As consumers become more educated about healthier eating choices, Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart hopes they will go farther and start asking where, how and with what their clothes are made. As the founder of Vaute Couture, an entirely vegan fashion company, she bucks the longstanding trend of wearing leather and fur and gives like-minded individuals other options to be trendy as well as cruelty-free. Although Vaute Couture is a new company, started in 2008, it has already attracted the notice of major industry insiders, celebrities and fashionistas the world over.
Vaute Couture debuted a ready-to-wear line this week at New York Fashion Week, marking the first all vegan/animal rights label to show there. “I can’t wait to show the fashion world that there is absolutely no reason to wear animals again,” Hilgart wrote in a post on The Kind Life, Alicia Silverstone’s vegan site, where she is a guest contributor.
Hilgart’s solo show went far beyond choosing not to eat meat or wear fur as part of a vegan lifestyle. The event was sponsored by the Humane Society of the United States, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and other major animal rights activists. The models’ makeup and hair was done using all vegan products, vegan bakery treats were provided and instead of leather handbags as accessories, models carried adoptable puppies. A photo booth at the event let guests pose with signs such as “Want to Adopt?”
Hilgart got her start in the fashion industry after becoming frustrated that she could not find a warm vegan coat made of high quality materials. On break from working towards her MBA at DePaul University, she was in Hong Kong on a modeling contract with Ford Models when she decided to turn her passion into a career. She quit college and modeling, devoting the next 8 months to researching vegan fabrics on her quest to make a warmer-than-wool coat using sustainable, vegan materials. Months later, she launched Vaute Couture.
From outerwear, Hilgart when on to expand her brand to t-shirts, many emblazoned with slogans like “I Can’t Even Look At You In That Fur” and “For the Love of Dog, Adopt.” Her first full ready-to-wear line that debuted at Fashion Week includes sweaters, tops, dresses, skirts and pants and her signature coats, as well as pieces for men. Recycled Thinsulate, organic cotton, metallic vegan leather, recycled satin and waxed canvas were just some of the fabric offerings debuted at the show.
The clothes are typical of high fashion prices, with a coat running $200 at the cheap end and sweatshirts offered at $64.
“I’ve always cared a lot about the earth too, so I also work hard to innovate in sustainability, and use a lot of recycled, recyclable, closed loop, zero waste, and organic fabrics, and also we make almost everything locally in the NYC fashion district. My cut and sew team is comprised of amazing people that I see and know personally. Of course, this isn’t cheap, but it’s important to me that the people who make my coats are able to afford to live in the same city I do, and I won’t make a cheaper coat so that someone can afford it if it means it’s not fair to the workers,” Hilgart explained on The Kind Life.
The fashion community has taken notice of Vaute Couture, hopefully inspiring a larger movement to ethically-made fashion. The line can be found at vautecouture.com.
Written by Sarah Shultz for Diets in Review
Photo from Vaute Couture's website