Valentine’s Day: The Ethical Edit

Since ye olden times, Valentine’s Day is a day to declare your undying love to your beau in a letter filled with sugary sweet romantic poetry, written in a medieval calligraphic scrawl. Nowadays on Valentine’s there’s less calligraphy and more emojis, but the affection is still there. If you’re all loved up, it’s a chance to treat your beloved (or be treated), and if you’re single, it’s a chance to profess your platonic love for a BFF with a cheeky box of chocolates to share. Whatever you’re doing, we have the ultimate guide for what to buy in time for Sunday…

Sweets for my Sweet

Pana Chocolate

Pana Chocolate is raw, organic, gluten-free, handmade and of course, totally vegan. They have two gift boxes designed with cupid in mind, packing some wildly delicious-sounding flavours. Now we’ve heard about their Sour Cherry & Vanilla flavour, it’s hard to stop thinking about it. Check out Pana’s different stockists in the UK right here.

Booja Booja

We’re diehard fans of Booja Booja, and we think Valentine’s is the perfect occasion for a box of their Fine de Champagne chocolate truffles. The only downside is you’ll have to share them, or actually let your beloved eat them all. In that case, it might be best to buy two boxes…

Ms Cupcake

You could even order some freshly baked cookies from the incredible vegan Ms. Cupcake. Of the cakes that they deliver the UK over, they have so many tasty treats, such as Mint Chocolate Chip, Black Forest and Salted Caramel Pecan. Sounds downright mouth-watering, right? Correct. After scrolling through a few of their rave reviews, we think anyone receiving some of these vegan treats will certainly be wooed.

Ethical Lingerie

Lingerie is often made with silk, and as you may already be aware, the production of silk often involves boiling or gassing silkworms alive in their cocoons in order to increase the amount of silk harvested, and also to cause the cocoons to unravel so the silk thread can be used. Because of this, the satins we use at Beyond Skin are made from polyesters, so are 100% cruelty-free. But where to find ethical lingerie?

Luva Huva

One company, Luva Huva, uses bamboo, organic cotton, vintage lace, soy and hemp fabrics to create some of their sweet lingerie, which is all sewn in their studio in London. We dig their commitment to stylish ethical and sustainable fashion, so we recommend having a flick through their collections this Valentine’s.

The Most Romantic Gift We Could Think Of

Beyond Skin Vegan Vegetarian Shoes Boots Heels SS16 New Collection

We racked our brains trying to think of the best Valentine’s gift imaginable, and after much careful deliberation, we concluded wholeheartedly that it would of course be a pair of our stunning vegan shoes. We have a selection of new shoes now available for pre-order, so it might be worth dropping a few hints to your partner asap! Our India platform sandals in navy floral ooze summery vibes, our Tommy nude sandals are the ideal match for pretty painted toes, and our Molly heels in faux snakeskin would give a cool edge to your workwear. Don’t forget, you can order some of our shoes in smaller in larger sizes.

Date Night Outfit

Beyond Skin Vegan Vegetarian Shoes Boots Heels Molly Gold

If you are out on the town on Sunday, here’s a little inspiration for an ethical and cruelty-free outfit to don.

The Whiskey Dress in black is a vintage twist on the LBD, with a sweetheart neck cut-out, puff shoulders and flared skirt. One neat thing Reformation does is tell you how much water and CO2 you saved by buying from them taking into consideration the entire supply chain of the garments. This particular dress saves 64 gallons of water. Sweet!

A black dress is the perfect match for Molly, our vintage Mary-Jane court shoes in gold. We use PU (polyurethane) faux leather, and as we explored in our recent blog about the pros and cons of real versus faux leather, leather is much thirstier industry than PU. So these heels will also be saving water in style.

The clutch is by vegan bag brand Melie Bianco, in deep orchid with a gold metal detail. Like us, they value high quality faux leather, and this bag is a case in point. The gold complements the shoes and the necklace, and could be matched with a similarly deep red lipstick for the full effect.

The bold necklace is by Made, designed and handmade in Kenya. Made seeks to create gorgeous jewellery using traditional, time-honoured skills, earned by talented artisans. They pride themselves on providing a safe working environment, long-term job security and training for their staff, to create sustainable jobs for those working in Kenya. They use reclaimed brass sourced locally to the area, in order to strengthen the local economy and empower small businesses, and in an effort to recycle materials. This necklace is beautiful inside and out.

Images: Reformation, Made, Melie Bianco, Luva Huva, Pana Chocolate, Booja Booja, Ms. Cupcake.

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Leather versus Polyurethane: An Ethical Dilemma

With the animal cruelty issue aside, as a vegan brand we are continually asked the same question: vegan shoes are great, but which is worse for the planet – faux or real leather? 

There is a huge amount of contradictory discussion on whether faux leather is or isn’t more eco-friendly than its real leather counterpart,so as a result it has become hard to discern the more detrimental. So let’s explore the pros and cons of both materials…

Faux

PU regularly comes under fire for its raw material being derived from a petrochemical (fossil fuel) and therefore not being environmentally sound, yet the main and rapidly growing arguments against animal hide is the dubious environmental and ethical standards along with their huge resource consumption.

Of course, every manufactured product inevitably has an environmental cost, and there is a myriad of aspects to every stage of both leather and faux leather production that can cause serious harm to both people and the environment. After looking at the evidence, the better choice will become clear.

PVC

Nowadays most synthetic footwear is produced with PU (polyurethane), which is made by bonding a plastic coating to a cotton backing. Although PU is derived from a petrochemical, many people confuse it with PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride), but it has some important differences. 

PVC, which was very popular in footwear in the 60’s and 70’s, created the persistent myth of plastic shoes being non-breathable, which gave it the reputation of causing a sweaty foot. PVC also uses toxic substance chlorine in its manufacturing process and releases a great deal of harmful dioxins, as can be seen in the image below. However, PVC production decreases year on year, and the EU demand for PVC in 2013 was below 5 Mtonnes, which is around 10% of the total plastics demand.

The Petkim PVC Complex plant, which manufactures PVC, chlorine and other chemicals is reponsible for the contamination of the area in Aliaga, Turkey.

Polyurethane

Today’s PU is a far superior synthetic alternative as over the past decade a lot of innovation, research and development has gone in to producing it. It is durable, completely breathable and, more importantly, much safer and less toxic to produce than PVC. Manufacturers in the EU are required to have vent controls to keep emissions/fumes as low as possible. Obviously safety is dependent upon the regulations of the country in which it is produced, and its compliance with environmental law. 

However, it is not completely squeaky clean. PU is prepared from chemicals called isocyanates that are acutely toxic and thus pose a hazard. But there is good news! It can now be manufactured without these dangerous raw materials with a new approach that uses bio-based polymers that completely replace the isocyanates.

Bio-based raw material is a by-product made from plant oils and can reduce several chemical hazards associated with making PU. This new process means PU can be produced in a less hazardous way that makes it easier to break down in the environment, also rendering it more biodegradable. Recycled PU has excitingly also come to market featuring a sustainable plant-based faux leather finish – great news for us ☺.

Animal Hide

The production of leather involves three different industries: animal husbandry and slaughter, tanning and product manufacturing.

Animal Husbandry

Many have argued that leather is a by-product of the meat industry, but uncomfortably in the case of some animals, meat is the by-product. Kate Carter writes in the Guardian that leather from ostrich farms accounts for 80% of the value. Exotic leather from lizards, crocs, snakes and sharks, are often farmed or hunted specifically for their skin. O Ecotextiles claims that without the money made from the leather industry, many factory farms would not be able to make profit selling the meat alone.

The first stage of leather production is obviously rearing the animals. Animal agriculture produces greenhouse gases, mainly in the form of methane produced by the cows themselves. Of course there is also the aggressive clearing of land (deforestation), often in vulnerable regions, caused by the excessive demand for cheap animal fodder and for livestock to graze. As the recent documentary Cowspiracy explored, this process in itself makes a significant contribution to climate change.

According to UN report Livestock’s Dark Shadow, the livestock sector is a major player in climate change. It is responsible for a staggering 18% of greenhouse gas emissions (a higher share than that of transport), and a shocking 33% of arable land is dedicated to producing feed crop. Rearing livestock currently accounts for an alarming 30% of the land surface of our planet.

Overgrazing and erosion has made deforestation another major problem. The greatest so far attributed to Latin America where 70% of previous Amazon forest is now used for pastures or growing feed crop

Deforestation

Not forgetting the farming of livestock uses up a hefty amount of water, not only for consumption but for the irrigation of feed. Animal farming is also one of the largest sources of water pollution, which comes from animal waste, antibiotics, hormones and fertilisers and pesticides used for growing fodder. According to the Centres for Disease Control, food and water contaminated with livestock manure has led to 76 million Americans becoming infected with associated illnesses.

Tanning

The second largest impact of the leather industry is the toxic tanning process. Many don’t realise that an animal hide needs to be treated in order to prevent it from naturally decomposing. According to the Scientific American, the tanning of leather is the fifth largest pollution threat in the world, directly affecting a shocking 1.8 million people – a pretty epic stat! Hides are tanned using a cocktail of dangerous chemicals, which produce an array of waste with a high concentration of pollutants. The most popular way of tanning leather (more than 80% of all leather produced), is with chrome; other options are aldehyde and vegetable tanning.

According to the BLG Technology Centre, “none of the three tanning technologies offers a full environmental advantage over the others when considering all the key criteria that characterise the impact on the environment. Many assume that vegetable tanned leather should have a preferred environmental profile, but evidence does not support this”.

Chromium contamination is a typical problem associated with tannery effluent and poses serious risk to the environment and human health. Pure Earth estimates that 16 million people are at risk for exposure to chromium globally, with an estimated burden of disease of 3 million years lost due to ill-health, disability or early death. This is particularly common in countries that do not have adequate environmental protection standards. The liquid and solid waste from tanneries is often dumped untreated in rivers and is a huge environmental threat. The areas in which this mostly occurs are where the majority of the world’s leather is produced, in countries such as India, Bangladesh and China.

In Kanpur, India, also known as the ‘Leather City of the World’, only 20% of the water is properly treated before being released onto local farmland and in to the River Ganges. This water is laced with dangerous levels of chromium, lead and arsenic. The Buriganga river in Hazaribagh, Dhaka, pictured below, has been classified as dead, because the pollution from the many tanneries have killed the fish and plant life.

Allison Joyce Getty Images

Aside from the environmental issues of leather tanning, the tragic human cost can be deeply shocking. Those who tan the leather are exposed to hazardous chemicals often to a life-threatening extent. Bangladesh’s Ministry of Environment says that tanneries collectively dump 22,000 cubic litres of toxic waste into rivers each day, that are often key water supplies for the local residents. According to Gizmodo, when chromium waste is offloaded into regional water systems, it can cause respiratory problems, infections, infertility and birth defects in local residents.

And the workers are at risk too. Without adequate health and safety protection, they are continually exposed to dangerous chemicals on a daily basis and the list of medical problems linked to chromium is worryingly long.

Summary

The facts highlight that leather is a significant contributor to water pollution, human illnesses, water usage and land usage, not to mention the questionable methods of animal slaughter in developing countries with little or no regulations. As an industry it seems to have a poor level of responsibility towards its continuing environmental impact and the repercussions. Information around leather production and traceability is conveniently suppressed. The environmental impact and worker conditions is information that is not often available on the labels of fashion items, or even on company websites.

In comparison, the production of PU requires no grain to be watered and harvested for feed; no animals to be reared and then slaughtered; it is not a major contributor to water pollution, and merely requires the land of the factory used to produce it.

Synthetic materials have also come a very long way since their PVC predecessors and manufacturers will continue pushing the boundaries as the industry strives for sustainability. However, the leather industry will always involve animal agriculture with its heavy environmental footprint.

Ultimately, it is up to the consumer to make informed choices about their purchases and demand traceability and hold each industry accountable. 

Please be reassured that, here at Beyond Skin HQ, we only use PU’s produced entirely within the EU. This gives us peace of mind that our shoes are as ethically produced as we can possibly make them.

As an ethical fashion brand, we embrace innovation and so will always strive to be at the forefront of sustainable and ethical fashion without compromising on quality and style.

For Spring Summer ’16 collection, we are delighted to introduce a more sustainable lining throughout our collections using 100% recycled PU with a vegetable bio-polymer coating made in Italy. To us, traceability of where the material has been produced is paramount.

With so many high quality leather alternatives on the market, it begs the question why isn’t everyone using leather alternatives?…

Images: GreenpeaceAllison Joyce & Alamy

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Creating an Ethical Capsule Wardrobe

We all made it through January! Whether you completed the Dryathlon, ticked off a few gym visits for a New Year’s Resolution, or simply managed to put on a brave face for the duration of the month, congratulations are in order. In February, routines will be firmly back in place, decorations have finally been stuffed up in the attic, and mornings aren’t quite as hard to stomach. Now we’re in the grips of normality, there’s enough time to give your wardrobe a detox too. And the most effective way to do that is to create a capsule wardrobe.

A capsule wardrobe is a condensed wardrobe, made up of pieces that are simple and versatile, working well together to make a number of different outfits. Making a capsule wardrobe is not only like a fun game of dressing up, but it’s also a sensible way to spend your time (no, really). If you’re forcing yourself to choose only the clothes you absolutely love, it will give you a clearer sense of what your style is. As we’ve written before, having a strong sense of personal style is more sustainable, and helps you keep to Livia Firth’s rule of asking “Will I wear this 30 times?” before buying new outfits.

Plus, it’ll save you time and energy in the mornings if your outfits are premeditated. Nick Tasler writing in Psychology Today claimed that the more decisions we make in a day, the less effective we become at making them. Better to spend that decision-making energy on an important business negotiation than umming and ahhing over which skirt to wear with that turtleneck. So, here’s a step-by-step guide to constructing your own concise capsule wardrobe, using exclusively ethical and vegan pieces.

1. Draw up a game plan

Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 16.36.12

Ok, so your wardrobe might not look quite like that, but it’s good to aim high, right? There’s a wealth of advice on how to make your own capsule wardrobe out there on the world wide web, so if you need some extra inspiration and advice, it’s certainly not in short supply. One blog packed full of tips and tricks is Into Mind. It recommends making three piles: one of clothes you absolutely adore and always wear, another for clothes you definitely won’t wear again, and a maybe pile. It’s worth noting what separates the loved versus hated clothes; if there’s a different colour scheme or a particular cut, then you’ll know what to avoid when buying future garments. You can even follow their Closet Detox Cheat Sheet if need be. Mega useful.

2. Visualise each outfit

Capsule 3

With your maybe pile and love pile, start making outfits that work well together, using your simplest pieces. As it’s still chilly outside, you could play around with layering (Man Repeller’s blog on layering’s turtleneck, check shirt and jumper combo is a great idea). The more versatile an item, the more secure its place in your capsule wardrobe is. Blogger Every Girl recommends having three of everything (three skirts, three jeans, three t-shirts, etc), so you can have one casual look, one smart look and one statement look, depending on the occasion.

3. Out with the old

Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 16.35.50

Some clothes might be in the maybe pile because they’re not quite the right fit anymore. In which case, it might be an idea to crack open the sewing box for a spot of re-hemming, or get on the phone to your local tailor to make more complicated alterations. Your summery outfits are likely to be in the maybe pile, so they can be packed away into storage for another few months. Then, the poor rejected clothes in the hated pile can be donated if they’re still in good nick, and recycled if not.

4. In with the new

Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 16.31.55

As always, quality trumps quantity. Capsule wardrobes work better if they include well-made staple pieces rather than ephemeral fashion fads, so it’s worth investing in good building blocks for your outfits. Kowtow makes simple organic cotton pieces designed for this very purpose, and our own e-shelves at Beyond Skin are full of high quality everyday shoes that would match with myriad outfits and styles. In fact, right now there are deals to be had; our Lucy black faux patent brogues are £46 cheaper in the sale, and you don’t get more versatile than black brogues. They’d work with indigo skinny jeans, smart charcoal trousers for work, a burgundy pencil skirt, a navy dress… you name it.

5. Get creative

Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 16.35.18

Now your wardrobe is limited, you’ll start getting creative with your combinations, like blogger Fashion Veggie here. Plus, knowing that the pieces in your wardrobe all fit into your style will make creating an outfit much simpler, and much easier to adjust according to the weather.

Now, enough of the theory! Here’s our ideal ethical and vegan capsule wardrobe to give you a little inspiration…

Beyond Skin Vegan Vegetarian Shoes Boots Heels Ethical Capsule Wardrobe

From left to right, starting at the top:

Kowtow Building Block Boat Neck Top in Blue White Stripes, £27.25

People Tree Zoe Classic Organic Cotton Shirt in Eco White, £49.50

Kowtow Organic Cotton Turtleneck, £31.79

Beaumont Organic BLAINE Cotton Oversized Shirt in Navy, £109

Kowtow Imprint Certified Fair Trade Organic Cotton High Neck Top, £65

Kowtow Keepsake Trench in Black, £65.85

Beaumont Organic Alexis Organic Cotton Dress, £125

Kowtow Trestle Pants, £61.31

Kuyichi Lil Skinny Cinch Hudson Jeans, £91.27

Kuyichi Lil Skinny Chinch Storm Grey, £91.27

People Tree Clara 100% Organic Cotton Trousers in Navy, £76.50

Jill Milan Long Recycled Polyester Coat in Navy, £278.62

Kowtow Cast Shirt in Chambray, £49.96

Beyond Skin Kate Gold Loafers, £99

Beyond Skin Shelley Faux Snake Flats, £89

Wilby Drayton Navy Loop Zip Tote, £80

Beyond Skin Lexie Black Stilettos, £99

Beyond Skin Izzy Silvery Mary-Janes, £115

Viva Creatures Viking Clutch, £76.63

Images courtesy of Giphy, Anu KewalramJo Ann Stores, People Tree, Jill Milan, Kowtow, Viva Creatures, Beaumont Organic & Wilby

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