Decades ago, when People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) began throwing paint on fur coats, they most certainly proved a point but, at that time, it wasn’t one in simpatico with fashion. Oh how things have changed. This season, at Magic in Vegas, PETA, in collaboration with ethical outerwear brand Coalition LA, is uniting vegan retailers and brands and spreading awareness across the industry. This partnership, which began last season when the two entities designed a limited edition “Go with the Faux” vegan leather jacket, has a commanding presence at the Vegas shows this season and is just one of a growing number of Vegan fashion conferences, fashion weeks and overall brand growth that our industry is currently experiencing.
Beginning of February, Los Angeles saw the first annual, Vegan Fashion Week. The four-day event, put together and curated by animal activist Emmanuelle Rienda, sought to introduce a broader selection of retailers to vegan leathers, faux furs as well as sustainable, ethical and cruelty free designs. From the invitation-only kick off party at the Natural History Museum to the Vegan World environment at the California Market Center, the inaugural event was well attended and enthusiastic. “I created a collective runway with curated designer pieces from across the globe to show vegan alternatives that are ethical, sustainable and elevated,” says Rienda.
Anastasia Bones is a young brand that attended VFW as one of its very first public outings. “It was incredible to see so many vegan brands and also non-vegan brands that have launched beautiful vegan collections,” says Bones, the brand’s founder. “Each and every brand at VFW had their own style and passion. We are looking forward to seeing more of these larger events pop up so there will have even more opportunities to meet such incredible and passionate people like we did this past weekend in LA.” The completely female owned and run brand started after the founder learned more about what happens to the animals we eat. “I started doing research on chicken eggs. Once I had done the research on chicken eggs I was completely saddened by the way these chickens are treated and that started a domino effect of me doing research on how cows are treated, how lambs are treated and even how humans are treated in the leather tanning process. I was having trouble breaking away from my favorite fashion brands. I could not find any vegan brands that matched my dark edgy look. So I decided to create my own brand that would be 100% vegan.”
Another VFW brand, Jeane & Jax was born after founder and creative director Silvia Gallo decided she wanted to make a real impact on her industry. “Throughout my 20 plus years in the fashion industry, which can sometimes be materialistic, it wasn’t always easy for me to measure what my contribution to society was,” she says. “When I decided to start my own business, it was important for me to do something that could make a positive impact.” Gallo was also in attendance at Los Angeles’ REMODE sustainable fashion conference this past November. She views the industry perspective on Vegan fashion with both an excited and a critical eye. “If larger companies change their practices to ensure better, sustainable manufacturing, then it will be for the greater good of the world and that should be our ultimate goal,” she says. “My fear is that they do use it as a marketing trend and neglect the ethical side of it. We have already noticed brands using their marketing power to sell vegan leather products above $500 which to us is not ethical pricing. I believe that today’s consumers educate themselves more in regards to what a brand stands for and look for transparency from the company. If the larger brands are not being true to the movement, I am hoping that consumers will recognize that and choose their spending habits accordingly.”
Jessica Taylor Mead and Elizabeth Thomas James co-founded Taylor + Thomas to smash negativity about vegan accessories. “We think there is a bit of a preconception once something is labeled vegan,” says Mead. “A lot of people don’t associate vegan fashion with high-quality materials or luxury designers, and therefore there can be a hesitation to purchase. We are striving to change this misperception of what vegan fashion can be, and that’s why we market ourselves as luxury shoes, with the added bonus that they are vegan. We want to appeal to all consumers, to draw people in with the beauty and quality of our shoes, and keep them in with the ethical story behind our brand.”
Meanwhile, in Las Vegas, the Magic show and its PETA X Coalition LA collab is in full swing with cruelty free staging and high fashion vegan wares. “It is our job as fashion industry influencers to educate the retailers on what is happening in fashion, how it is evolving and what is trending,” says Kelly Helfman, President of WWDMAGIC. “My hope with this collaboration is to educate buyers that there are great quality options when shopping vegan products. We have many brands at the show that have real leather and real fur, so this is in no way a stand for us as a show. However, it is our chance to bring attention to product choices and the growing importance of providing fashion conscious options for your consumers.”
Helfman does not see vegan options as a mere trend. “As the vegan plant-based culture continues to explode, more concern about how vegan materials are produced and their impact on the environment will surface,” she says.
“Fashion will go deeper into the sourcing and manufacturing behind the vegan materials. Is the process of manufacturing or transporting environmentally friendly? Will it affect the habitats for animals? Are we wasting too much water in the process of producing these materials? As we look into the future, fashion conscious consumers will want to know a lot more behind the vegan brand story. With that being said, it can be extremely costly to properly track your eco-friendly footprint and process, so we may see the larger brands experiment with this deep dive first before smaller and fast brands touch it.”