Behind the Brand: V.GAN

Shopping for vegan shoes used to be a dilemma. A few years ago, refusing to wear leather could land you in tricky territory: you were either stuck with shiny, plasticky PVC that would break after a season or so, or forced to fork out immense sums of money for a better made option. Not so today: more brands than ever offer affordable, durable footwear that isn't made from leather. One of those labels is V.GAN, a UK-based footwear brand dedicated to creating high-quality shoes that don't cost the Earth – in any sense. We talked to co-founder Derrick Hoyle about what makes V.GAN a winner.

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

 “V.GAN is the culmination of nearly three decades of a passion my co-founder, Marcel Bordon, and I have for creating quality footwear,” says Derrick. “In that time, we have designed, manufactured and sold millions of pairs of shoes for multiple globally recognised brands.” 

 After a long career in the footwear industry, Derrick noticed a shift in the industry – and found himself questioning how he could be a part of it. “The whole world has become fully aware of the direct impact fashion choices are having on the planet, both from an animal welfare perspective and climate. Personally, I had to look within myself and see what I could do with all of this industry knowledge to impart change regarding animal welfare.”   

Vegan options were around at the time of Derrick's change of heart. But he found that they were missing out on crucial aspects.

“In 2017, I became frustrated about the lack of fashion forward, well made, and well-priced vegan footwear. I recognised a couple of global brands who had produced a limited number of 'vegan' designs, but it was in conjunction with, not instead of their larger leather portfolios.”

This might indeed alienate vegan consumers, many of whom don't want to support retailers who also sell animal skins. But crucially, Derrick had honed in on an important factor: “Worse yet, the vegan styles they were offering were priced at a healthy premium above their leather offerings.”

He decided to do better: “Knowing the inner workings of the footwear industry and sourcing, this market and pricing approach made no sense to me. I was convinced that a fully vegan lifestyle brand could be developed and be successful without the financial support of non-vegan offerings. Based on my industry experience and network, I knew that Marcel and I were the ones that could do it. We simply wanted to offer the world a brand that was, across the board, unconditionally vegan. We decided to make our first step towards a larger goal in the industry we knew best, and that was footwear.”

Derrick believes that his brand is a part of a wave of change that will ultimately lead to advancement for the greater cause of animal rights. He explains: “Animal hides are a crucial component in the economic model of farming. The more animal-based shoes we replace in the market with vegan shoes, the more this will weaken the traditional economic model for sourcing leathers.”

Optimistic about the future, he delves deeper into the numbers: “One hide makes approximately 18 pairs of shoes. As of this month, V.GAN has sold over 30,000 pairs of vegan shoes, thus 'saving' approximately 1,600 animals. In the grand scheme of the leather fashion industry, our achievement today is minuscule, but we’re certainly proud that we have started this journey.”

You might think that a brand called V.GAN will cater exclusively to vegans, but you'd be wrong. “For our first three years, V.GAN has been a brand for fashion forward and environmentally conscious pioneers,” says Derrick. “As we are a young brand without global awareness, all our customers up to the end of last year have been intentionally seeking vegan fashion options to add to their wardrobe. They became our ambassadors. But recently we noted that our customer has increasingly become mainstream. Our customers today may not live a fully vegan existence, but they like the designs of our shoes, boots or slippers – and learn that we are a vegan brand after the fact. That’s fine by us. We are happy to introduce converts!”

What's next in the pipeline for the brand? A lot, it seems: “We have just taken our next steps in our vision to be a multi-category vegan brand. A few weeks ago, we launched our “V.GAN CARE” collection, which is approved by PETA's Beauty Without Bunnies programme and offers unisex bath and body essentials such as hand and body wash, hand lotion, body lotion, shampoo and conditioner.”

Big things in the works for this young yet ambitious brand – watch this space.

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 photos courtesy of V.GAN

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