Where once vegan leathers were deemed "plastic-y" and fabrics were more in line with a hippie rave than a high-fashion runway, a new crop of designers are proving that planet-friendly clothing and accessories can be decidedly de luxe.
"The most exciting material and production innovations are happening in the realm of vegan fashion," says Joshua Katcher, founder and creative director of Brave Gentle Man, a high-end, sustainable and ethically made line of menswear that includes tweed suits and the line's signature top-zip tote, which sold out a week after the line opened it's flagship store. "The idea of simply being a 'consumer,' which is quite passive, is no longer applicable in an age of increasing transparency... and vegan fashion is leading the way."
Katcher points to such cutting-edge vegan materials as Bolt Threads' synthesized spider silk and New Harvest's lab-grown leather, while the Parisian-inspired coats of Le Trench, made from a polyamide that is both water resistant, durable, and earth-friendly, have been seen on stylish celebrities such as Lena Dunham, Angie Harmon, Michelle Monaghan, and Emmy Rossum.
Leni Penn's lightweight totes mimic the look of ostrich, crocodile, and other high-end skins but are hand-made from vegan leathers in a rainbow of hues. Created by the mother-daughter team of Susie and Brit Ankari, the chic totes have been seen adorning influential trendsetters such as Rooney and Kate Mara, Jessica Alba, Kate Capshaw, and Michelle Pfeiffer. "We knew we wouldn't be compromising on quality or fashion by committing to using vegan materials," says Susie Ankari. "On the contrary, it gave us an edge over other companies in our league."
Also raising the bar in the handbag space is Matt & Nat, a collection of vegan leather handbags that feature linings made 100 percent from recycled plastic bottles, sported by Katie Holmes, Olivia Wilde, and Ashley Tisdale, and Rewilder, a LA-based handbag and accessories collection made from repurposed materials such as sport climbing ropes, rubber membrane and paints used in construction, and filter cloths used in beer manufacturing. "Our passion comes from years of experience in production and fabrication, where we both saw firsthand the waste of materials and resources," says Rewilder cofounder Jenny Silbert.
Activist celebrities too have thrown their influence behind brands that support vegan style, such as Nikki Reed who joined forces with Freedom of Animals, New York socialite Arden Wahl, who designed several styles for Cri de Coeur, and Cameron Diaz, Colbie Caillat, and Esperanza Spalding all of whom have sported vegan shoes by Olsenhaus.
"For consumers who wish to make ethical choices, vegan goods make sense," says Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart, founder of Vaute Couture. "Our line uses recycled, organic, sustainable fabrics that are better for the environment and non-toxic for your health."