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Footwear Makers Embrace Vegan Trend With Leather-free Shoes

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Shoe fashion is catching up with the vegan trend.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    More and more customers want fashion products made without animal products such as leather.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Customers are focusing on sustainability and fair trade issues.
    • “The No Animal Brand” hopes to profit from the trend.
    • The Swiss firm has designed a collection of 25 leather-free shoes from sneakers to sandals costing between €80 ($103) and €300 ($388).
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    Audio

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It looks like a normal leather shoe – high quality and soft. But impressions can be deceiving. The black loafer with the flower print is not made of leather but of neoprene, a material that usually only surfers or divers use.

The shoe comes from the collection “The No Animal Brand.” The young Swiss company is following a trend by not using animal products for its production. “For us sustainability, to eat only vegetarian and also to manufacture vegan, is an absolute mega trend which we expect to develop even further in the future,” said Nicole Frank, who founded the company with Bianca Gubser this year.

The company relies upon more and more buyers who do not judge fashion only by its looks. “Customer consciousness and behavior are changing,” said Goetz W. Werner, the founder of the drugstore chain DM. “These days, customers want to know who they are supporting with their purchases.”

Werner also sits on the advisory board of the scientific institute of commerce EHI. It determined in a recent study that 88 percent of the PR professionals polled are convinced that sustainability is becoming more and more important in consumerism − in fashion too.

“The No Animal Brand” hopes so. The Swiss have designed a collection of 25 leather-free shoes from sneakers to sandals for spring and summer 2015. The prices are between €80 ($103) and €300 ($388). They also offer bags, clothing and accessories. The duo’s whole range is produced in Spain by a manufacturer specializing in vegan products.

In the first collection, the label uses materials such as neoprene, alcantara, mesh and jersey. “We ourselves were impressed at how multifaceted the variety of vegan materials is,” said Ms. Gubser. Further alternatives are cotton, linen, rubber, china-grass, sailcloth and synthetic materials. The new material chlorenol is also suitable as a leather substitute. It is just as breathable and elastic as leather and is machine-washable.

The growing interest in leather-free fashion is in line with other trends, such as those where consumers increasingly purchase products from farmers who in the respective countries are better paid than workers at conventional plantations. In the past year, German consumers spent €784 million ($1.02 billion) on fair trade products – 21 percent more than the previous year, according to the Forum of Fair Trade in Berlin.

“The consumers put more thought into what significance their shoes have, with which materials and under what working conditions they have been made,” said Claudia Schulz, a speaker of the German shoe institute.

“For us sustainability, to eat only vegetarian and also to manufacture vegan, is an absolute mega trend, which will develop even stronger in the future.”

Nicole Frank, Co-founder of “The No Animal Brand”

Catastrophes such as the collapse of the Rana Plaza textile factory in Bangladesh on April 24, 2013, brought focus to the issue of working conditions. More than 1,125 people died and 1,500 more were severely injured.

Small labels for vegan shoes profit from customers wanting to know more about the production conditions of their fashions. Big companies are also interested in the issue, including Esprit. “There are some seven million vegetarians and 800,000 vegans in Germany, worldwide even a billion, and the trend is increasing,” said Esprit manager Kerstin Buddendiek. “We feel clearly that consumer consciousness is changing.”

The fashion company offers a vegan shoe collection for women in its online store as well as in its stores in more than 40 countries. “These shoes are made of textiles that are covered with polyurethane. The adhesive is made based on water,” Ms. Buddendiek said.

At €50 ($65) to €80 ($103), the shoes are not more expensive than Esprit shoes made of leather. The company’s vegan footwear is produced in Asia.

The commitment is rewarded by the animal rights organization PETA. It honored a women’s shoe from Esprit with the “Vegan Fashion Award,” given out for the first time in 2013. And the new “PETA Approved Vegan” logo is emblazoned on the leather-free Esprit shoes.

This article was translated by Anna Park Kim. Vinny Kuntz also contributed to the story. To contact the author: meyer@handelsblatt.com 

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