As the vegan lifestyle merges into the mainstream, fashion designers who appeal to that market strive to grow their business to the next level with venture capital and an organized supply chain. At a panel hosted by PETA on Tuesday night in Los Angeles, designers from Vaute Couture, Delikate Rayne, Nicora Shoes and Susi Studio shared their strategies for sticking to their ethos of eschewing animal-based products while tapping into conventional business practices adopted by the apparel industry.
For Vaute’s Leanne Mai-lay Hilgart and Nicora’s Stephanie Nicora, meeting with venture capitalists for their respective Series A funding is a new routine. Susi’s Bianca Moran is initiating research and development in Piñatex, a leather made of pineapple, to supplement the recycled plastic she uses in her shoes. Until Piñatex is available in a grade appropriate for apparel, Delikate Rayne prefers mushroom leather as a water-repellant and biodegradable alternative to suede.
Innovative technology is elevating not only the materials supporting their designs but also their appeal to a mainstream audience, in particular investors.
“You lead with the beautiful product but you lean on the high tech if you want money,” said Nicora, who sources recycled textiles for her Los Angeles-made footwear from the same Massachusetts-based factory that sells to Mercedes-Benz and BMW. “The regular fashion industry is like your grandma’s Buick. But this is Tesla.”
Hilgart, who opened an early round of funding to her customers, aims to attract institutional investors who can fund a factory dedicated to manufacturing her clothes in the Midwest. The New York designer has channeled the potential of vegan fashion, offering swimwear made of fibers from recycled carpets and exploring bridal gowns in satin spun from recycled plastic bottles. “Luxury is innovation,” she said.
Owning stock in 50 companies across various industries, PETA has realized that gaining access to the annual shareholder meetings of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, Hermès International, Prada SpA and Lululemon is an effective strategy to push corporations toward animal-friendly practices. Moreover, it has begun pouring resources into studying the global supply chain from a vegan designer’s perspective. For the first time, it compiled a guide of vegan materials, along with a list of textile vendors such as EcoSimple from Brazil and Sommers Plastic Products in Clifton, N.J., made available to the few dozen attendees at its event, several of whom were fashion design students.
PETA plans to round up more designers who use Piñatex and feature them in a runway show highlighting spring 2018 collections at New York Fashion Week next September.
As Delikate Rayne cofounder Komi Vora reminded the crowd, “You can still be equally fashionable and compassionate at the same time.”