The great fashionistas of the world have likely pondered how to maintain a vegan lifestyle, look stylish and cute, and keep the bank healthy. Simultaneously. Granted, it seems like an insurmountable challenge. However, it’s easy to do all three and more, when you are familiar with the how-to run-down.

A key thing chic style aficionados who dabble in veganism will frequently do is purchase goods from stores that don’t explicitly label their products are “vegan.” This might be your friendly local op shop, a thrift store, or a mainstream clothing empire. It means taking time to read labels because not every company makes their tags different for material origin (looking at you, handy yellow-tagged vegan Dr. Martens!). When you’re familiar with the names of animal materials and how to identify suede vs synthetic, and more, finding shoes without a generous green V printed on them is as easy as reading the back of your hand. Here are seven tips to level up your ethical shopping mastery.

7 Tips for Buying Cruelty-Free Shoes From Companies Without Vegan Labeling


1. Finding Skin and Fur-Free

Leather, suede, and fur and not desired by vegans, vegetarians, and ethics-conscious consumers. And, for good reason. These materials are the skin of animals, either from a tannery or fur farm. The production of said commodities is brutal and cruel. Many companies, cities, and countries are banning the sale or production of them altogether. However, it can be hard to identify whether shoes are made from an actual slaughtered animal or synthetic materials.

The secret, although it shouldn’t be kept, is in the lining. When a company is honest and takes a step towards transparency of production, it will insert a label on its shoes stating “genuine leather/suede/fur [part of shoe],” “authentic leather/suede/fur [part of shoe],” or “synthetic leather/suede/fur [part of shoe].” Synthetic means no animals involved. Genuine, authentic, or unspecified leather/suede/fur means from an animal. And sidenote, wool is also from an animal unless explicitly specified as cotton or synthetic-made. Plus, it’s not just shoes, the trick applies for most goods. When making quick decisions about whether or not to wear parts of an animal on your feet, this trick can quickly become your rule of thumb. Perfect for saving animals, cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and enriching your compassion.

2. Finding Animal-Free Glue

Although using animals to make glue is outdated and modern, plant-based practices are widely available, it’s still employed in the manufacturing of some goods – especially those from a company established decades ago. It’s made by boiling connective tissues found in skin, bone, and tissue together; it’s similar to gelatin. Horses, rabbits, and fish are prominently used.

The site My Non Leather Life queried the origin of mainstream shoe glue last year. It discovered a statement from vegan shoe store Pangea, of which had delved deep into the issue. “We have actually done quite a bit of our own independent research into adhesives, and have found that, while animal-based glues were indeed the standard in past decades, these days, the shoe industry as a whole uses synthetic adhesives almost exclusively. This is not due to ethical concerns, of course, but is the case simply because modern synthetic adhesives have become much more technically advanced than animal-based glues,” Pangea wrote.

“In particular, animal glues are less stable than synthetics and don’t stand up well to all weather conditions and lots of stretching, so they don’t work well for footwear,” Pangea continued. “We’ve been happy to learn that, these days, animal glues have actually been phased out of many industries, and are only commonly used for wood products and sometimes bookbinding.”

So, whilst we don’t recommend relying on trust when buying shoes not explicitly labeled as “vegan” to have animal-free glue, the more demand placed on synthetic shoes will make a drastic difference in manufacturers shifting to more cruelty-free goods. Sometimes, it is about practicality over pragmatics and if splurging hundreds of dollars for a pair of shoes is not on the cards but cheaper synthetic leather boots are, the decision is yours to make. Animal remnants lurking in glue should not be overlooked but where we can all find common ground is consuming with roots of empathy, in whatever form that may yield.

3. Read Label Symbol

Particularly when produced overseas or exported internationally, some companies will skip printing written labels for symbols recognized across the globe. These are rather synonymous with the material’s origin. It’s helpful to keep these in mind when consuming as relying on phrases may let you down. The symbols are a handy point of reference in anything from shoes to rugs.

The symbol for leather resembles a hide produced in a tannery. It’s a unique shape designed to outline the back of an animal with its head, tail, limbs, and extremities, removed. When you see this, it becomes apparent of its cruel status. It can also have a diamond inside, which symbolizes coated leather and is still from an animal. Suede will often employ the same symbol. Whereas, fur is likely to state whether it’s “fur,” “real fur,” or specify the species of animal the fur is from.

Ultimately, an economic-smart business will promote when it uses materials from an animal. For an elitist, material-focused demographic of fashion consumers, knowing their shoes or coat are authentic fur is a major selling point and therefore, businesses can increase the price of said products.

4. The Sniff Test (Yes, Really!)

This method isn’t the most scientific method of identifying leather vs synthetic materials but it’s something many consumers employ. It’s completed quickly and can be surreptitious if you’re sly with your nostril placement. Prior to reading labels, flagging staff over, or diving deep into the Internet, “the sniff test” can offer somewhat of an answer. Familiarize yourself with the smell of expensive leather, cheap leather, and synthetic materials. The chemicals, composition, and aroma of said materials will differ from company-to-company but you will notice a pattern after a while.

For example, leather has a very distinct smell, which is typically enhanced as the price increases. It’s musty, rich, heady, sweaty, and nostalgic if your elders had some well-worn leather garments or upholstery hanging around. Whereas, synthetic leather tends to smell like plastics, paint, and that overpowering “new” aroma you desire to air out for a few days following the purchase.

So, train your sniffer for a first impression informal identification of materials. If you suspect it’s genuine leather-free, dive into further vetting.

5. Ask Staff

With the behemoth popularity of veganism, cruelty-free, and ethical lifestyle nowadays, you won’t be the only shopper asking about the materials of footwear or other garments if it isn’t explicit. Chances are, staff may well have had this customer query previously and could already be clued-up about what their store’s material origins are.

Whether you specify to sales assistants that you’re in the market for vegan-friendly shoes from the get-go or enquire after coming up short on the labels front, the employees are there to help you as the customer and likely want to do this to cement the sale. Approach with confidence in your request but not to the point of intimidation. You’ll be more likely to be taken seriously and divulged the answers you need about what materials make the shoes, stat.

6. Scan the Barcode

There is a range of mobile phone applications available, many of them are free of charge, which identity accidentally or intentionally vegan products. Whether you scan the barcode or search up the name, these apps will cut your own searching and save you time if the shoes you’re pining for are listed. Is It Vegan? Is helpful and favored by many ethical shoppers. There are many more apps available, find the one/s that works for you and use it at your own volition.

7. Search the Internet

They say to save the best for last, right? The Internet is your oyster, for lack of a more vegan-friendly phase. From websites that are a mecca of how to live kindly to extensive articles covering a roundup of best-ever vegan shoes and a list of companies offering compassionate and sustainable footwear, the Internet is a weird, wonderful, and wild place.

There is an abundance, overhaul, and ocean of help, tips, guides, tricks, and more available from the comfort of your own home or any mobile device with Internet connectivity. You can tap in a quick search whilst in-store, in-line, browsing, or sipping on your soy latte. Wherever and whenever there are those major four bars signaling that you’ve got a connection, you’ve instantly got access to a great resource. Use the Internet for all your shoe material questions, perhaps it’s even listed on the store’s website!

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7 Tips for Buying Cruelty-Free Shoes From Companies Without Vegan Labeling
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7 Tips for Buying Cruelty-Free Shoes From Companies Without Vegan Labeling
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Forget stressing about how to identify the material origin of shoes without a vegan label; these cruelty-free tips are here to help.
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LIVEKINDLY
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