Here's how to be a fashionista with vegan fashion brands

Motorcycle jackets in waxed canvas, sky-high stilettos in PU fabric, wallets made of artificial leather — the era of guilt-free glamour has finally dawned. The market for vegetarian fashion (fashion that uses no animal products) is growing both in India and elsewhere. While most major brands have a cruelty-free line as part of their portfolios, designers are seeing the potential for vegan fashion brands that are entirely free of animal-based materials, believing this to be the future of fashion.

Dheerin Motwani, CEO and Founder of V-Designs, a company that makes non-leather bags for men and women, believes that we’re on the cusp of a fashion revolution. “We’re becoming increasingly aware of the cruelties of leather,” says the entrepreneur, whose goal is to showcase the creativity that’s possible without the use of animal hides. “Our products are handcrafted and designed with the latest trends in mind. The proposition is affordable luxury.”

Motwani, who converted to vegetarianism eight years ago, and carries a bag from his Oxford collection, says that his company’s commitment to the cause and new design styles are a winning combination. “Many young people, these days, tend not to just follow trends,” he says. “They set their own trends, based on what they feel is right, and use cruelty-free, vegan products to showcase their beliefs through fashion.” His initiative paid off when V-Designs won the award for Best Vegan Accessory Brand at the India Fashion Awards in 2013.

Animal-friendly shopaholics around the world had another reason to rejoice last year, when New York-based fashion label Vaute Couture created history by becoming the first all-vegan label to show at the New York Fashion Week. The company’s founder, Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart, was hailed by the international media as a game-changer and rebel, who showed the fashion world that clothes and accessories can be both functional and flattering, minus the use of fur, silk, leather or wool.

Says Hilgart, who gave up a full scholarship MBA at DePaul University to follow her dream of making the world a kinder place for animals — “There were many wonderful vegan accessory labels in the market, but none that tackled apparel made from animal fibers. I dedicated my life savings to creating the first all-vegan winter dress coat, made of high-tech materials that make it windproof, snow-proof, and insulating.” Today, her label has an extensive line of casual and evening wear, a menswear line and a celebrity clientele that includes Angela Kinsey and Alicia Silverstone.

“I love an elegant 50s silhouette, but incorporate elements of now, to create a fresh blend of something timeless, and hopefully, inspiring. Some of our customers prefer designs that are more edgy and artistic, some want just the classics”, she says, of the brand’s mainstream appeal. “I have no formal background in fashion, and am not doing this to be a designer,” adds Hilgart, who believes that animals should not be part of the fashion equation. “I’m doing this to create change… to create a world where animals are not raised and killed to be worn and thrown away next season.”

Mumbai-based Rithu Jethanand had similar worries every time she went shoe-shopping, and often wondered if the pair she chose was non-leather, even if the company’s salespeople said it was. She decided to channel her anxiety into something positive, and founded Senso Vegetarian Shoes, India’s first brand of all-vegan shoes for men and women. “The materials we use, such as synthetic leather, poly-urethane material, canvas and jute are as durable as leather,” says Jethanand, who finds that the brand’s strength is the peace of mind that it gives customers, who are as particular as she is about not wearing animal skin. She confesses to being rather sceptical when they first started out, but was soon overwhelmed by the number of repeat customers and referrals. In 2013, they won the Best Vegan Company award in the shoes category and have expanded (from their initial range of men’s formal shoes) to include casual footwear for both sexes, a summer collection and elevator shoes for men. Judging by the success that these pioneers have had, it’s safe to say that cruelty-free fashion is well on its way to becoming the norm rather than the alternative. And the next time a fashionista tells you about a pair of killer heels she recently acquired, you can rest assured that it’s a figure of speech.