Leather shoes…I, like many, considered them the epitome of luxury. Then I learned about the leather industry and how animals are killed, energy is drained and diseases are spread simply to produce leather shoes. Like bad takeout food, I can smell their odor the moment I enter a shoe store. Cow skin. Sheep skin. Even dog skin. You really don’t know whose skin you’re wearing when you slide your foot into a leather shoe. When I see the ”real leather” mark on the inside of a shoe, it’s like a warning sign: steer clear! Leather, to me, no longer represents luxury.
As an animal lover, I’m not prepared to let an animal die just so I can wear a pretty pair of shoes. Nor am I prepared to watch the world’s natural resources deplete simply for the sake of shoes.
After speaking to Elizabeth Olsen, founder of the vegan footwear line Olsenhaus, I realize nobody has to. This is coming from a woman who has worked for the likes of Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein and Nine West to name a few. Of course, that was before she started her very own fashion brand, Olsenhaus, a brand popular among celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Cameron Diaz.
Vegan, eco-friendly, cruelty-free and luxurious, Olsenhaus is the future of fashion. But let’s make it the present.
Do you remember the exact moment when you thought, ”I want to start my own vegan shoe line?”
Yes, 2 moments….
About 12 years before I launched I was going through a particularly time, feeling lost. I went for a run and asked what the hell do you want from me and I heard “vegan shoes.”
At that time, I didn’t even know what that meant.
Then a second time in China, at a tannery I had to go through a pile of animal skins, as the company I was working for wanted to launch a leather line. I was already not eating animals, but still wearing them, unconsciously. It hit me again, that I had to start my own vegan shoe line.
You’ve spent a long time working in the fashion industry for big, well-known brands. What do you most want to change about their practices?
The whole industry needs to change. It’s using so many resources and creating so much suffering, waste and pollution.
Killing animals, polluting land, water, air….it just has to stop.
Overseas factories, wages and conditions – people are not robots and we don’t need more things. Fast, trendy fashion is junk and it’s very wasteful.
What’s the most horrible thing you’ve ever witnessed during your fashion career?
Visiting a tannery in Korea and seeing all the animal skins. The smell was horrific and another time in Mexico, I had hired a broker to handle some manufacturing. Unbeknown to me, they sent a style to a factory that was in house… they drove me there and I freaked out… there were people sitting on overturned plastic buckets. The glue smell was so toxic, there was no ventilation and dogs were running around. It was hideous!
What’s the most shocking fact you’ve learned about the environmental impact of shoes?
It’s all traumatic and horrific but what shocks me the most is how little people care, the ignorance. You would be shocked at what buyers have said to me concerning buying the shoes.
The complete and total brainwashing of the mass consciousness into thinking torturing animals and making products out of their skin is glamorous and sexy.
How are your shoes environmentally-friendly?
Firstly, they are not made out of animals. Secondly, I use not only man made materials, but mix with natural ones, like linen and cotton. All our boxes are recycled and we produce in Mexico – as close to the US as possible for the sake of the environment. I only produce about 50 pairs per style and we aren’t littering the landscape so we can get a cheaper price.
How can someone find high quality vegan shoes?
A simple goggle search of vegan shoes will produce companies. We produce one the best qualities on the market. We have worked with the same factory for 8 years and we are very detailed when it comes to quality. For me, it has to be as good as, but really better than what’s available in leather shoes, to have people pay attention and mainstream buyers to buy the line. They are scrutinizing harder than they would a leather shoe.
If we keep on wearing real leather shoes, what’s going to happen – how will it affect us?
The entire process of raising animals for food/leather is so polluting and damaging to the land, water and air. The result of all this growing and going into the future is loss of land and massive land, air and water pollution, wide spread sickness, and disease.
How do you feel now that you respect and connect with shoes, animals and the environment?
I have always respected life and the planet. The shoes are just a way to speak easier to people about what’s really going on…it’s like an ice breaker.
Visit Olsenhaus.com for more information.