Ethical Footwear – where is it?

I have been a vegetarian since I was 6. I heard the word at my friend Verity’s house, came home and declared to my parents I was one. They thought that to draw attention to it would be a mistake and so smiled, nodded and I have now kept it up for 24 years. Partly because I don’t like the taste and partly because I don’t like the idea.

Vegetarianism inspires endless fascination/revulsion/confusion amongst meat-eaters. On a weekly basis I am told “I couldn’t give up meat” (Thanks for the info!), “You wouldn’t have lasted long in my house, growing up” (Aww, that’s a pity, it sounds GREAT) and “How do you not like bacon? Bacon!”
(I don’t like platform shoes or dogging either, I guess we’re all different).

Sooner or later, a carnivore will hit you with “But you wear leather shoes don’t you?” and then walk off smugly, safe in the knowledge they have made an excellent point. (I am always seated next to these people at weddings. Anyway.) You may well hear it from more hard-line vegetarians too. And it is an issue. Although leather is described as a by-product of the food industry this is not always the case and also ignores the fact that whatever the main reason, the death was probably very unpleasant (electrocution, drowning, skinning alive). And it’s not just leather; there’s silk, and of course, reptile skin & fur.

So what’s a veggie to do? Stella McCartney is, of course, the leading light in vegetarian fashion. A quick look at her (lovely) website and I’ve found some beautiful shoes for £565. Do you have £565 to spend on shoes? I don’t (If you do, have my number. Let’s do lunch.) They’re wonderful though and if you can afford it, then do. I would.

A quick look at and my heart sinks through the floor. Ugly, old-fashioned, clumpy shoes (& website – it’s brown & green), that reinforces every stereotype about “ethical-fashion”. (Just that phrase sends me running for the foie gras. How absolutely joyless.) – same problem. Except that some of the shoes on there are £135. ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTY FIVE POUNDS! Go and look at them now, I’ll wait. … … … Did you see them? Do you want to cry? There are so many more sites that I cannot bear to write here. It’s too dispiriting. Google it and see for yourself.

You could go vintage. This is not for me. If it’s vintage crocodile skin, it’s still crocodile skin. A crocodile is still on my feet. I don’t want to normalise it and say it’s okay. Vintage fur coats provoke the same reaction. Also, vintage shoes are…kinda weird looking. If you’re wearing vintage clothes too, you’ll look like you’re one of those recreationalists who turn up in the Daily Mail every few months showing off their perfectly preserved 30s semi, all Bakelite & mangles. And they’re small, man alive, are they small. Vintage everything is smaller. If you don’t mind buying secondhand (obvious barriers are the fact that shoes have been moulded to someone else’s feet unless they’re almost new, they might smell, other people’s feet are gross) then eBay or charity shops in posh bits of town.

My current shoe rotation is as follows; Black ballet pumps (plastic, but look like leather). Black patent ballet pumps (plastic, look like leather). Black cork soled wedges (plastic but look more like leather than anything, ever). Vintage tan leather wooden heeled platform shoes (I am nothing if not inconsistent).

Here are my thoughts. There is a gap in the market for affordable, stylish, vegetarian shoes. I don’t know why someone won’t fill it. Please do. Not all vegetarians are hippies. Some of us read Vogue & go to private members clubs & get overexcited when Tom Ford launches a new lipstick. If wearing leather shoes doesn’t bother you, then wear them. There are worse things going on in the world. You’re a vegetarian, that’s 90% of that battle. And if it does bother you then head to M&S and pick up some of their brilliant canvas or pleather (mmmm, sexy word) shoes. Don’t bore on about the evils of leather shoes though. You’ll be the herbivore equivalent of the people I sit next to at weddings and they’re the ones I never dance with.

About Ross Pollard

Since starting writing on my 31st birthday in 2011 I have held a number of positions at magazines and websites as well as regularly producing articles for numerous publications alongside contributing to TV & radio shows as a freelance fashion journalist including Hoxton Radio & Fashion One TV. Alongside writing, I have worked in other industries helping to design & grow digital platforms, develop businesses and support operations practices. This experience has proved invaluable in building an understanding of how businesses work, and the landscape in which retail, B2B commerce and other commercial operations develop. Knowledge of commercial interests has helped shape my fashion industry insights beyond critiquing of garments

One comment

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