With veganism making a name for itself in the fashion industry over the past few years, stereotypes about hemp sweaters and shoes are falling by the wayside. To get a little industry insight, Vegan Mainstream recently spoke with Ashley Byrne, Senior Campaigner with PETA. Read on to see what Byrne has to say about recent fashion industry changes, animal cruelty practices, and the method behind the organization’s news-making campaigns.
Vegan Mainstream: What are the biggest changes you have seen in the vegan fashion scene in the past couple of years?
Ashley Byrne: In particular, what has really struck me is that vegan brands have become popular with mainstream shoppers in recent years. The biggest change is seeing how every day shoppers have really taken to vegan lines. For instance, the vegan coat and clothing line Vaute Couture opened up a shop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which is one of hottest areas in New York, and its been very busy and successful. And then Matt & Nat, a vegan bag and accessory line, is being sold in luxury department stores, and did a collaboration with Apple. Vegan fashion is not only being seen on the sidelines anymore.VM: Why do you think that is?
AB: Shoppers are becoming a lot more concerned and savvy about what they’re buying. We see it with everything from food to fashion. We see consumers wanting to buy compassionate products that are good for the environment.
I also think it has to do with the fact that vegan brands are so innovative and stylish, and they’re making such eye-catching products that anybody would be attracted to — and then when they find out they’re vegan it just opens their eyes to all the great options that are cruelty-free.
VM: Many of PETA’s fashion campaigns, like your “Stolen for Fashion” campaign, have been very controversial. Can you talk about why the organization takes that approach when it comes to fashion?
AB: We’re dealing with the fur industry, and companies using leather and skins, and they have an enormous advertising budget. We, on the other hand, don’t have a large budget and so we have to rely on getting our message out there in the media with campaigns that will drive people to our websites, where they can get more info and watch videos. It’s important for us to be provocative because it’s important for us to grab people’s attention, even without the budget like the industries we’re up against.
Also it’s important to be blunt about this, when we’re talking about something as severe as animals being anally electrocuted or having their skins ripped off while still alive—there is no way to sugar coat that.
VM: How would you say PETA has influenced vegan fashion over the years?
AB: In addition to the campaigns we work on to educate consumers, one of the most important things we’ve been doing, especially in recent years, is working with retailers and designers. We show them our undercover footage, and show them what the leather trade is like, what goes on with sheep when they’re used for wool, and then we work with them to move towards phasing out these cruel products and to use more compassionate practices. That has resulted in a range of companies that we have certainly influenced to go fur free like J Crew, Forever 21, Wet Seal, and more.
We’ve also had several companies pledge to stop using exotic skins, like H&M, Overstock.com, Nike, and Victoria’s Secret…. One thing we’ve also seen a lot of is big retailers pledging not to use Australian wool, where producers use a process called mulesing, which is especially cruel. Companies like the Gap and Abercrombie and Fitch have pledged not to use that wool.
Obviously, vegans understand why it’s important not to wear wool. But it’s important that the industry sees that more and more consumers don’t want to see animals suffering, so that they move toward more compassionate practices.
Another way that we have been helping vegan fashion is by partnering with some really great names. We launched an exposé about leather and the cruelty behind leather, with Stella McCartney. And we did an exposé with Tim Gunn on how animals suffer for their skin in the fashion industry. So many people who take a real interest in fashion watch Tim Gunn on Project Runway, so when they see that he is speaking out about cruelty, they are much more likely to listen.
We have so many more options now, from top designers to every day retailers—Urban Outfitters and even Jeffrey Campbell did a line of vegan shoes, and there are tons of websites out now. It’s very exciting and great that it’s so easy to be vegan and still be stylish.