Most people are currently aware that eating less animal products is good for their health. Documentaries such as Cowspiracy have highlighted the environmental impact of eating animals so for this reason too, people are cutting back. But are most people aware that as a profitable byproduct of factory farming and slaughterhouses, leather is contributing to millions of cows enduring abuse and overcrowding as well as castration, branding, tail-docking, and dehorning, all without anaesthesia? Do they know that at slaughterhouses, animals routinely have their throats cut and are even skinned and dismembered while still conscious?
Further to that are the animals skinned for leather that most people don’t know about. Not all the leather on the high street comes from cows but other animals too such as pigs, goats, cats and dogs.
Factor in the environmental impact of leather production and even the most die-hard carnivore can see the benefit in seeking other options.
Turning skin into leather requires toxic chemicals, such as formaldehyde, which causes toxic run-off. Leather must be tanned to prevent it from degrading but the tanning process uses toxins such as arsenic and produces pollutants. These have been found to cause cancer in those working in tanneries and living nearby.
For health reasons as well as ethical concerns, people change their diet but what about their lifestyle? It seems obvious once faced with the facts that we must start making changes. Luckily, there has been a boom in ethical fashion in recent years and brands are keen to prove that not only do their products benefit animals but also the environment and the people making their wares.
One such company is Wills London.
Wills London was launched in 2012 by Will Green who was motivated by a desire to bring to the market shoes that were not only animal friendly but human friendly, too. Raised a vegetarian, he became a vegan in 2012 and immediately launched the company, claiming that a vegan lifestyle changed his entire perspective on life and what it means to be humane.
Will produces shoes and accessories such as bags, belts and wallets. All products are extremely well made and his shoes in particular are beautifully crafted.
As fine as any Italian leather footwear, Will’s shoes are soft yet robust, comfortable to wear and durable. They look like leather and perform like leather. Not only that but they are affordable. Will is absolute in his insistence that he will not overcharge for his products just because they happen to be on trend, falling into categories such as ethical, conscious and vegan.
Wearing these shoes will earn you compliments from everyone who looks at your feet. Add to that the bonus of getting to explain that they aren’t made from leather but are cruelty free and ethically made and you have yourself a pretty wonderful shoe experience. The down side is, you will make a wish list of must haves from Will’s online shop because these shoes are too good to be limited to one pair per wardrobe (there are at least five more pairs we can’t live without).
Will’s London is a brand that impresses us from start to finish. Committed to producing well made, beautiful footwear and accessories, fuelled by a desire to save animals and improve lives, pledging to never overcharge and looking to a future that is environmentally sound, this is a company that walks its talk. And it does so in some of the finest, most comfortable shoes on the market today, vegan or otherwise.
Once we had fallen in love with Will’s unisex Chelsea Boots, we asked him a few questions about their production…
People are increasingly worried about plastics and their health and environmental implications. You refuse to use polyurethane or PVC but could you give us some information on the fabric you use?
The main difference with a vegan shoe is the upper. A vegan shoe does not use any materials that are from an animal. A standard pair of shoes uses leather or suede for the upper. A good vegan shoe swaps this with microfibre. Microfibre is produced from petroleum which is not environmentally friendly. As an alternative to leather, however, the production of microfibre can have a reduced environmental and social impact.
The support of vegans – choosing microfibre as a cruelty free alternative supports investment into research and development – I hope will, in time, help create a better solution.
The livestock industry uses up huge resources of energy, water and land and produces high levels of methane. To quote PETA UK “Materials such as formaldehyde, mineral salts, coal-tar derivatives and various oils, dyes and finishes – some of which are cyanide-based – are used to turn animal skins into leather. The majority of leather comes from China and India, countries with poor environmental and workplace standards, and leather workers have little protection against toxins that studies have shown result in higher incidences of cancer, blindness, respiratory problems, skin diseases and birth defects in those working at, or living close to, tanneries.” This treatment can also mean the leather cannot bio-degrade.
Microfibre companies are very aware of the environmental impact of their product. They are investing in new technologies to make microfibre more environmentally friendly.
What does ‘ethically produced’ mean? What guarantees does this term offer the consumer?
I make my shoes in top factories in Portugal under EU law where people work in decent, safe conditions and are paid a fair wage. I place animal and human rights on the same level. I do not see the point of protecting one life and putting another in danger. We put our ethics through this company which is why our shoes are and always will be vegan and ethically made. One day we would like to say they are environmentally friendly too.
Can you give us some background on the factory in Portugal?
All my shoes are made in Portugal in factories operated under EU health and safety law – chosen for the quality of their production and workplace environment. At the moment, all the factories we are working with are family-owned and run. These factories are responsible for the salaries of their employees which must be in keeping with EU standards. I personally visit all of them 4-5 times a year – as do other members of the team – and we have someone out there permanently to ensure our standards are met.
As a business we only directly employ myself and a part time designer – we earn just above the living wage in the UK.
We have an agent in Portugal who is paid commission on shoes shipped to the UK in-line with market rates. Our warehousing and logistics partners are based in the Essex, UK – and their workers are paid UK wages dependent on their position.