Vaute Couture are vegan fashion pioneers based in New York and founded by Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart

Vaute Couture, the vegan fashion pioneer specialising in style with an ethical groundwork, has opened its flagship store in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. A few months before this, they also released their first ever summer fashion line to date.

The company has 4 key aims which are to...

  • disrupt the industry with better practices for animals, the environment and employees
  • innovate textiles to one day make wearing animals a thing of the past
  • empower and educate the public regarding how to bring about change with what they wear, eat and buy
  • inspire the mainstream

The importance of fashion to veganism

Veganism is not a concept relevant only to food but also fundamental to fashion. Vaute Couture’s founder describes how fashion was once seen as amoral, yet explains how “apparel production is so huge and affects so many elements of the world. It’s textile production, people, workers, environment, animals – all that stuff – it’s just as important as food.” 

Whilst veganism is often synonymous with food choices, it's important to consider the entrenched use of animals in fashion. Leather, fur, and wool are staples of clothing.

Whilst veganism is often synonymous with food choices, it's important to consider the entrenched use of animals in fashion. Leather, fur, and wool are staples of clothing.

Whilst fur is perhaps pretty widely recognised as being the result of killing an animal specifically for its coat, consumers are often oblivious to the destructive processes used to make leather, down and wool.

Leather

Many see leather as a byproduct of the meat trade, but that is not to say that it doesn’t directly support slaughterhouses and factory farms, especially considering it is the most economically important byproduct of the industry. A lot of leather also comes from specialist leather cows, commonly found in Asia.

Down

Down is not naturally shed from geese but, as Vaute Couture’s founder explains, “with down, they live-pluck the geese – which is like getting your fingernails ripped out.” They do this time and time again until eventually sending the geese for slaughter.

Wool

As for wool, investigations into the industry show repeated cases of abuse alongside mulesing in which shears are used to remove chunks of flesh without anaesthetics to prevent maggot infestations. If the sheep survive these conditions, they’re sent to slaughter.

To top it off, these materials all cost the environment whether it be through release of ammonia from minks on fur farms; nitrates and phosphorus polluting the water supply; release of chemicals through tanning leather; huge water consumption; insecticides used on sheep… you get the picture.

Enter Vaute Couture

Thank goodness for alternatives, then. Animal lover and ex-supermodel Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart started the company in 2008 as the world’s first all-vegan fashion brand, naming it Vaute Couture after Haute Couture but instead starting with a V for vegan, pronounced ‘Vote Couture’.

Vaute Couture aims to produce styles that people love, and respect people, animals, and the planet along the way.

Vaute Couture aims to produce styles that people love, and respect people, animals, and the planet along the way.

Not only do they not use any animal products, but also incorporate fair labor practices in which employees are paid a fair wage and they make products locally, with seamstresses crafting clothes by hand in New York. Just 5 years after starting up, they were making history as the first all-vegan label to strut their stuff at New York Fashion Week in 2013 claiming coverage from multiple media sources including CNN and, according to US News & World Report “No one missed the leather – or the fur”.

Here, they showed off their first full ready-to-wear collection which included dresses, skirts, tops, sweaters and, of course, their classic statement tees and outerwear.

It's just been about breaking fashion history though. Things seem to be looking good businesswise, with sales having grown 60% in 2014 compared to 2013. Given the release of their first summer range in 2016, it seems safe to presume they’re growing successfully, with Hilgart stating that “we’re growing so we could take on a big summer collection for the first time.” 

They have also started making couture formal gowns for big names that opt for the conscience-friendly fashion. The press are impressed too, with Business Insider calling Vaute Couture one of the most innovative businesses in NYC, US News & World Report claiming they are “paving the way for future compassionate designers”, Oprah.com saying that they are “proving that animal free clothes can be cute, chic, and sexy” and CNN claiming we have the next Stella McCartney on our hands in Hilgart.

Founding Vaute Couture

Hilgart has been passionate about animal rights since the age of 10 when she wrote a paper on factory farming. “When I got into animal rights and social justice issues, no one wanted to talk to me; everyone thought I was really weird” she says. “I went from having a lot of friends and being queen of girls scouts and band to being like, ‘no one will sit with me at lunch’. I cried every night, but it made me stronger.” 

Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart - founder of Vaute Couture and a long-time animal rights activist.

Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart - founder of Vaute Couture and a long-time animal rights activist.

By the time she was in college she was a model, which gave her insight into how fashion and animal rights could go together, becoming vegan at the age of 17. She believes that “as food moves towards animal-free alternatives, so will fashion.” Ultimately, she found an opening in the market for exclusively vegan couture, with her first products arising as a result of personal necessity when she needed to wrap up during Chicago’s bitterly cold winters.

Today, Vaute Couture is still arguably most renowned for its coats, alongside its organic cotton shirts with cheeky slogans. Nonetheless, though the line initially began with sturdy winter jackets, it now has a vast array of clothing items available. You’ll be able to get your mitts on hats, sweaters, crop tops, breezy dresses, one- and two-piece swimsuits, bodysuits, chiffon skirts, evening wear, couture gowns, and not forgetting a range of men’s clothing as well.

The Belden is one of Vaute Couture's most successful styles.

The Belden is one of Vaute Couture's most successful styles.

Eight months went into researching and developing fabrics such as organic moleskin, organic cotton Sherpa, organic cotton shirting, organic cotton fleece, organic velvet, metallic vegan leather made up from recycled fibers from Ultrasuede, 100% recycled closed loop zero waste satin… fabrics include many which have never before been produced.

Some of the new hats are made from vegan felt from recycled plastic bottles and swimming costumes are made from recycled carpet fibres. Despite being made from such materials, her products will look no less desirable to the fashion-conscious, with Hilgart explaining her goal “I want people to love the jacket first – realise it’s warm, warmer than wool, because we use high-tech materials – and then realise it’s vegan. I want them to think ‘Oh, so this is what vegan looks like’. The word’s been around long enough that people definitely have a connotation with it. And we want to change that connotation.”

How much a Vaute Couture coat will cost

As you may have already guessed, hand-made clothes produced under ethical conditions using sustainable fabrics don’t come cheap. The coats will set you back between $350-$550. Hilgart understands this though, and has some wise words for investing in shopping sustainably. “Most of my clothes come from church resale shops and thrift stores”, she explains, “But then, the pieces I want to support are the pieces I save up for – and I know that my money is supporting ethical practices”.

Best sellers so far include the warm and chic Belden and also the Lincoln, an alternative to your comfy down-filled sleeping bag coat. There are also the Aran-style sweaters made from 80% recycled cotton derived from industrial waste which comes in shades such as ivory, oatmeal, black and apricot for both men and women at $325.

Where to find Vaute Couture

Though Vaute Couture make 80% of their sales online, if you live in Lower East Side Manhattan you’re lucky enough to get to go and take a look at these products in the flesh (or lack thereof…). The new store came about after the Brooklyn outlet closed late in 2015. The grand opening went down well; vegan sweet treats were available and a Vaute lip tar by Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics was given to the first 100 shoppers.

Vaute Couture is also famous for its tongue-in-cheek organic cotton tshirts.

Vaute Couture is also famous for its tongue-in-cheek organic cotton tshirts.

It’s a good job Hilgart managed to stay in NYC too, which has been described as a fashion capital, a city considered to have a major influence on international fashion trends. It was one of the global ‘Big Four’ fashion capitals of the 20th century alongside Paris, Milan and London. It looks set to stay, too, with the Global Language Monitor placing it as the fourth largest fashion capital worldwide. Let’s hope Vaute benefits and their ethical ways manage to influence international fashion.

The fashion world begins wearing its heart on its sleeve

Indeed, vegan fashion appears to be growing in popularity generally. “Vegan is a new phrase that has now become a catchword for entrepreneurs to start new businesses” according to Isle Metchek, who is president of the California Fashion Association, saying “it’s so acceptable even in fashion magazines”. Macy’s has increased its range of vegan leather with sales growing in the last few years and West Hollywood saw the first citywide ban of fur sales. There are indeed already many other vegan fashion brands that are either 100% vegan or clearly signpost their products. Names include Beyond Skin, Bourgeois Boheme, Esprit, NOAH, Tu&Tu, Wills Vegan Shoes, Coalition LA, Compassion Couture, True Icon, Bo Carter, Zink, Threads for Love, UMASAN, Beyond Bags, Zink, Pelcor, Coral 8, Grape cat, Alba Paris Art, Violet Love… there are literally dozens.

There is also a large celebrity force who have partaken in campaigns against fur, leather, reptile skins and/or wool, including Pamela Anderson, Carley Stenson, Annie Yi, Penelope Cruz, Jamie Bamber, Danny Cipriani, P!nk, Kelly Brook, Joss Stone, Eva Mendes, Olivia Munn, Lucy Watson, Charlize Theron… the list goes on.

Anyway, if ever you’re in the area then get yourself down to 114 Stanton Street and check out the Vaute Couture range between midday and 8pm, where your dog is welcome to join you. Alternatively you can shop online and browse the range for yourself.

Keep up to date with latest additions to the range by following Vaute Couture on Facebook too. Finally, I will not be held accountable if you go to bed $500 worse off…

 

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