When I was in junior high school and first became vegan, finding vegan versions of leather shoes seemed terribly important.
After much searching and several rounds of research in the veggie community of zines, newsletters, and small catalogs, I finally found a pair of non-leather Nike sneakers. Why I wanted Nikes is lost to history (these days I would rather be shot), but I guess they were cool at the time, possibly in a sort of “Back to the Future” way, ugg. Because I was known around my school as an irritating vegetarian – a reputation well-deserved – everyone assumed they were leather and constantly pointed out this perceived flaw until I wrote “not leather!!!” on the side with a Sharpie. (I was a big fan of writing on one’s shoes and still have to struggle not to indulge, actually.)
Then I found Vegetarian Shoes, the first vegan shoe company I had ever heard of. I saved up my after school job cash, pored over the UK catalog and ordered a pair of non-leather Doc Martin-type boots that had a prominent cloth tag on the back that read “Vegetarian Shoes” where the typical Doc Martin tag would be. This pleased me greatly and though the shoes always gave me terrible blisters and never wore in, I wore them for several years. Next I went through a 7- year phase of wearing nothing but low-top black, green, or red Converse Chucks. When I went to college in upstate New York (that’s what I called it then – now that I live in upstate New York I would call Rochester “western New York”) I packed only Chucks, never having seen snow and not fully understanding that low-top Chucks don’t really cut it when there is 6 feet of snow on the ground.
I quickly discovered that I have a medical condition called Reynaud Syndrome whereby my feet are in unbearable pain if not properly taken care of during the winter, but I gamely kept on with the Chucks for the first year, constantly adding more and more pairs of thin socks and leaving my dorm room less and less. I think I thought that boots just weren’t my style. Finally I broke down and ordered a hideously ugly pair of boots from Vegetarian Shoes, which lasted amazingly long and kept my feet fairly pain-free.
After college a vegan shoe store opened up in New York, where I was working at the time, and browsing through it and the internet I learned that while I hadn’t been paying attention an entire universe of amazing non-leather vegan shoes had opened up. At first I wanted every cute leather-looking shoe I had deprived myself of for 10 or so years, but these days I’m a little wary of the fake leather shoe industry, and I wonder what other vegans (or, I guess, non-vegans) think about it?
When I was in my annoying-vegan phase I went to demonstrations every weekend – pet stores that bought puppies from puppy mills, department stores that sold fur, Cattleman’s Association conferences (this one found me wearing a hilariously hideous rubber chicken suit. Someone from the local paper took a picture that ended up on the front page of the Lifestyles section of Sunday paper. I’m standing next to my mother, who is wearing a “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian” shirt. This only boosted my already soaring high school popularity.).
Everyone at a demo knew that wearing leather shoes only incites more insults from passersby, and most people were vegan anyway, so our sad little Keds and falling-apart no-name canvas sneakers were a badge of pride. These days I’m sure things are more difficult because most vegan shoes look so much like leather.
I never go to demonstrations anymore – I think they’re pretty much useless, actually – and I don’t really talk to the kind of people who aren’t vegetarian or would make fun of me for wearing leather shoes, but I still sort of think it’s my responsibility to maintain appearances and not walk around town in pair of leather boots, or even boots that look leathery. Mostly it’s just that I hate having those stupid “they aren’t actually leather” conversations.
But things are changing. Incrementally, I’m allowing myself to see the gray areas of the world.
In college a vegan friend of mine would wear second hand leather shoes, and I always thought it was vaguely unvegan – wasn’t the point of being vegan that people would know you were vegan?
No, no, Lagusta, no. As you can tell, even in college I was an annoying vegan. These days my veganism sort of embarrasses me – not because I’m embarrassed to be vegan, but because when it comes up it’s so embarrassing for me that other people aren’t vegan. They don’t know enough to be embarrassed, so I have to be embarrassed for them, and have to listen to their sad little “I don’t eat red meat” disclaimers. The whole thing is just humiliating.
As I gradually relinquish the need to proclaim my veganism to the universe – I wouldn’t currently be caught dead wearing that once super-cool Atari-esque shirt up there out of the house – my ban on secondhand leather decreases. The other day I found 5 pairs of leather shoes at Salvation Army in my size, all relatively lovely, at least for $3 each, and I bought all of them with only the tiniest bit of hesitation. (It just occurred to me that most people – possibly even most vegans – think there is something weird about buying shoes from The Salv, but it’s never bothered me. You will be happy to know that I draw the line at underwear.)
All those leathery vegan shoes are all made of plastics and chemicals, and I’m just a secondhand shopper. I hate the bad karma that comes with buying something new, and though I buy far more pretty trinkets than I would like, I know that I buy much less than the average American.
I own many pairs of cute cheapie Vans-type slip ons, and last year I went on a horrible Crocs binge – I swore I would never buy such horrid shoes, but have you seen their “prima” style? It’s mad cute, yo. And $24 a pair! And, though they are made in China, made of plastic, and don’t come in half sizes so I need to warm them in the dryer for 20 minutes (NO MORE) before my size 8.75 feet can fit into them without horrible pain – I own four pairs.
Oh, they also do this thing where they cause me to trip all the time, and last year in Australia I tripped and broke my foot because of them, but I still wear them.
A friend recently called them “the iphone of shoes,” and I must agree. These days I mostly use them to decorate the house, as wearing them in the summer not only looks hideous with hairy legs, but is also extra tortuous because of the heat. (In non-summery seasons, I wear them with tights, and yes, I’m doing just what I always vowed not to do with the blog, but oh well!)
Doesn’t this little tableau remind you of that scene in “Me, You, and Everyone We Know” where the character played by Miranda July draws faces on her shoes and makes them flirt with each other?
OK. You can’t really tell from this photo, but the green of these shoes perfectly matches the green of the stairway paint (zero VOC! Even the varnish stuff!)…and in the daylight it looks pretty, or, well I think so. And that’s why those shoes have to live on the stairs, as I have explained to my sweetheart numerous times and I think he still thinks they are clutter that I refuse to pick up. Aesthetics, yo!
Clearly, I am not perfect, in the shoe department or any other. I intended to sit down and write about how plastic shoes are ridiculous for a zillion reasons, but then I remembered the Crocs, took a few deep breaths, and tried to make my peace with imperfection, my own, the world’s etc.
Is wearing secondhand leather shoes on about the same planet-killing plane as Crocs? I would think Crocs and other new plasticky shoes are much, much worse, especially when the environmental costs of transporting, marketing, and selling them are factored into it. So I’ll try to stick with my second hand closet, filled with lovingly reclaimed clothing with minimal carbon offsets behind it.
But I still love the way those labia-pink Crocs look on that pink carpet. Sigh.