France is known for many things, but historically, vegan fashion hasn't always been one of them. The home of some of the world's most iconic fashion brands has always been big on animal skins – so starting a vegan shoe brand in France, before anyone else, was quite the challenge. But Marion Hanania did, and in doing so, changed a part of the French fashion landscape.
By Sascha Camilli: writer, speaker, activist, and vegan fashion expert.
Formerly a designer for some of the best-known quintessential “cool French girl” brands, including Isabel Marant, Marion carried her aesthetic flair into the creation of France's very first vegan fashion brand, Good Guys Don't Wear Leather, which was born in 2011. Moving away from animal-derived fabrics was one of Marion's goals. Another was to champion fair production. Her creations are all manufactured locally in Europe – mainly in Spain, Portugal and Italy – where fair-trade conditions are guaranteed.
Marion's road towards the creation of Good Guys began with a long career in fashion – with more than a few hints of glamour. At L'Ecole Duperré in Paris, she studied with designer Pierre Hardy. She moved on to be a stylist for magazines such as ELLE, Jalouse, and Bloom. Her big break in shoe design came when she won a European fashion design contest and got selected to present a complete collection of apparel and accessories at the Hyeres festival in 2005 “That's how I started my career as a shoe designer,” she recalls.”And I have never stopped since then.”
Her awakening, like that of so many of her peers, came while witnessing conditions in the industry. “I was working for a French shoe company that produced their shoes in China. My work was to create extensive collections of over 200 styles per season and travel to China to work with the suppliers. At that time, I was already vegetarian, and the mass-producing, working with leather, and witnessing working conditions that I found to be unacceptable were so many triggers that convinced me that I could do my own company that would suit my beliefs and ethics.”
Through the years, Good Guys Don't Wear Leather has gone from high to high. Marion's designs have graced the feet of Miley Cyrus, Emma Watson and Bryan Adams to name a few; the brand has won PETA awards and been featured in VOGUE, among others. “I am fortunate,” says Marion, “because I am still here after 11 years, and our progression was always steady.”
But alongside these many successes also came a few challenges – especially when it comes to the open-mindedness, or lack thereof, among Marion's fashion-industry peers. “ I was confronted with societal challenges from the start,” she remembers. “Good Guys is a woman-owned company in a business that sometimes seems archaic. Good Guys was the first brand of its kind, and most people I encountered at fashion fairs laughed at me for not using leather. I remember some higher-up at Louis Vuitton literally laughing in my face. That part has gotten better, I feel. People are more educated about veganism now.”
As veganism skyrockets, so does Good Guys' clientele. But Marion has never lost sight of the client she designs for. Especially as sometimes, her style is very close to home. “I would say my designs are very personal. I wear them constantly, but I force myself to keep them simple, timeless and elegant.” She also incorporates elements of her own style, passions and past into the designs. ”I sometimes love a very eccentric pair of shoes - colourful, embroidered, shiny. Shoes have always been my 'thing.' I remember one summer in the south of France, when I was about six years old. I was dancing during a party in a village and I was wearing golden ballerinas that I found on a market the same day. I couldn't keep my eyes off my shiny feet the whole night, and my family always joked about when I danced 'like the world didn't exist.'" Her influences are many, but one stands out: “What probably influenced me the most to design shoes was The Wizard of Oz and Dorothy's red slippers. I think I felt like Dorothy, dancing that night.”
What's a typical day for a vegan shoe designer? Marion's life sounds intense but dreamy: “I wake up around 6:30 am. I start with my breakfast: fresh orange juice, banana and avocado bowl, and so much coffee. Then I either go for a swim in the ocean or ride my bike to the harbour. Only then my productive day can start. I work in my studio as early as possible because I work with Europe and have lots of emails to answer daily. Then I have lunch and more work in the afternoon. When the work is lighter, I go to the pottery studio, where I create pieces for hours, or stay in my studio to paint or draw. Then I have dinner at home or outside, to watch the sunset. I try to balance Good Guys with my other passions and allow time for them.”
By Sascha Camilli
Sascha Camilli is a vegan fashion writer, speaker and activist. Her book Vegan Style is out now on Murdoch Books. For more about Sascha, you can read our interview with her. You can also follow her on Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.
All images by Yana Yatsuk
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