Vegan shoes: a mission

As winter finally makes an appearance in the UK, it’s time to revisit my annual mission: find some stylish, good quality, ethical footwear. I usually end up getting bored and buying some incidentally non-leather high street shoes, and then wish I’d stuck it out to find a decent ethical option. This year, I’m trying to stay resolute, and I thought I’d share some of the brands I’ve come across in my search in case you’re in a similar position and getting tired of trawling the search results for the perfect shoe!

Matt & Nat – this summer, this vegan super-brand branched out from handbags and wallets into shoes, and I think they’ve come up with a pretty solid collection. Nothing too jazzy here, but if the quality is the same as their bags we’re in for a treat.

Ethletic – look rather similar to a certain cult classic, but with supply chain visibility and vegan materials.

Good Guys Don’t Wear Leather – am coveting at least 5 items from the range tbh.

Beyond Skin – 100% vegan shoes. Need someone to stage an intervention to stop me buying all the gold shoes.

Nae Vegan – a solid range from the classic to the esoteric (and more gold).

Zibru – a new brand on me, but they have a small vegan line, mostly black boots and shoes.

By BLANCH – made in spain and 100% vegan, a small but perfectly formed range of shoes and boots.

Third Estate – a vegan clothing and footwear shop in North London (now with an online shop too) stocking a number of vegan shoe brands.

Jonny’s Vegan – site is in German, but a solid range of vegan shoes.

Bourgeois Boheme – some good options for smarter shoes in particular.

Nicora shoes – handmade in the US, offer flat-rate worldwide shipping.

Bahatika – a lovely aesthetic, Vegan society approved.

Muroexe – super minimal design, all vegan.

Avesu – stock a pretty massive range from lots of the brands I’ve mentioned here, and some others. A good starting point.

Ahimsa – a Brazilian brand offering free worldwide shipping. 100% vegan.

Vegetarian Shoes – a long running and well known brand, a worth a visit any time you’re in Brighton!

Bella Storia – made in Italy, 100% vegan.

Flamingos Life – animal free sneakers.

Insecta Shoes – made in Brasil, 100% vegan.

Native Shoes – a pretty wide range, catering for both adults and kids.

I’ll try to keep adding to this list as I find new ones (and hopefully eventually find the winter boot of my dreams!) but if you have fave brands that I’ve missed in the meantime please let us know in the comments 🙂

 

 

Review: Tea at The Ritz

Eating out can be one of the biggest obstacles for people thinking about becoming vegan, and this can be particularly true when thinking about special occasions. There is good news though – lots of higher end establishments are getting wise to the growing number of customers with requirements around particular lifestyle choices (like veganism) or dietary needs (like allergies).

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Whilst we often choose to celebrate special occasions at restaurants that are specif20161218_155616ically vegetarian or vegan (Manna and The Gate are just a couple we’ve been to recently), some of the most enticing luxury experiences are omni – thisdoesn’t mean we need to miss out! Calling ahead to the majority of high-end restaurants will ensure they prepare you an exciting and varied vegan menu. Cinnamon Club prepared us a fantastic mea
l for a birthday last year, and this Christmas we tried the special vegan afternoon tea at The Ritz. Since you need to book ahead for tea anyway, it’s not much extra trouble to request the vegan tea, and I’m very pleased to confirm that it’s excellent!

It’s definitely a special occasion thing as it isn’t cheap at £75 per person, but it is *incredibly* festive – the decorations are stunning and there is a small choir singing really excellent arrangements of popular Christmas songs around the piano to really set the mood.

We had a selection of finger sandwiches with lots of creative and flavourful fillings (topped up partway through – it’s the partial top up shown in the picture below), two warm scones with dairy free spread and jam, and three pastries each: a decadent banana and chocolate mousse, a miniature victoria sponge (the least impressive of the lot for me), and an aquafaba fruit meringue. All that, plus a pot of tea and a glass of champagne each.

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The Ritz isn’t the only place to offer a high-end vegan afternoon tea – we hear that the offerings at Claridge’s and Sketch are both really excellent too. The main thing is to give it a try – call that restaurant you’ve always liked the look of and see if they can accommodate you.

Have you had a really fantastic luxury meal out as a vegan? Tell us about it in the comments!

 

Christmas Gift Guide 2016

2016 has been *quite* the year, hasn’t it? But the end is in sight, and we can start to comfort ourselves with the familiar warm glow of Christmas. Mulled things, cinnamon-spiced things, cosy nights, fairy lights and presents.

Presents are one of those things – for some people (me included) they are the best bit of Christmas, finding the ideal gift for the people you care about the most. For lots of us, they are one of the most stressful bits, and so we wanted to put together a guide to helping you find pretty and good presents whether you’re giving Santa a run for his money, or just hoping not to add to the re-gift pile come Boxing Day.

If you’re after a cosy hat for the winter, you can’t go far wrong with Hoodlamb. A totally vegan company making products from hemp and recycled plastics, you’ll be amazed at the quality of their craftsmanship. At 69 Euros for this Men’s Ruderalis Hat it isn’t cheap, but the quality is so good it’ll last you a lifetime. You can see a more detailed look at Hoodlamb’s handiwork in our recent video review of their Men’s Nordic Parka

One of our favourite finds of the year, Solkiki Chocolate is a vegan-run company making some of the very best chocolate we’ve ever tasted. They have a huge range of well-deserved culinary awards, winning out over some of the most well-established and highly-regarded brands out there. The Marañón 68%  (£4.95) is particularly stand-out for the chocolate lover in your life (or as a reward to yourself for getting through all that gift wrapping…).

There’s nothing quite like a super rich boy cream with a delicious scent to make you feel just a tiny bit luxurious. Lulu & Boo have a wide range of organic, vegan friendly products, including our new favourite Elderflower & Orange Blossom Body Cream (£29)

There’s nothing quite like a cosy night in with your favourite Christmas movie, some tasty treats and a delicious scented candle. Our current favourite is the Camp Fire utility candle (£25) from Essence + Alchemy. They do a range of scents in jar candles, a bunch of botanical candles, and little sets of tealights too (perfect for bath time!).

So it turns out that a majority of those designer sunglasses we all covet are made by a single company, who also own several retail brands. That means they control the whole value chain, including setting prices. This doesn’t sit quite right with us, but there’s a stylish solution: Finlay & Co.  (from £140). Their sunglasses are gorgeous, and they have a big range of styles and materials, including some bamboo frames which float – perfect for the pool!

If you follow us on Instagram or Twitter, you might have noticed that we love a pootle round London at the weekends, and coffee is a key part of our pootling! Our favourite London stop for coffee is probably Workshop – the staff are friendly and total experts, and the coffee is always delicious (and served in beautiful cups!). This year, they’re offering a fantastic gift for the coffee lover in your life – a selection pack of their current filter coffees (£20). We’d definitely be chuffed to find this in our stocking!

So, we know organic cotton is kind of a must, but it can be pretty expensive and hard to find, and often favoured by the more designer-y end of the market. Help is at hand from the smart people at Rapanui, where you can get a 5 pack of organic cotton t-shirts for £35. They offer full traceability from cotton field to delivery, and the products are made in a ethnically accredited eco-powered factory. Ticking *all* our boxes, and they offer a bunch of other products too.

You want to get something sparkly for someone special, but you’re reluctant to choose diamonds because it’s difficult to be sure that they’ve been ethically mined and sold. Brilliant Inc. have the answer, producing beautiful simulated diamond jewellery (from £50). The sparkle is indistinguishable from natural diamonds to all but professional gemologists – we got engaged this year with a beautiful solitaire from Brilliant Inc. and can confirm that this is true, the compliments (and the sparkle) prove it 🙂

We’re loving watching a new vegan business go from strength to strength in All Glamour No Guts. Right now, we’re particularly excited about their new character, Autumn, featuring on a range of their merch. A cute sticker (£1) or two would make a perfect stocking filler!

We are *obsessed* with the incredible cakes coming out of Heart of Cake – a one-person vegan business turning out amazingly beautiful custom cakes. Think it’s time to give traditional Christmas cake the heave-ho and get one of these beauties instead!

The times they are a’changing, and one of the places that is most evident is the supermarket shelves! There are a whole host of deliberately and incidentally vegan treats out there this Christmas, new and old. Some of the things that have caught our eye for this year include: Tesco free-from selection box (we can be kids again!), M&S gold creme brulee liqueur (move over Baileys!), Oatly cream (bring on the hot mince pies), Tesco finest chocolate fondant truffles (we’re making our own tin of choccies this year), Divine 70% dark chocolate coins (our favourite stocking filler last year and now a firm fixture).

It’s been an amazing year for new and growing ethical independent businesses, so there’s no reason not to have a fun-filled festive season, and be the change we want to see in the world. We’re so excited about what 2017 has to offer – it’s got to be better than 2016…

Merry Christmas!

Product Review: Märss Bags

Walking around London, you’d be easily convinced that there are only a handful of backpack brands (precisely which five would depend on which part of London…). I’m sure it’s the same all over the world. Thing is, I wanted a backpack that didn’t have lots of extra plastic fixings, and certainly didn’t have any leather tags or accessories, and I wanted one that was as stylish as it was practical. I thought all this was a pipe dream, until I came across Märss on Instagram. Märss produce custom bags, always made with vegan leather and upcycled materials. My bag is perfect for carrying everything I need for work, including my laptop and water bottle, and it’s just the right size for a weekend trip to visit family or a day trip out of London.

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Ellie’s Marss bag, c. 60 Euro

The process is really simple and super quick for what you get – a quick email exchange through Instagram, facebook or her online store with the woman behind Märss (Liisi), explaining what you would like, and then she gets to work sourcing the relevant materials and producing your bag to your precise specifications. For example, I wanted a leopard print lining for mine, and gold coloured clasps. Lewis wanted his bag to go with his forest green coat, and have zip pockets on the side. Liisi was even able to make a custom raincover for Lewis’s bag at his request.

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Lewis’s Marss Bag, also c. 60 Euro

A few weeks after receiving my bag, one of the straps broke a little – Liisi was happy to cover the costs of postage and repair, and turned that around for me really quickly. A fantastic product, and really excellent service.

It’s great to be able to support independent vegan businesses, especially when I end up with a product that’s exactly what I was after, and the service is such a high standard too. There’s loads Märss can offer in terms of customization, so if you’re after a new backpack do take a look at the website and get in touch with Liisi!

http://marssbackpack.bigcartel.com/ 

Product Review: Soap Nuts

I have read varying views on the effectiveness of soap nuts ability to clean. Given the uncertainty surrounding them I thought best to try them once and for all. Sapindus, commonly referred to as soap nuts, are a native shrub to India. It is a natural surfactant which can be used to clean ones hair, skin, laundry and as a household cleaner generally. They’re vegan and suitable for those with allergies. If this wasn’t enough it was claimed a 1kg bag – costing £11 could wash 330 loads of laundry. That’s 3.3p a load. Given the mixed reviews I thought best to sit down with a cup of tea and learn how to use them properly. The first test was laundry. 

Within the bag are two small mesh bags where you place the soap nuts for washing clothes. Having read up I noted you need more soap nuts in hard water areas. As London has horrific water I placed 10 soap nuts into the mesh bag and put them into a small jar with tap hot water and shook them up. They formed suds straight away. After watching an episode of South Park I return and placed the mesh bag with soapy water in with the clothes.

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1kg bag of soap nuts

I didn’t use fabric conditioner but the clothes felt far softer than normal. There was not scent and the clothes were really clean. At least as clean if not more than usual. I’ve used them quite a few times now and they’re done the job. The only thing I may do is add some essential oils to add some fragrance. The soap nuts can be used four or fives times. To test them put them in a jar of warm water and shake. If they foam up you’re good to go. I’ve also used them to wash my hair and beard.

The cost of laundry cleaner and conditioner wasn’t too pricy. However, buying organic, vegan and ‘nasty’ free shampoo and conditioner is rather costly. Given I have 1kg of soap nuts I made my own shampoo. I filled an old empty bottle of shampoo with five soap nuts, some organic cold pressed argan and jojoba oil along with tea tree essential oil. Given the softness of the laundry, the addition of the oils negates the need for conditioner. I tend to leave the homemade shampoo on a little longer. My hair is left clean and soft. For my kind of hair this works better than shop bought shampoo.

For household cleaning I’ve used 10 soap nuts and placed them into an old bottle with some lemon essential oil and filtered water. I left the mixture overnight and found it turned brown. This has been used to clean worktops / dishes. It cleans effortlessly on all the household tasks I set it to. I was most surprised by its ability to clean around the house. Having read negative reviews it seems, at least anecdotally, people didn’t first soak the soap nuts.Given its cleaning ability and relative cost I’d like to continue using them. Supports highlight their environmental benefits. I’m unsure on this point. Of course there are environmental / welfare concerns with commonly used laundry products.

The nuts must been transported to the UK. There are also farming impacts to consider too. Given they are not commonly used in the UK – finding information on them have proven challenging it. I will update this post in due course and have posted it in the hope people may have answers to the following; working conditions of those involved in the supply chain, farming techniques  – organic.  environmental impact of growing and in relation to ‘mainstream’ products. Given they are able to carry out general cleaning duties it negates the need to consume multiple products, each produced and shipped in turn. On the face it would suggest the environmental impact would be less. Below is a video documenting the harvesting process in Nepal:

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