Hell for leather: why vegan fashion could be the next big thing

Fashion brand Esprit is extending its first line of vegan sneakers, following an overwhelmingly positive consumer response.

The women's shoe line, which debuted last summer, now comprises 25 different styles and includes ballet flats, sandals and loafers in addition to trainers.

Approved by the animal rights organization PETA, the shoes are made from animal-free fabrics that have a smaller carbon footprint than materials requiring factory farming -- a practice that often results in environmental devastation. As well as being "greener" than leather, vegan materials also spare animals castration, branding, tail-docking and other practices deemed cruel by the organization.

The shoes' tags, printed in English, French and German, read: "This product has been designed to be kind to animals. It is vegan approved by PETA, meaning that no animal has been involved in the production of this product."

"With PETA's support, we can bring more transparency to conscious consumers and hope to further expand this collaboration," says Martin Krist, Global Business Manager Shoes, Esprit.

Meanwhile PETA UK Associate Director Mimi Bekhechi says: "The success of Esprit's vegan designs is proof of the enormous demand from consumers around the world for sustainable, animal-friendly fashion."

The news is the latest confirmation that vegan fashion is slowly but surely becoming more mainstream. Led by industry pioneers such as Stella McCartney, famous for eschewing leather in her luxury collections, the trend for sustainable and ethical garments is present in all areas of the industry -- and making an impact on the designs. Earlier this year McCartney -- previously against the promotion of what she referred to as "the look of fur" -- added faux fur to her pre-fall presentation for the first time, proving that the materials and techniques have evolved sufficiently for this to now be classified as a luxe look.

In the same way that faux fur is now de rigueur, attitudes to leather are changing with a proliferation of players offering designs for various styles and budgets. Fashion-forward newcomers making the trend chic include Wilby, an upmarket British brand specializing in vegan leather bags and totes, while established brands such as the Canadian studio Matt&Natt and the UK-based Beyond Skin continue to go from strength to strength.

Esprit's "PETA-Approved Vegan" designs are available to buy online at esprit.co.uk or at select Esprit stores.

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