Vegan, Non-Leather Shoes and Bags for the Professional Woman

Beyond Skin Women's Franklin Pump2017 Update: We still stand by a lot of these brands for vegan, non-leather shoes and bags for the professional woman — but you may want to check out our more recent roundup of stylish vegan shoes for the office.

Reader E writes in with a question about non-leather accessories…

My husband and I have decided to go vegetarian for ethical reasons. Although transitioning our diets hasn’t been that difficult, I’m having a hard time figuring out a way to replace leather, especially for shoes and purses. Most of the eco-friendly companies I’ve found just don’t look professional. Any suggestions?

Judging by the comments when we last posted a vegan shoe (also, ahem, the day we forgot it was Earth Day), you are not alone in wanting to non-leather accessories.  Moo Shoes in NYC is the big store we can think of (they “proudly offer the largest variety of vegan shoes and accessories in the world”); VeganChic and the UK-based Neon Collective also sell a wide range of shoes from designers.  We’ve also heard good things about the brands Neuaura, Beyond Skin, olsenHaus, and Charmone(We like the Beyond Skin Women’s Franklin Pump, pictured, available at Endless.com for $215.) You may also want to check out blog Ecouterre, which is “devoted to the future of sustainable fashion design.”

Readers, which vegan accessory lines are your favorites?

Incidentally — here’s a nice blog post we found while browsing — the author goes over some of damage that leather shoes can do to the environment, for those of you who are curious.

(L-#)

Comments

  1. Christine :

    Why do people equate vegan with eco-friendly? Pleather is usually PVC which is derived from OIL.

    • I think eco-friendly just means different things to different people. We all have our priorities. Without even going into the harm done to the environment from the mass farming of cows (for leather in addition to meat), in my mind vegan shoes are better b/c they do not involve slaughtering living beings.
      That’s pretty ecologically friendly as far as I am concerned. Ecology does not mean environment only.

    • I think it is a complicated issue. When you think of all the petroleum-based products we use everyday and simply discard, investing in an item you will use for years doesn’t seem quite as bad. Plus, some say that the chemicals used in tanning might have more negative impacts on the environment. Grist.org’s blog has a great entry about it from Umbra: http://www.grist.org/article/tongue-tied/

      Still, I think most (but obviously not all) people who look for vegan shoes are considering first and foremost animal suffering. I became a vegetarian for the environment, but I stopped buying leather because of animal cruelty.

    • Thank you! It kills me when the immediate “eco-friendly” substitute for anything is plastic! I say this as the product of multiple generations of fuel oil company owners — crude oil is used for make-up, synthetic fibers, plastics, and more than most people realize: http://www.natural-environment.com/blog/2008/03/06/uses-of-crude-oil/ Now, I’m not saying it’s evil (remember, daughter of fuel oil company owners here!), but it certainly shouldn’t be the eco-fix-it response

  2. My sister likes Matt and Nat for handbags. It’s a vegan line. If you’ve got the bank, Stella McCartney makes vegan things as well.

    • My mom bought a Matt + Nat tote and she’s scared to wear it because it looks like it will not hold up well if you carry around a lot of weight in them.

      • Anonymous :

        A friend has one and carries quite a lot of stuff in hers; it seems to have held up well.

    • I’ve been a Matt and Nat fan for a while now – I have five bags, all of which are lovely and have held up very well.

      As for shoes, I’ve found some decent non-leather Madden Girl and Chinese Laundry.

  3. It’s possible that the writer means that she wants someplace vegan + eco-friendly, and she’s having a hard time finding that. Probably not, but a possibility.

    In any case, oil-drilling can be bad for the environment, but so can raising animals. It depends on the volume, location, practices, etc. It’s difficult to quantify the effects of these types of activities to determine which is better or worse for the environment.

    And, as AIMS suggests, eco-friendly is a malleable term.

    • Sorry, meant as a response to commenter #1, but posted too fast and then it reposted as a comment rather than a response.

  4. These shoes are very cute. Didn’t know this brand — just checked out their other stuff & it’s even cuter! Love the rounded toe pumps.

    To anyone looking for recs. — I would highly recommend Te Casan. Gorgeous, gorgeous shoes!! You would not think they are vegan. A few are on sale at BlueFly now.

    And yes, if you have the means, Stella McCartney has amazing things.

    • Te Casan did make some great veg shoes, but they not all are veg and they went out of business! I was very sad when they closed, so if you want some of their shoes, I think Bluefly is your only option now.

      • Oh no! That really sucks to hear — thank you though!
        I guess the market for this kind of stuff is rather limited.

  5. Threadjack here, in anticipation of the weekend! I bought a pair of cowboy boots (http://tinyurl.com/27czj5j) to go to a dude ranch. (BTW, if you ever want to do that, I cannot speak highly enough of Bull Hill Ranch in Kettle Falls, WA.) They’re plain enough that I think I could wear them with a boho-type skirt and t-shirt/jeans jacket. Any suggestions for where I could find a cute boho skirt? I’m 5’3″ so many of the long ones are floor length on me. Thanks in advance!

    • Experienced :

      Ariats are great. Basically been purchasing a pair a year to meet my son’s growing foot. They age beautifully. Anyone want a well worn pair of men’s 1o.5?! Have fun at the ranch -what a great vacation that is! Free People seems to make some skirts per your description. Maybe try Anthropologie?

    • SundanceCatalogdotcom has a lot of awesome skirts in this style; make sure you check the clearance section, too — some really cute ones are on sale.
      I generally like cowboy boots with most any kind of flowy skirts & dresses.
      If you’re short on time, you may even find something passable at the Gap.

    • If you have a weekend outdoor market in your city/town, those are great places to find more flowy, printed skirts (and they’re usually very inexpensive!). Hopefully you’re not allergic to patchouli…

      Also, those boots are great – and I think you could wear them with a lot more. You have to be careful with the look to avoid it being hokey or odd-looking, but sometimes cowboy boots are that weird touch an outfit needs to take it to the next level.

      • I’m intrigued … can you tell me what you mean by a lot more? I’d love some ideas!

        • Now i’m trying to think of outfits i’ve worn! I guess I like to wear them with very feminine outfits to add a little edge and take away from some of the overwhelming sweetness that some of my dresses tend to have. I tend to buy vintage Justins and other more “showy” boots as opposed to work boots, so they do double duty as an accessory (so i will play the rest of the look down to focus on the amazing boot – i love black tights, black mini, black scoop back shirt and some camel boots with amazing stitching with big bangles and earrings). It’s hard to describe, i’m sorry, but I love them as an element in my closet. I would start with your idea and then, as you wear them, think of ways they could interact with other pieces that you have or are thinking of purchasing.

          • so, to distill – I wear them to take the super sweet feminine edge off of an outfit OR create a muted outfit to celebrate the boots. or, sometimes i wear them with leggings and an inside-out ratty sweatshirt to the grocery store, the height of elegance!

          • Thank you, J — this is great advice. I’m eyeballing a few dresses that I’ve been loathe to wear for fear they looked to prissy!

            PS Not everyone would have the flair to turn the sweatshirt inside-out, you know. Go style diva! :)

  6. Matt & Nat makes great bags — all their stuff is Vegan. I have a couple and my non-veg friends have commented on how cool the “leather” looks (mine has a distressed look). You can buy them at main stream department stores and boutiques too, which is a plus (e.g. Nordstrom, Shopbop).

    • Correction to my post—its Neimans and Revolve that has Matt & Nat (got those completely backwards!)

  7. In a “impact of cow farming” versus “impact of BP oil spill,” I’ll take the impact of cow farming any day.

    Not disagreeing or arguing about the animal cruelty issues at all, but if you are going vegan for the environmental impact, make sure you look very closely at the “vegan” materials you are buying and what goes into them.

    IMHO, the “vegan” label is often a way to charge $300 for a pair of shoes that could be bought at Target or Paylessa when labelled as “man-made materials.”

    • A lot of companies that produce vegan shoes charge more for their man made materials because they are also committed to using local sources, paying living wages, not using sweatshops, etc.

      Also, the impact of BP oil spill is just easier to see. The impact of cow farming is more subtle but not any less distructive. At the heart of both problems are greed, calousness and laziness.

      I agree that for people concerned with the environmental aspect lots more than just is it an animal byproduct must be taken into account, but the the concerns for how we treat animals and how we mess up the planet are not mutually exclusive.

    • I can’t speak for all of them, but many Vegan companies use eco-friendly processes, like recycled tires or plastice water bottles b/c they know their customer base is going to care about those things. Of course these products are going to be more expensive than your payless PVC shoes, but that price difference gets your a more environmentally friendly product, better design, and higher quality.

  8. tinylawyer :

    Matt&Nat has great stuff. Occassionally Nine West does synthetic totes that are work-appropriate. Payless is good in a pinch, but the shoes are cheap and uncomfortable (and make your feet sweat!). I’ve been struggling with this for years. Most vegan shoes are not stretchy and don’t breathe the way leather does.

  9. OT post –
    Naturalizer has a great sale going on – 70% off. The sale includes cute flats as low as $19.99. I just ordered three pairs!
    Bonus – coupon ‘GONAT10’ gets you 10% off on everything.
    (Not a company employee, I swear – just happy about my new purchases!).

    • I found a Naturalizer outlet the other day and got three pairs of shoes for $60. So very very happy. Glad to hear about the online sale…although I should probably be on a Naturalizer hiatus for a while

  10. NGO doesn't mean No Good Outfits :

    I’ve been a food vegetarian for over 5 years now, and wish I could phase out my leather shoes and handbags. I have twofold problems: quality and price. Sure, I can afford non-leather bags and shoes, but then the quality is mediocre. Of course there are really good quality vegan shoes and bags, but they are way out of my price range.
    A girl can dream though.

    Natalie Portman designed a vegan shoe line (creatively named The Natalie Portman Collection) but that was sold at TeCasan(dot)com, and because it was mentioned earlier that TeCasan is out of business I’m not sure if you can find them any more. They were gorgeous.

    • I am in the same boat. I try to avoid all leather but its too hard. I am more successful in avoiding certain kind (kid & calf, for ex.), but it’s too expensive to go without altogether. I always joke that I’ll go full leather-free when I can afford it but it is an unfortunate paradox that wouldn’t exist if more people cared about this & created a bigger market.

    • Anon, a mouse! :

      Do you live in Washington DC by any chance? There’s a great accessories store at the corner of Connecticut Ave and Q St that sells all or almost all non-leather stuff. I’ve seen a ton of cute bags in there in the $50-200 range.

  11. My boyfriend is vegetarian, and had a hard time finding good-looking, eco-friendly, vegan professional men’s shoes. His solution is to buy used leather products second-hand from Etsy.

    If that squares with your ethics, definitely consider it– he has found plenty of quality shoes (e.g. suede Hush Puppies and Bass loafers) that were worn very little and usually cost less than $50, including shipping.

    • There is a trend like this happening with fur — vintage fur: don’t feel bad, they’ve been dead a while. Also, with diamonds — it’s okay, it’s not a “conflict” if it’s from 1920.
      I am not sure how I feel about it. It’s a creative solution but I defintely feel that it still encourages the problem.

  12. If you are in the market for a small, vegan, very plain handbag, I can recommend this one from Kohls:

    http://www.kohls.com/kohlsStore/womens/handbagswallets/hobos/PRD~291373/Relic+TopZip+Hobo.jsp

    Don’t be fooled by the price. The material is a pebbled matte finish, very soft and supple, not stiff, shiny, and plasticky like many non-leathers. Right now, it comes in black and brown, but the colors change by season. I own it in orange and spring green as well as black. Because, you know, it is less expensive than the wallet I put inside it, so buying three was a no-brainer for me.

  13. Are vegan shoes suitable for women with really sweaty feet? How about people prone to athlete’s foot?

    • Legally Blonde :

      Bear with me, but I have been a non-leather wearing vegetarian for over a decade, so this is my topic ;).

      1) My feet sweat like crazy (sorry if TMI) but no more in my vegan shoes than in the leather shoes I bought before I went veggie.

      2) Also, as far as quality, I have several pairs of under $100 shoes from places like Neuaura and I have been complimented on them several times. I like to subtly spread the veggie message, so I usually mention where I got them from and that the company sells only vegan products. People are normally shocked that they are not leather.

      3) For a professional vegan tote bag, I have, and love, this:
      http://www.veganchic.com/products/Vegan-Professional-Briefcase+68307-0015.html

      4) Finally, there is a blog for professional vegans. The blogger has corporette in her blogroll list. She doesn’t post much, but there is a lot of good info in the old posts. Google professional vegan blog.

  14. anon -- San Francisco :

    Don’t know what your budget is, but Stella McCartney makes some absolutely stunning non-leather shoes and bags. They are pricey though, as much as Jimmy Choo, Gucci, etc. The pieces I’ve seen are amazing, obviously at that price they don’t have a cheap PVC look. A friend of mine has 1 bag and two pairs of heels, and says they have held up well.

  15. As an econ major, I always felt less guilty buying leather from goodwill or wearing my aunt’s fur trimmed coat from 1964 than I did buying new things. On one hand, by not buying new, you can say you are not contributing to demand (and therefore not triggering production since production is the harmful part). However, I also felt that by wearing a fur coat, leather or what have you, I was endorsing the wearing of such things, and therefore theoretically contributing to demand (because I am such a fashion icon, and people imitate me, hahha!) . I feel the same way about wearing fakes….because if it’s a good fake no one’s supposed to know, right? So it remains a dilemma for me. What I will say, though, is if it’s a choice between REALLY high quality leather that will last for years vs something cheap and plastic that you’ll have to replace and throw in a landfill, the leather is probably a better choice, environment-wise (discounting the animal cruelty bit for now) in the grand scheme when you count the damage done by sourcing/producing the materials, manufacturing the shoe/bag, transporting it to the store, etc….but who can really know for sure? As for animal cruelty, yes, it is cruel to kill a cow to use its skin for shoes, but what about all the animals who will benefit from a cleaner planet? these are the things that torture me, personally, when shopping (when I take time to think about them anyway. )

    Well, thanks for letting me ramble, ladies! Had a cocktail or two after a HUGE federal filing so please be forgiving at lucidity problems. : )

  16. anon - nyc :

    I really like Matt and Nat and I’m not even vegetarian.

  17. Thanks for this post! I have the burgundy Troubador “glazed fabric” tote from Crystalyn Kae (http://www.crystalynkae.com) that I love. Not all of the bags are vegan, but there’s a whole section, and they’re lovely. I’ve used it almost daily for two years and while it’s showing a little wear around the edges, it’s held up surprisingly well. Plus, it’s hand washable — useful when I’ve had a few leaking food container situations!

    The MIA brand of shoes also uses all manmade materials. I’ve been eyeing this pair in grey: http://www.zappos.com/mia-riza. And they’re much cheaper than the designer lines!

  18. Am I a fraud because although I ove animals and am VERY passionate about their rights, I still use and will continue to use leather products?

    • I don’t think you are a fraud. I am mostly vegetarian (I still eat some seafood, but no meat or poultry), but I continue to use leather. I don’t eat meat because I really can’t stand what industrial farming of animals does – to the environment and to the animals themselves. But, as long as there is a demand for animal products, there will be by-products, and leather is one such by-product. It is also longer-lasting and better quality than anything you could substitute for it, which means I will buy less and waste less in the long run.

      My hope is that, eventually, the demand for meat will go down and there will be less industrial farming. That means there will be fewer by-products, and leather products will ultimately cost a lot more. So, I will ultimately have to be more selective about what I want to spend money on, as far as leather goes, but I’m okay with that. We should have to pay a lot more for animal products than we currently do, if they were being created in a responsible way.

      Maybe I’m a fraud, too, but that’s how I rationalize it.

      • I don’t want to say that you are “frauds,” but I think that this is an illogical position to take. Of course animal skins will continue to exist as long as people are purchasing and consuming animal flesh, but just as equally, animal flesh will continue to be produced just as long as people are purchasing animal skins. Animal flesh and animal skins are just two products of the factory farming industry. Saying that it is OK to buy leather because leather will exist as long as people eat meat is equivalent to saying that it is OK to buy bacon, because bacon will exist as long as people buy ham. However, in reality, by buying leather, you are subsidizing factory farms in the exact way as people who buy meat do, and in fact by giving factory farms an additional source of profit, you are enabling them to sell meat at a lower price and still break even–which in turn allows people to buy more meat. So your leather purchases ultimately result in the death of more animals.

  19. I don’t wear leather, either, and have not had much trouble finding professional-looking shoes. I wear a lot of Lifestride, as they make a great selection of non-leather shoes, both fabric and faux leather. I am wearing right now very cute red patent, pointy-toe sling backs that get lots of compliments (and were even on sale at DSW). Note, the “Lifestride.com” website does not necessarily carry the full line; I also buy from zappos, shoes.com and Rogan shoes. I have found great briefcases and totes at Target and Kohl’s, although admittedly they don’t wear as well as leather.
    And without getting too deep into the debate on the environmental effects of petroleum-based products v. animal-based items, I will say that I am in the process of editing a book about the environmental, health and societal effects of the large-scale use of animals for food and commodities, and most people would be truly shocked. The need for vast amounts of land to raise cows and other animals and to grow feed for them instead of food for people has been responsible for most of the rainforest destruction and has pushed countless people off their land. CAFOs — factory farms — and slaughterhouses are horrific both for the animals and the people who work there. And the raising of cows — including the methane they produce, the petroleum fertilizers needed for feed, the fuel used for transportation, the waste produced and the consumption of water — has an enormous environmental impact.

  20. I am a vegetarian in diet – but not in fashion. I opt for fabulously fabric handbags. Kate Spade is my fav in that regard.

    As far as shoes go though, I have a very difficult time finding/liking non-leather professional shoes. All of my work heels are leather or patent leather (patent is still from cows, right?).

  21. Try terra plana, they’re not all vegan (the greenpeace line is, and the vegan shoes are clearly marked on their website). The vegan shoes aren’t made with pvc and they do have some nice, professional options. They’re also very comfortable. I’ll also second (third, fourth?) the matt & natt and stella mccartney recommendations, both make great products that hold up well (I have 2 pairs of stella mccartnety heels that are over 5 years old and still going strong). Olsen haus shoes are also very comfortable, and madden girl is a good option if you want something trendy.

  22. Aimez-Moi :

    Quote from OP: “I’m having a hard time figuring out a way to replace leather, especially for shoes and purses”

    I hope she’s not saying that she’s replacing all her leather items in her wardrobe now she’s vegetarian. Because that’s not helping the environment at all. Leather will wear longer than Non-Leather, and replacing what you currently have so you can “look ethical and environmentally aware” means your current leather products will go to landfill, there is more production hurting the environment to create new products for you, and really, it just seems to be more mindless consumerism.

    Please tell me I miss-read her comment.

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