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 🙂

 

 

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/ 

Wool: What is it Good For? Not The Environment

Individuals interested in an ethical and sustainable lifestyle come from different perspectives. We all realise that our actions have an impact  on the environment, and based on this, abstain from consuming products that perpetuate climate change. Surprisingly, I have seen a number of progressive shops selling ‘sustainable’ wool. It has been pitched as a renewable product, which fails to understand the reality of global factory farming and the environmental devastation it leaves in its wake.


Environmental Impact

There are over one billion sheep in the world. Australia, China, UK and New Zealand dominate the market. A government reports puts the number of sheep in the UK at around 23 million. Each one produces 20 litres of methane a day simply by burping. The issue with methane is that it is 19 times more harmful to the environment than carbon dioxide, over a five year period. Alarmingly, methane has a Global Warming Potential  (GWP) rating of 86 over a 20 year period.

Each year 90 million tonnes of methane are produced by all ruminant livestock globally. Shockingly, sheep account for 90% of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions. This is due to the large amount of  burping that ruminants do. The impact of wool needs to be considered within the wider context of the farmed animal industry. There is serious dollar to be made out of exploiting non-human animals. Livestock occupy 26% of the Earth’s ice-free land and account for 15% of greenhouse gas emissions globally. Meat, wool and other animal fibres are apart of an interdependent system of environmental devastation. The lamb in your kebab as you make your way home in the wee hours could have once literally been connected to your Uggs.

Polluting rivers near farmland is a concern to local wildlife and people alike. Sheep may be treated for parasites by being dipped in a chemical bath. After dipping these substances may find their way into local waterways. Contamination of rivers by livestock faeces / carcasses pose a health risk to people too. Experts stated that the parasite detected at a water treatment facility Lancashire  over the summer was likely caused by this.

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Ebony and Ivory say  ‘leave our wool alone’. Image from Flickr user Maurice Koop

Merino Wool

The global wool industry is barbaric.There has been sustained coverage regarding the mistreatment of merino sheep in Australia. This is due to 80% of global merino wool being produced there. It is often seen as a high end luxury product. Sheep are not indigenous to the continent, much like the European invaders who brought them to Australia in 1796. Sheep initially used for wool are sent to slaughter, once there is no further economic value in maintaining them.  The industry  employs  a number of efficient practices as illustrated with the merino breed.

The merino has been bred to yield the maximum amount of wool and not to shed their wool. They have been bred to have wrinkly skin. More skin equals more wool.  Sheep may become overloaded with wool and die due to high temperatures. The wrinkles encourage excrement and urine to be trapped in the folds. This attracts blowflies which leads to flystrike whereby flies lay eggs. The maggots hatch and, if untreated will literally eat the sheep alive. To prevent this farmers employ a practice called mulesing. It involves cutting out chunks of skin from the groin area. No anaesthetic is used.

At the point of shearing the sheep are typically handled roughly. They may be deprived of food and water up to a day before shearing, to make them easier to control. The shearer is paid by volume and not hour. Sheep can be left with bloody wounds which are routinely stitched up without anaesthetic. When sheep are no longer economically viable to maintain, they are transported to slaughter. The Merinos from Australia are shipped to the Middle East without food or water. But this cruelty is not confined to far off distant lands. In the UK it has been reported that 15% of lambs die in infancy. Should they not die, they face tail docking and castration, which often takes place without pain relief if done before sheep reach three months of age – which is routine. This is due to the time needed to administer the injections and the cost of medication. The practices of farming in the UK and elsewhere are necessarily cruel.


There have been suggestions that organic wool is the solution to issues of sustainability. The core issues raised above are still present in all forms of non-human farming. Organic methods are to be championed, but no method is justified when a Being who wants to live, is killed. If small scale farms are able to clothe the world then the issue of methane is back on the table. It has been said it may be possible to reduce the levels of methane produced. This reminds me of the story of NASA producing a pen that could be used in space, whereas their Russian counterparts used a pencil. Though the story is an urban legend it does make one think. The answer is simple. Wool / animals’ bodies generally are unsustainable, so we ought to stop using them –  for the benefit of our children, and their children.

The organic wool green-washing machine allows those who don’t want to know, not to know. Sheep are abused in conventional / ‘humane’ slaughter houses as documented by Animal Aid. Abuse has been reported at facilities linked to progressive  bcorps. Workers on Ovsi 21 farms, who supplied wool for Patagonia, skinned sheep alive. The wool from these farms was sold as sustainable and responsibly sourced. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Patagonia has cut ties with this supplier.


Instead of being complicit in the cruelty of wool, you may wish to make a donation to the Fleece Haven sanctuary in Devon. They rescue sheep from the farming industry and allow them to live out their lives in peace.

 

Environment: Cotton

The globalised world makes things, on the one hand, more accessible and at the same time  isolates us from one another. The impact of our consumer choices has far reaching consequences. It affects the lives of people all over the world and contributes to climate change. This is true when one buys everyday clothing goods. I wanted to illustrate this with the humble cotton t-shirt.

Cotton is the most widely used fibre in the world. This can be attributed to European colonisation of America. Crop production in the Southern states was the foundation of the American economy. Eli Whitney patented the cotton gin (gin is short for engine) in 1794. This greatly reduced the time it took to separate the cotton boll from the seed. In turn this created an explosion in demand for Black slaves. The US produced 750,000 bales of cotton in 1830, due to the cotton gin this rose to 2.85 million bales in 1850. The English economy equally profited. Textiles were a main export, thanks to technological advancements in the 1760s. The US and English supply chains were unified when the English opted to buy cotton from the South instead of India. The economies of European nations were built by the labour of slaves. Since this time cotton has been an internationally profitable industry which explains its wide use.

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Image courtesy of David Stanley via Flickr

Sadly slave labour is still a feature of the cotton trade today. In Uzbekistan, a major global exporter, the government forces millions of its citizens, including children, to pick the crop or face state oppression. The citizens make little money, if any, for carrying out this labour-intensive work. In contrast  the government and their inner-circle  make US$1 billion in annual profit. The Cotton Campaign seeks to raise global awareness to force governments and institutions to put pressure on the Uzbek government. We too can play a part by raising awareness, and using our purchasing power to buy goods from progressive companies.

Many companies state they do not know where their cotton comes from due to the complexities of the trade. This may be a case of wilful blindness. The US government subsidises its farmers in order to ‘dump’ their cotton crop on the global market, below cost-price. Farmers in developing nations are undercut and locked into the cycle of poverty. It falls upon NGOs and informed consumers campaigning to call out the practices of large companies. Driven by the scale of global cotton production, questions have been asked of the environmental impact it has. Cotton accounts for 2.5% of the worlds farm land and uses 16% of global pesticides – more than any other crop.

The process of producing a cotton t-shirt is resource intensive, requiring  2700 litres of water to make just one t-shirt. With 73% of global cotton farming requiring irrigation, the impact upon communities and the surrounding area can be disastrous. The Aral Sea is a well known example. Overuse of the rivers leading into the lake led to it dramatically reducing in size. The use of pesticides on the farmland lead to run off, which sees pesticides enter the surrounding rivers. This leads to  the loss of species and the contamination of fresh waterways.

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Aral Sea 1989 – 2008 Image courtesy of UN Development Programme via Flickr

Conventionally grown cotton is an intensive business. In order to maximise yield, and thus profit, insecticides are used. It is said that seven out of the 15 most carcinogenic chemicals in the world are used in cotton farming. Defoliants are used to force leaves to fall from crops to speed up the harvesting process. The Americans used Agent Orange, a defoliant, in  the invasion of Vietnam to remove forest cover. These substances enter the soil, waterways and vegetation generally. The impact, as is too often the case, falls disproportionately on poorer people in developing countries. The use of chemicals is not limited to the field. In the finishing process; formaldehyde, sulphuric acid and caustic acid are used. It is worrying that harmful chemicals are used on this massive scale and that this practice isn’t routinely known. There is, at least, a better alternative to this method of farming that seeks to address these concerns.

‘organic methods save 95,000 Olympic size swimming pools of water against conventional farming’

Organic cotton farming is growing in popularity as people learn about conventional methods. In terms of environmental impact the facts are staggering. As the Soil Association state, organic methods save 95,000 Olympic size swimming pools of water against conventional farming. Due to the levels of insecticides and pesticides used, it takes a conventional farm three years to transform to meet organic standards. Organic methods reject multinational GMO seed creation. Farmers, and not business people, are at the heart of the production stage. As a result the farmers, their communities and the environment are not exposed to carcinogenic material. Organic cotton is 98% less pollutant than conventional cotton. In order to ensure the fertility of the soil, farmers plant  a variety of crops. This biodiversity improves the quality of the cotton and diversifies the income farmers are able to generate. Less water is used, which safeguards all of our futures. Organic cotton farming is able to use less water as the soil is better able to retain water, thus irrigation is not required.

To ensure the goods you purchase are organic certified look for the GOTS and Soil Association labels. It may be claimed that organic cotton is more expensive than conventional / cruel cotton. However, this is due to the practices inherent in fast fashion. The low prices, much like chemicals used, are artificially manufactured. It is abhorrent that farmers / communities are forced to endure life on the bread line so that I may have a cheap t-shirt. When one factors in the environmental destruction caused by conventional  cotton we are all paying a high price for those low costing goods. The answer is to change our relentless consumption. Buy less and Be more.

There are a number of companies who adhere to the organic cotton ethos (not all companies are vegan);

The White Shirt Co.

People Tree

Braintree

Beaumont Organic

You can also find a list of companies who support organic cotton on the Cotton On and About Organic Cotton websites. NB Not all of the companies featured are vegan.

Below is a short documentary about how a t-shirt is made and the people who make them.

Vegan Christmas Gift Guide

Plenty of us look around at Christmas and think “do I really want more stuff?”, or “what do I get for the person who has everything?” In these cases, things like subscriptions and charity gifts can be a great option. We’re planning to give our charity cash to Crack + Cider this year. It’s a pretty simple idea – you take the ticket for your selected item to the till and pay, and instead of taking the item yourself it’s given to a homeless person in need. The products available range from hats and gloves to high performance coats and bags, and you can purchase them online, or from One Good Deed Today. Another great option is a subscription to Ethical Consumer. This online resource collates research and reports into the activities of a huge range of companies, so that you as a consumer can make more ethical choices for all kinds of routine purchases. Alternatively, a Vegan Society membership is a really great gift for anyone who might like to be a genuine card-carrying vegan – it entitles the user to a bunch of discounts in vegan-friendly retailers, and a subscription to The Vegan. If, however, your loved ones will be happier with a well-stuffed stocking on Christmas morning, check out the rest of our list below for our most coveted items…


Top of my own wishlist is some new jeans – I’m fed up of buying jeans that rip or sag after a couple of months, and always feel it’s a waste to throw these out after all the resources that go into producing a pair of jeans. Both Mud and Nudie jeans have the answer! Nudie Jeans offer a great range (and no male/female divisions, just great cuts). They offer loads of options for repairing, reusing and recycling your jeans: nothing says Christmas like circular economy! Mud Jeans also champion the circular economy and, like Nudie, they put a lot of effort into making their production as sustainable and fair as possible. Mud offer options to purchase and lease their jeans, so you can swap out or upgrade to a new pair when you want to. Mud are also a B Corporation. Both companies provide an admirable level of transparency around their production and sourcing, and offer realistic and appealing options for recycling and reusing your jeans.

So we all know that Beyonce wore a ‘KALE’ sweatshirt and suddenly they’d sold out everywhere, but I think the sweatshirt is old news. What I’m after is a KALE heart necklace from All Glamour No Guts, in collaboration with Bete Noire. A totally vegan company with ethics at their heart, AGNG provide accessories and garments, as well as more functional items like raw vegan lip balms and after tattoo treatment. For the pun enthusiast in your life, maybe the HAIL SEITAN necklace will be even more fitting…

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All Glamour No Guts ‘Hail Seitan’ Necklace, £14

If accessories are your thing but you’re after a real classic, you can’t go far wrong with a Matt & Nat bag. I’ve caught myself countless times admiring a bag from afar, only to realise when I get a little closer that it’s by Matt & Nat. This vegan brand focus on classic styles and shapes with a contemporary twist, and there’s something for everyone. They also make great wallets and purses, and other accessories too.

My current coat was bought on a whim when I had a tight budget and a looming work trip to Canada in March. That was OK with me, until I found out about HoodLamb and their incredible coats – made entirely from hemp with some careful thinking around production and workforce, these are stylish and durable coats with sustainability at their heart. Something to covet, for sure.

It’s easy to over-indulge at Christmas, so why not speed up your recovery with some seriously tasty coffee roasted right here in the UK. Jericho Coffee Traders roast their beans in Oxford, and ship them around the UK, and have just started offering a subscription service too. We’ve tried several of the varieties and visited their roaster, and their dedication to a quality product really comes through in those tasty tasty beans!

I’ll be honest, I love a candle all year round, but there is nothing I like better than a scented candle, a Christmas movie, and all my gift wrapping (even better if the weather outside is foul). Earl of East London produce great soywax candles, and their Smoke & Musk scent is absolutely perfect for a cosy winter night in. If you fancy something a bit more overtly festive, the Yule Spice candle from Corinne Taylor seems to last for ages, and gives a gently festive scent with cinnamon, cloves, and basically all the mull you could want (except the wine).

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Earl of East London 17.5oz candle, £45

Honest Skin Care produce all natural and fantastically simple skincare products as well as room sprays and candles, and they also have a lovely looking Treatment Room in Birmingham (UK). I’ve got my eye on the black pepper and lemongrass handwash, but I don’t think I’d be too put out if Santa managed to get a trip to the Treatment Room in my stocking!

One of the best bits of Christmas (for me, anyway) is filling the cupboards with loads of lovely treats and snacks for those festive movie sessions and visits from friends. This is slightly harder as a vegan, but far from impossible. As well as picking up anything that takes our fancy from the Accidentally Vegan Instagram account, we’ve also got our eyes on a few special treats. For our morning coffee (or afternoon slump), we’re planning to pick up a delicious home-baked panettone from Pomodoro e Basilico. For those chilly evenings in front of a favourite film, some Jaz and Juls hot chocolate (with their vegan marshmallows included, of course!). If you’re after something really decadent, you can’t go wrong with a box of Booja Booja truffles *hint hint*. Finally, no Christmas would be complete without mince pies, and Foods of Athenry make some luxury ones which are completely vegan.

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Pomodoro e Basilico Vegan Panettone, £28

If you’re after a pair of non-leather shoes for yourself or a loved one, Wills have got your back. Wills are a UK based company who specialise in ethically produced vegan shoes. Their wide range caters for people looking for male or female styles. I have a pair of which have lasted me ages. If you’re after something a bit more casual, it’s something approaching impossible to find a pair of trainers that aren’t made by a multinational.  Muroexe have stepped up to produce a fresh and clean looking shoe. The simplicity in their design is coupled with the discerning colour range of available styles. Manufactured in Europe, utilising  vegan friendly materials, that are good for animals and humans alike.

Ethletic challenge the status quo. Their sneakers are vegan, produced in Fair Trade supply chains and use organic materials. The classic range of hi and low top sneakers may look like others on the market, but they are worlds apart. You can’t help but applaud everything this company is about. Style and substance in equal measure.

To show off your new shoes you’ll need some legit socks. Minga Berlin Socks come in playful range of styles. Their socks are unisex (thumbs up) and produced to the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). I love their plain and colourful patterned socks in equal measure. They have three kinds of black sock available which I think is a great thing. I’m definitely going to pick a few pairs up. Companies like this make me happy. They  prove that ethical goods do not have to forsake aesthetic appeal.

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Minga Berlin Socks,  EUR 12

Ethics and Antics apparel is all over social media at the moment. And with good reason. They present the vegan message in a subtle way. Those of us in the know ‘get it’ without coming across as militant to the Majority. The VGANG tee is sick. I’m also a fan of the fact they use different kinds of people to model their garms.

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Ethics and Antics VGANG T-Shirt, £25

Black Sage Supply create utilitarian goods free from leather, wool or animal-based waxes. They produce, among other things, bags, belts and aprons.  Many of the pieces are made to order. Their waxed aprons are rather smart. Get one for the wanna-be barista in your life. I was put onto Black Sage Supply by Dark Arts Coffee. They roast great coffee in Hackney and are refreshingly chilled out about it. Their filter – Heart of Darkness is my go-to from them. Check out their Instagram page for movie nights with vegan food too.

I have already gotten myself a ‘I ❤ Vegan Junk Food’ apron by SSOV. It’s no good baking Ms. Cupcake recipes unless you’re ‘reppin vegan garms. 10 vegan points if you pick one up.

I’m big into Christmas but hate the nonsensical perfume and aftershave adverts we’re subjected to at this time of year. Haeckels create handcrafted fragrances in their lab on the clifftops of Margate. They also have a considered range for hair, body and skin all presented with stripped back branding. Of their perfume range, Eau de Parfum 26 is the stand out for me.

It’s not just clothing and toiletries that are wising up to an ethical and sustainable way of doing business.  Fairphone have designed and manufactured the worlds first ethically produced smart phone. They’re a B-corp, and launched Fairphone 2 in the last quarter of 2015. From funding and mining to design and manufacture, ethics are at the heart of this product. It has been produced to be easily repaired and thus sustain the lifespan of each device. My current phone is on the way out so I’m looking to pick one up.

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Fairphone 2, EUR 529.38

Reproduced under CC BY-NC-SA, Credit: Fairphone, via Flickr