When I used to tell people I was vegetarian those who were more confrontational would point to my shoes or bag and ask why then did I wear leather? It wasn’t a stupid question and I often felt my answer was a little feeble when I explained that it was a by-product of the meat industry and so forth when on one hand I was saying that I did not support the meat industry. However I felt at a loss on what to do to overcome this as frankly, at that point, most vegetarian/vegan shoes were as ugly as hell and just looked cheap. I will come back to that in a moment.

One answer is that I tried to buy better quality and less. If you have seen the film Earthlings narrated by Joaquin Phoenix, http://earthlings.com/  you will have an understanding of how horrific the Indian leather industry is. The cows are treated worse than dirt, they look like racks of bones standing with pitiful patchy fur covering angular hips and shoulders and they are slaughtered in disgusting circumstances. This is because the leather is produced in mass and very cheaply. There is no care for the quality of the leather and it goes to make some of the cheap shoes and belts sold in places like Primark. I think it is fair to say that cheap come at a huge cost and so that pair of £20 shoes on your feet mean that animals suffered, cheap labour suffered and very soon that cheap pair of shoes will fall apart only for you buy another pair fuelling the cycle.

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I am not saying Italian leather is produced with no welfare issues but it does pride itself generally on being a better quality so one would hope more care goes into the cattle as the initial provider of that quality. Plus generally the shoes made out of this leather last longer meaning less cows have to die to keep providing shoes. Sadly it seems many high end designers are now sourcing the procurement and production of their leather goods in countries like China and India which might see their profits rise temporarily but will see the quality fall long-term.

Onto the fun stuff which is the solution to the vegetarian shoe conundrum!  At this time, late 2013 and early 2014, we have began to see some better options appearing. We have Stella McCartney designing some great faux leather and suede boots and by putting her little silver emblem on it she makes being ethical look cool and expensive. I bought these faux grey suede boots which can be worn up to the knee or slouched down. Lots of people have asked me where they are from and they seem to be lasting through all this rain. Her range can be found at http://www.stellamccartney.com/gb/women/shoes/

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Stella McCartney

Then there is Isabel Marant who, perhaps not as purposefully as Stella McCartney, produces boots in materials other than leather and suede and they look fantastic! Total cool girl, rock chick style. They are pricey and they look pricey but you can always cheat a bit like me and get them off Ebay! www.ebay.co.uk 

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The next options revolve around velvet, a sumptuous fabric which has been underused in the modern shoe world up until now. There are some gorgeous shoes around that use velvet with designers like Charlotte Olympia making them fun and stylish. Now I am going to get super excited as I mention Kitty flats because I love these shoes and am a very proud owner! Here are lots of pictures to show you just how cute they are!

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Made out of velvet, this whole range manages to be cruelty free, perhaps unintentionally but nonetheless you can definitely walk with a light hearted skip when you put these on. http://www.net-a-porter.com/Shop/Designers/Charlotte_Olympia

Then continuing on this velvet theme for a moment longer, Alexander McQueen has done a number of smoking slipper type shoes in plush velvet. Here is one example:

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Giuseppe Zanotti have done these:

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And before you point out I am only covering flats Alaia (praise be thy name!) have done a range of incredible studded velvet shoes with the highest of heels! When I wear mine I go from 5,9ft to 6,1ft!

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Before I stop, there is an important part of the market which I have not touched on and that is affordable ethic! It has not escaped my notice that the shoes I mentioned above are all high end designer items with RRP of around £500+. You can do what I do and buy from Ebay or Outnet which is where I got the Alaias from for half of their usual price but they still won’t be cheap. The solution to this is somewhat surprising but it is H&M that come to the rescue! They are doing a wide range of shoes in faux leather and suede including boots.  Have a look at these http://www.hm.com/gb/product/17847?article=17847-B I have a couple of pairs and a friend of mine has bought boots from there and says they are good. Certainly they are as good as any of the other real leathers ones they are selling.

If you do need to buy leather just make sure it is good quality and that you look after them so you don’t need to buy endless pairs. I have Louboutins which are over 5 years old and they still look perfect as I clean them and store them in boxes. I think maybe in the future people will realise we don’t just have to stick to predictable leather and there are other materials to make shoes. Indeed the faux products are improving everyday with leather and fur.

Walk lightly with no heavy footprints across the world and no detrimental impact on man or animal.