There was a time when “vegan fashion” was an oxymoron. Catwalks were overflowing with fur and exotic skins, faux leather was shiny, plasticky and cheap, and designers would laugh at the idea of sending collections free from animal-based materials down the catwalks. Fashion Week was a place where dead-animal skins were paraded and showed off, celebrated and revered.
Fast forward to today. Gucci, Chanel, Prada, Versace, Burberry and countless other designers have proudly proclaimed that they will no longer be using fur. Over 300 brands all over the world have refused to use mohair and angora in their collections. Leather is now made from apples, cacti, wine grapes and pineapples – even Hermes is making a bag made from mushroom leather. And Vegan Fashion Week is the hottest event on the fashion calendar.
Founded by stylist Emmanuelle Rienda in Los Angeles, Vegan Fashion Week is a celebration of the innovation, sophistication and joy behind contemporary vegan fashion. Joy because thanks to events like this, vegan fashion has moved beyond its joyless past and taken a step into the creativity and playfulness otherwise reserved for mainstream fashion.
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The first-ever Vegan Fashion Week event was held in February 2019, over a long weekend that featured a variety of shows and talks, and got the attention of publications such as VOGUE. Kate Nash, Mena Suvari and Moby were just a few of its most famous attendees.
“I want to ignite conversations and debates within the industry by educating, elevating and drawing connections between our most important values; our respect for human life, animal rights, and the environment,” said Rienda to Dezeen at the time. Her background is in the fashion industry – as the former manager of a showroom of Parisian fashion in LA, she found herself questioning fashion’s promotion of fur, exotic skins and other animal-derived textiles once she learned, through different animal rights organisations, about where they really came from and the devastating story behind them – one of extreme cruelty, environmental destruction and human rights violations. This led her to start Vegan Fashion Week – but she believes the fight is still long from won, and that one of the stepping stones lies in uniting the concepts of veganism and sustainability.
“The issue I have with the sustainable fashion industry is that they consider some animal products still okay. They have ‘eco-leather,’ ‘eco-wool,’” Rienda has said to LiveKindly.“You cannot say it’s sustainable fashion if you are using animals in your process — it’s absolutely unnecessary and not sustainable.”
Rienda is right: industry reports have found leather to be the most polluting material present in fashion, due to its use of toxic chemicals – but also due to the high environmental cost of raising animals for fashion, which means that “vegetable-tanned” leather is not a solution to the many issues leather presents. Wool is also part of animal agriculture, contributing to methane emissions and raising the climate change threat. As vegan fashion battles against its former image, marred by the stereotype that it’s all made from plastic, Rienda and her team are leading the way towards the much-needed union between veganism and sustainability.
The way Vegan Fashion Week aims to change the way fashion looks today is by educating and inspiring. In 2020, as fashion was struck by the Covid-19 pandemic, Rienda opened Los Angeles showroom Vegan Fashion Library. Offering conscious consumers a variety of animal-free brands, the Library is the cutting-edge retailer we’ve been waiting for. From plant leathers to vegan wools, it’s the ultimate shopping destination for today’s stylish conscious consumer.
In October, the event returns, and it’s better than ever – the designers showcasing their collections at the event are forward-thinking and current, and their offering goes beyond the niche world of veganism, appealing to mainstream audiences. Examples that will be seen on the runways this year include LVMH Prize shortlisted genderless label Nous Etudions, South Korean animal-free brand Vegan Tiger, edgy apparel and accessories brand Fan All Flames, and unisex streetwear label Pure Void. Interspersed with panel talks, film screenings and networking events, the two-day event is bound to be as buzzing as its previous iterations – if not even more so.
Vegan Fashion Week is held in Los Angeles 8-9 October. For more information, visit veganfashionweek.org.
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Cover image via Vegan Fashion Week.