better for the environment than vegan alternatives, doesn’t hold up given the environmental damage caused by the meat industry. PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) explains, “Although leather makers like to tout their products as ‘biodegradable’ and ‘eco-friendly,’ the process of tanning actually stops the leather from biodegrading by stabilizing the collagen or protein fibres.” Basically, this means almost all modern tanning practices coat leather goods in plastic. So much for ‘natural’.

Luckily, there are alternatives:

The most famous purveyor of cruelty-free footwear is Stella McCartney. A lifelong vegetarian, her collections prove that high-end design doesn’t need fur or leather. An outspoken environmentalist, she explains in an interview on her website that “Tanneries are listed as top polluters on the Environmental Protection Agency’s ‘Superfund list’, a list that identifies the most critical industrial sites in need of environmental clean-up.”

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‘Florine Shoes’ in Silver, Stella McCartney

Brighton-based brand Beyond Skin, popular with Anne Hathaway and Nathalie Portman, offers “sustainable women’s shoes for the ethical fashionista”.  And in case you’re still having traumatic jelly shoe flashbacks to your tweens, don’t worry; these shoes are both breathable and anti-bacterial. The products are all handmade in Spain from vegan pleather, recycled vegan faux suede and exclusive Italian designer fabrics, which sound a whole lot kinder than factory-farmed tortured animal skin. And the price tag is friendlier too, at £50-£200 a pair. Try finding handmade designer leather footwear, as seen on the red carpet, for that price.

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Men’s Slim Sole Oxfords, Wills London

Another designer spearheading the ethical shoe movement is the aptly-named Will Green, founder of Wills London. The brand offers women and men the sort of contemporary designs you see on the high street – and at comparable prices – but with the added bonus of being ethical. As Will himself explains, “The entire range is free of animal products, while workers are paid in accordance with European guidelines. Wills really is an animal and human friendly company.”

Why not put an ethical spring in your step this season by opting for vegan footwear? Thanks to these innovative designers, you don’t need to wear someone else’s skin to feel good in yours!