When you think of the term "vegan," you might automatically associate the word with a type of diet, but the classification also applies in fashion, with trendy outfits and accessories made of animal-free materials and, importantly, using fair-trade methods.
Jill Spiritus and her sister Tracey Spiritus, founders and owners of the all-vegan accessories e-store CompassionCoutureShop.com, explain the philosophy behind vegan fashion: "The term 'eco-friendly' gets thrown around carelessly these days, and its meaning is not always transparent. To us, it means being conscious that everything we do has an impact on the environment and taking action toward benefiting the environment or toward reducing environmental damage.
"Each label that we sell on our site incorporates this value into their production from a unique perspective -- e.g., using low-impact dyes, biodegradable materials, using recycled fabrics, making sure their products are made under fair trade standards. Our mission is to show shoppers that you can have 100 percent cruelty-free and eco-friendly fashion-forward handbags, shoes and accessories without sacrificing your sense of style or quality."
With vegan accessories, it's more than the products being animal-friendly. Every step in their creations also adheres to ethical vegan practices. Even the glues, threads, buckles and ties of a vegan accessory are made with animal-free materials.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals explains the horrific practices implemented to harvest leather, down, even silk (such as silkworms being gassed) and the harsh realities of the materials-gathering process -- not to mention the health dangers to humans who work in or live near tanneries and other production facilities -- often spur fashion-seekers to explore cruelty-free products.
In the fashion world, where you might see accessories made of leather, suede, python or calfskin, the new world of vegan accessories offers equally trendy pieces in pleather and other faux materials that look every bit as stylish as their high-fashion counterparts. Celebrities often step out in vegan-wear, and several high-profile names wore eco-friendly outfits and accessories to the Academy Awards. Vegan styling has never been hotter.
Just what can you find among vegan accessories? Everything. Where can you find them? Everywhere, from specialty e-stores such as Compassion Couture, Vegan Chic and Alternative Outfitters -- just a few of the top vegan accessories shops on the market -- to high-end retailers such as Nordstrom to popular accessory e-retailers such as Zappos.com. The demand for vegan accessories has never been higher, as fashionistas wish to look their best, but not compromise their animal-friendly and fair trade belief systems.
--Shoes. You'll find vegan varieties in every style, from flats to wedges to pumps to thigh-high boots. At Compassion Couture, the Kailia style of pump features a very fashion-forward hidden interior 1-inch platform to add extra height, but the shoe is made from biodegradable microfiber suede. The site's olsenHaus Angel shoe in leopard features a sky-high 4-inch heel and is made of leather-free suede.
These fashions are indistinguishable from the non-vegan shoes worn on fashion runways. Other shoes in vegan-wear include clogs, strappy evening heels and even shoes for children.
--Handbags. Vegan handbags run the gamut from clutches to satchels, shoulder bags, hobos and totes, with designer-style accents and composed of animal-free materials. One example is the Reveal Piuola Clutch at CompassionCoutureShop.com, made from plush, animal-friendly suede manufactured from post-consumer recycled plastic bottles, vegan leather, satin made from post-consumer recycled bottles, 100 percent recycled polyester tape and 30 percent recycled metal slider.
At Vegan Chic, handbags include handled clutches reminiscent of top-name designer styles, as well as vegan laptop bags. Compassion Couture features a stylish purple iPad clutch with all-vegan elements.
--Belts. From skinny belts to standard 1.25-inch belts for women and men, pleather belts offer the same muted or shiny texture as their leather counterparts, in black, brown or colored shades using vegan-standard dyes. At Alternative Outfitters, the Vegan Collection Garrison style ($26) rivals any designer belt in appearance, and the reversible black- and brown-sided belts give twice the wear.
--Other products. As you look through vegan accessory offerings, you'll find wallets, watches, jewelry, hats, scarves, gloves and more fashion accents, all comprised of cruelty-free materials from top to bottom, inside and out.
PETA makes your search a little easier by providing an extensive list of cruelty-free, vegan companies and e-stores: http://www.peta.org/living/fashion/cruelty-free-clothing-guide-vegan-companies.aspx.