Behind the Brand: Labante London

Accessories were among the early-adopter categories of vegan fashion. The first pioneering brands daring to veer away from the traditional beaten path of cow leather were often either shoe or handbag brands. Through the years, these brands have experimented with both their materials and their style, stepping cautiously into the mainstream. Among them, one has stood the test of time: LaBante London.

By Sascha Camilli: writer, speaker, activist and vegan fashion expert.

Founded in 2009 by former banking industry professional Vanita Badlani, LaBante has become the go-to vegan brand for those searching for a glamorous alternative to animal leather – a market that is growing by the minute.

Vanita's route into the world of vegan fashion was far from a traditional one. In fact, it began far away from the fashion industry. “My background is in investment banking; I lived in Chicago and then New York,” the entrepreneur tells Immaculate Vegan. “On paper, my life was perfect. I had a stunning designer apartment with river views in midtown Manhattan and earned great money working at one of the most prestigious investment banks in North America. However, the lack of work-life balance made it difficult to enjoy. I did not manage to visit Central Park during the time I lived in New York because of the hours I worked – despite it being only a few blocks from my apartment.”

In her search to connect to something more balanced and strive for a slower pace, Vanita left banking behind and moved to London. When her daughter was born, so was the handbag company LaBante – a name that comes from the Sanskrit word for “truly achieve”, and is connected to the concept of the circle of life. With this in mind, making the brand vegan was a natural choice: the entrepreneur became a vegetarian at 18 due to some harrowing experiences in her then-hometown of Mumbai.

“While walking to the bus stop to go to university, I would pass through the wet market where there was a live butcher shop – essentially a hack on the counter under which there are live animals, in this case chickens. If a customer walked into the store, the butcher would put his hand into the cage. At that moment, there would be a squawking shriek, only to be silenced by the hack of the butcher's knife. The sights, the sounds, the smell of the fear and blood was too much for me. I went vegetarian.”

Vanita combined her ethics with her skills and experience in creating fashion – she had been working in relatives' textile factories as a teenager, and remembering the amount of waste she had seen during her early start in fashion, she resolved to make things different with her brand. “My uncle had factories in South Africa, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and India,” recalls Vanita. “I got the chance to see first-hand the amount of waste created in the production process. This made me realise at a very early age that something needed to change and that when I work in fashion, I will be that change. The seed was planted.”

Years later, that seed got to grow into a beautiful plant as LaBante flourished. Despite some initial obstacles, like getting rejected for government funding to pay for the brand's first big order, LaBante pressed ahead and become one of the most well-established accessory labels on the vegan fashion scene. With their ethos of “Fashion with Respect”, the brand creates ethical accessories that never compromise on style, which is why they have been selected as “Vegan handbag brands to know about” by Marie Claire, and named some of the “Best luxury eco bag designs” by VOGUE, to name a few. LaBante also does their part to make the world a better place: recently, the brand sponsored the Jane Goodall Roots & Shoots Awards – a vegan handbag, a pair of sunglasses and a piece of jewellery were offered as prizes.

When it comes to materials, LaBante aims to put sustainability first. The brand is proudly vegan – rejecting leather for its exploitation of animals, but also for its devastating environmental impact. Recycled fabrics, alongside innovative materials such as apple leather, are among the biggest heroes in their material selection, ranging across bags, sneakers, and other accessories. And the brand never uses PVC – a particularly toxic material named one of the most polluting fabrics in the world by Greenpeace.

Why do fashionistas keep flocking to LaBante? Ethics aside, it's mainly due to their focus on keeping the glam factor unashamedly sky-high. “Our style is for anyone with a sustainable mindset, loves to wear beautifully and innovatively produced accessories,” says Vanita. She goes on to specify that the brand favours inclusivity: 'There is no fixed age group or gender. Anyone can pull off a LaBante accessory; you just have to care about the environment and love pretty things!”

And isn't that all of us?

By Sascha Camilli

About Sascha

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 LaBante London

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