How to Buy Vegan and Herbivore Shoes, Clothing & Accessories
I first became a vegetarian during my college years. Personally, I gave up meat for ethical reasons – mostly because I thought factory farms were inhumane. The meat served in our dining hall wasn’t that good anyway, so giving it up was no big deal. Between salad, pasta, and vegetarian dishes, I had no problem finding other things to eat.
But pretty soon, to be consistent, I decided to give up leather too. After all, animal hides come from factory farms, so if I wore leather shoes or belts, I was still supporting those same farms. And that’s where things started to get tricky.
I discovered that it’s really hard to find shoes that aren’t made of leather – especially if you have odd-sized feet like I do. It’s possible to buy eco-friendly clothes on a budget, but prices are often high, and sizes can be limited. Plus, they mostly sell by mail-order, which makes it hard to find the right fit for your feet.
Over the years I figured out where to shop for leather-free shoes and other accessories. I learned which stores usually have animal-free products, how much they cost, and what varieties they carry. Here is a summation of everything that I’ve learned – a shopping guide for herbivores on a budget.
There are several stores online that deal only in animal-free goods. Unfortunately, some of these vegan retailers are too pricey for shoppers on a budget. Others aren’t worth shopping at because their selection is too limited.
However, there are a few vegan stores that offer a good range of both styles and prices. It takes a little work, but there are good deals to be found. Here are the best vegan stores for major shopping categories such as shoes, clothing, and accessories.
Most shoe stores are not 100% vegan, but typically they carry at least a few leather-free options. Non-leather shoes can be made of fabric, rubber, and all kinds of synthetic materials. Leather-free shoes come in a vast range of styles, from velvet dress flats to rubber rain boots to rope sandals.
When you’re shoe shopping in a store, you can check the label on each pair to see what it’s made of. Words like “leather,” “suede,” or “nubuck” signal that the shoe contains animal hide. On the other hand, words like “synthetic,” “manmade,” or “pleather” (plastic leather) indicate that it’s animal-free. The label is usually inside the tongue of the shoe, but it can be stitched into the lining of the side or back.
One place to look for leather-free shoes at budget prices is at low-end department stores, such as JC Penney, Sears, or Target. Stores like this usually have many non-leather styles in their shoe departments. However, you have to check the labels to sort out the leather shoes from the leather-free ones, which can be time-consuming.
Shopping on the Web makes searching for non-leather shoes easier. Many stores sell shoes online, and many brick-and-mortar stores have a searchable website.
The downside of shopping online is that you can’t try shoes on before you buy them. So if you buy online, look for stores that offer free shipping for both orders and returns. That way, if your shoes don’t fit, you can return them at no cost. Better still, you can find shoes you like through the Internet, then go to a store to try them on.
If you prefer to do your shoe shopping in an actual store, you can look for specific brands that offer leather-free styles. Some of the better-known options are:
Some types of leather-free shoes are harder to find than others. If you’re looking for a specific type of shoe, here are some good places to look.
Finding a good pair of non-leather shoes is a good start, but it isn’t always enough to make your outfit vegan. Accessories, such as purses, wallets, and belts, are often made of leather as well.
Fortunately, there are also lots of non-leather alternatives. For instance, most department stores carry bags made of non-leather materials, such as fabric or pleather. You can also find leather-free purses at vegan sites such as Moo Shoes, but they’re kind of expensive. If you’re on a tight budget, you’re probably better off going to Target or Marshall’s and checking labels to see which bags on the rack don’t have leather.
Stores like these also offer leather-free wallets and belts. At Target, you can buy faux-leather men’s belts for as little as $10 and nylon wallets for $18. However, if you want a vegan wallet with the look of leather, you might need to seek it out online. The Vegan Collection is an excellent resource, with pleather wallets between $12 and $24.
Many vegetarians are willing to wear leather, but they draw the line at fur. They consider it worse to kill animals solely for their skins than to use the skins of animals that have already died to make meat. Also, fur is a lot easier to avoid. Leather is still the most common material for shoes, but fur coats are pretty rare.
However, fur isn’t the only animal product used to make winter coats. Many coats and jackets are stuffed with down – the soft layer of feathers that sits next to a bird’s skin. Ducks and geese are either killed for their down or, worse still, plucked while they’re still alive.
Wool is another material vegetarians are split over. Some think it’s okay because shearing sheep doesn’t kill them or even hurt them very much. But People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) argues that wool is still cruel because most sheep are raised in inhumane conditions. Also, PETA claims, the shearers are often too rough with the sheep.
Fortunately, there are plenty of other ways to keep warm in the winter. For instance, coats and jackets can be stuffed with synthetic fibers, such as Thinsulate and PrimaLoft, which are just as warm as down. In fact, in some ways, these fibers are better than real down. They’re cheaper and less bulky, and they don’t lose their warmth when they get wet.
Most sellers of outdoor gear, such as L.L. Bean and REI, offer coats made with these high-tech fibers. However, many of them sell genuine down coats as well. To make sure your winter jacket is down-free, look for terms like “synthetic” or “manmade” on the label. When shopping online, you can filter results for “synthetic” to find animal-free coats.
If you like the look of fur, but you don’t want to wear animal skins, look for cruelty-free “faux” furs. You can find faux furs at many department stores, often for less than $200. Many stores also carry faux leather coats and jackets for $100 or less.
Vegetarians who like to travel need high-quality, leather-free luggage. These days, luckily, non-leather suitcases and briefcases aren’t too hard to find. Leather is relatively heavy, so top-notch luggage brands like TravelPro make most of their cases from lighter nylon or polyester fabric to keep the weight down.
Other luggage brands with inexpensive, leather-free options include:
One of the biggest challenges for vegetarians is finding leather-free gear for particular sports and hobbies. Several types of sports equipment, such as baseball gloves, are nearly always made of leather. PETA and the Vegetarian Resource Group (VRG) have tracked down some non-leather alternatives, but be warned – they don’t always come cheap.
Here are the best leather-free suppliers for various types of gear:
Even if you no longer buy leather, you may still have a few leather shoes or bags in your closet. For some new vegetarians, these old leather goods pose an ethical dilemma. Wearing them doesn’t feel right, but neither does just throwing them away.
There are ways to deal with this problem. You can give the old leather items away and replace them, or you can keep using them until they wear out. If people ask why you’re wearing leather if you don’t eat meat, just explain that you bought the product before you became a vegetarian.
It can be tempting to throw the old leather in the trash, but that isn’t necessarily eco-friendly. It’s too late to save the animals that died for those leather shoes, and letting their hides go to waste just adds insult to injury. Plus, leather isn’t biodegradable, so it won’t break down in a landfill. If it makes you feel better, think about it this way: By giving away your old leather shoes, you’re keeping someone from spending money on new leather.
Are you a vegetarian? What tips do you have for saving money while shopping?
Amy Livingston is a freelance writer who can actually answer yes to the question, “And from that you make a living?” She has written about personal finance and shopping strategies for a variety of publications, including ConsumerSearch.com, ShopSmart.com, and the Dollar Stretcher newsletter. She also maintains a personal blog, Ecofrugal Living, on ways to save money and live green at the same time.
How to Buy Vegan and Herbivore Shoes, Clothing & Accessories
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