Katleen Baum and her twin sister Liesbet run georgette, an online and real world shop in Antwerp which specialises in animal friendly footwear. The website is a delight. Handily written in English, you navigate with a flea circus and clicking on a link can give you a nice surprise. Oh, and the shoes are great too. Here Katleen spoke to Life Goggles about reconciling veganism with wearing leather.
“Ever since we were kids, we were always fascinated with fashion and shoes. And also with animals. From the moment we realised that the animal we saw in the country, ended up on our dinner plates, we did not want to eat it anymore. So we became vegetarian and evolved to veganism. No biggie, right? But as time progresses, you start to question other things…
Every vegetarian or vegan, some day, will be confronted with the same dilemma: how to reconcile a strict vegetarian-vegan diet with wearing leather?
Especially for fashion and shoe addicts like us, this is quite a hard nut to crack! So at first, you try to ignore the issue. It’s just too hard to find a nice nonleather shoe, right? But your conscience doesn’t leave you alone. So you start to do some research.
Apparently leather, as often stated, is not just a slaughterhouse byproduct, it is a booming industry. Wearing leather shoes contributes to factory farms, slaughterhouses and a lifetime of suffering for the animal. The meat and leather industry is no friend of the environment either. According to a UN report from November ’06, the livestock business is among the most damaging sectors to global warming and land and water degradation. Animal wastes, antibiotics, hormones, fertilizers and pesticides cause serious water and land pollution.
The process of turning animal skins into leather shares all the environmental destruction of the meat industry: dangerous mineral salts, formaldehyde, coal-tar derivatives, cyanide-based oils and dyes, chrome and other damaging products are used. Also the tanning is an intensive chemical process that causes toxic waste.
Fashion, for us, should be fun, not cruel, nor harmful…so the decision not to wear leather then came quite easily.
But where to find stylish, high quality shoes without leather? Most nonleather shoes have a bad reputation: they are ‘unfashionable’, from ‘poor quality’ and made with ‘cheap, exploited labour’. Encountering ‘stylish’, ‘high quality’ shoes that are ‘completely animal-free’ and ‘handmade in Europe’ seems not so easy!
After a long and unfruitful search for vegan shoes according to our strict demands, we decided to explore the shoe sector ourselves and investigate the possibilities. Many shoe factories believed we were crazy… quality shoes without leather? Impossible!
But after a while we were blessed to meet a few Italian and Spanish, mostly very small and family-run shoe companies who decided to give us a chance. We encountered nonleather materials that have evolved so much: they are soft, durable, absorbing, and gentle to the environment! They had nothing to do with cheap, unbreathing plastic (pvc) that is also highly polluting to the environment. Those new materials could be used for elegant, high quality vegan shoes…and georgette was born!
We named our shoe store after our grandmother Georgette. She always was a true shoe addict. We were always playing dress-up in her fabulous pumps and sandals. Now, she is 80 years old and she still wears ‘over the top’ stiletto-heels in lots of different colours and patterns. Our friends and family were convinced our shoe-obsession was of a genetical kind. Hence the name.
With georgette, we aim to prove that wearing high-quality and chic footwear can easily be combined with a compassionate lifestyle. Together with small family-run companies in Italy and Spain, we work out exclusive collections that are made in the best nonleather and eco-friendly materials, like natural fabrics and luxurious Italian faux leathers. Super-stylish, animal-friendly and 100% sweatshop-free!”
Again the website is www.georgette.be and I can’t wait for them to start doing men’s shoes too.