LOS ANGELES — Mena Suvari, the actress known for both “American Woman” and “American Beauty,” was in the front row at last week’s first Vegan Fashion Week at the California Market Center, wearing a black textured patent-something cap with matching jacket and pants by Enda, along with “leather” shoes by a brand that bore the label Cult of Coquette.
Ms. Suvari, 39, has been vegan for the past two years, and it quickly dawned on her that this commitment involves not just food, but also clothes.
“I remember the moment where I was sitting with my $1,300 leather tote at Little Pine, Moby’s restaurant, and I felt like a jerk. I was like, ‘I can’t do this!’” she recalled. “I went home and got rid of everything in my closet, was left with two pairs of shoes and one handbag, and have worn cruelty-free fashion ever since.”
She has started an Instagram account devoted to the topic of vegan fashion, and said she recently met with a manufacturer and plans to start designing herself.
There were 54 vegan companies represented at the weekend-long event, which was organized by Emmanuelle Rienda, 36, a veteran of the fashion industry. “I was promoting fast fashion, the use of animal products, and selling a very large amount of leather goods to department stores.” Ms. Rienda said of her past life. She hopes to bring VFW to different cities.
Annika Snowden, 19, came from Apple Valley, Calif., an hour and a half away. “It’s either you go vegan and you’re kind of earthy or you drive yourself crazy reading labels and trying to find options in stores like H&M,” Ms. Snowden said.
She was pleased to have met a new designer, Anastasia Bones, 22. “She’s amazing!” Ms. Snowden said. “It’s alternative fashion, but it’s basic and she’s got a really positive vibe.”
The offerings of a company called Enda included faux shearling made with a multilayered acrylic fleece and a machine-washable wool-free tweed made in Italy. The brand’s founder, Ran Enda, 36, used to work at Ralph Lauren. “We used leather and fur a lot, and I was struggling because it really contradicted with what I believed,” she said.
Want to get married without cruelty? (To animals, anyway.) Johanna Ohayon Zenou, 27, a founder of JOZ Couture, a bridal and evening wear company in Paris, had a rack of wedding dresses made from recycled organic cotton and dentelle de Calais French lace on display.
Ms. Zenou said she has been busy dressing bridal parties for couples doing full vegan weddings. “We give them the chance to have the perfect outfit that they dreamed about,” she said.
And Ary Ohayon, 38, was promoting a vegan backpack brand, Arsayo. “It’s made with cork, an amazing material replacing leather,” Mr. Ohayon said. “It’s very ethical. The tree is not killed. You just take the skin off the tree.”
Many of the exhibitors started their lines within the last few years. But Rebecca Mink, a former fashion stylist, began her label, Mink, in 2000. In addition to creating small collections of fancy pumps and heels, she designs custom boots for vegan celebrities including Miley Cyrus: “snakeskin” ones for a “Saturday Night Live” appearance and shoes with gold cross heels for the Met Gala.
Ms. Mink is 48 and has noticed strong vegan interest from people half her age. “The younger generation wants to know where and how their products are being made,” she said.
Harley Quinn Smith, 19, an actress who stopped by, agreed. “Veganism has been such an underground thing for so long, something that people have misunderstood or just wanted to ignore,” Ms. Smith said. “Now there are so many of us, and we’re hard to ignore because we’re quite loud and very eager to make a difference in the world.”
But how do vegan brands show consumers that they are more than just second-rate, er, copycats of the animal-skin mainstream?
“In the past, we were calling it faux leather, but we don’t want to be faux or fake anything now,” said Silvia Gallo, 41, president of Jeane & Jax, a luxury vegan handbag company in Montreal. “When people look at our purses, they can’t tell if they are leather or not.”
After clearing the bar of veganism, which sometime involves synthetic fibers like polyester that take a lot of energy to create and don’t decompose easily, many companies are now turning to the concept of being easy on the environment.
New Rock, a footwear brand, will soon begin producing a new batch of shoes made with Piñatex, a sustainably sourced pineapple leaf leather alternative, and plans to experiment with coconut fibers for their inner soles.
“This will make us much more ecological,” said Nicolás Ortuño, 40, a worldwide sales manger at the company’s headquarters in Yecla, Spain.
At VFW, models strutted down the runway wearing Altiir’s flashy gold Piñatex biker jackets. Mink displayed sneakers made of corn plastic soles, and there was ample talk about a much-coveted material called Frumat.
Matea Benedetti, 43, a designer from Ljubljana, Slovenia, was one of the few on site already using the material, which is a made from apple-industry waste. Her red and white apple leather gown with a train elicited a roar of applause from the crowd as it sailed down the catwalk.
Next, Ms. Benedetti is hoping to experiment with orange fiber, a supple new leather alternative set to hit the market soon. “I’m waiting for when it will be ready,” she said, adding that she also has her eye on coffee-ground leather sourced from Asia.
Mushroom-root leather and a lab-grown biofabricated collagen cell leather, was also being discussed.
Oh, and speaking of Moby! What kind of Vegan Fashion Week would it be if the musician, 53, weren’t in the crowd?
Before arriving, he was wearing fuzzy socks and sweatpants watching “True Detective,” Moby admitted, not in the mood to “put on grown-up-person clothes” and come downtown.
“But if they are going to make the effort to have a Vegan Fashion Week,” he said, “I had to come.”
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