Vegan Luxury: Interview with Fashion Designer Elizabeth Olsen

By Jodi Truglio — January 24, 2013

“I love luxury. And luxury lies not in richness and ornateness but in the absence of vulgarity. Vulgarity is the ugliest word in our language. I stay in the game to fight it.” − Coco Chanel

The same can be said about cruelty-free shoe designer Elizabeth Olsen, who launched her company Olsenhaus Pure Vegan in 2006. Olsen’s luxury shoe line is a reflection of her desire to be the voice for animals and the environment, while maintaining transparent business practices.

Recently Elizabeth Olsen took some time to answer a few questions for Global Looking Glass about what it means to be an ethical shoe designer.

What inspired you to become a fashion designer?

Hmm, well I am very visual and like being creative, expressive, making things, creating environments, moments, etc….[I’ve] always been into art and design, but for me it has to be functional, have an everyday application, and I was drawn to fashion from a creation, art perspective.”

Did anything in particular draw you to the sustainable fashion world?

I’ve been conscious and aware of the animal kingdom since I was very little, so over the years as I was studying art, I got involved in fashion through design….[Since I was] already an animal activist, it seemed natural to merge the two interests….Creating for the sake of making something to solely make money no matter what the cost to the environment, animals, or people has never been an interest, so sustainability was the only way even before this word became in fashion to use.

How have environmental and animal rights issues influenced your designs?

It doesn’t really influence the design − it influences the materials. I am constantly looking for new materials to work with.

Why do you think some designers are apprehensive about using vegan materials?

Fear of change, denial, ignorance. There is absolutely no reason to continue the cycle of using animals.

Is it hard for you to source your vegan materials?

No, not at all. There’s a plethora of materials to use instead of anything from a tortured being that suffered at the hands of humans to become a material.

On your website, you show where leather comes from. What are some things you feel consumers are unaware of when it comes to the purchase of non-vegan shoes?

The public is pretty much unaware of all the issues….That’s the way the industry wants it….It’s a total disconnect that there was a living, breathing being that was murdered to make an item − a shoe, a handbag, etc…. It’s frightening, actually, how asleep the human race is, and the mindset/collective consciousness of not critically thinking and not stepping outside the box…..The funny thing most people don’t get is, who programmed the box they live in? It was programmed for them, and they are not thinking.

What inspired you to go vegan?

Consciousness, respect for all life, empathy for the animal kingdom, and realization of completely unnecessary suffering.

What are some of your pet peeves about the current fashion industry?

Attitudes, tradition, ego, denial, ignorance, sexualizing, demeaning women, mass producing inferior quality products, enslaving the animal kingdom, enslaving humans, and damaging planet Earth.

Lately it seems like just about everyone is “going green.” Do you feel people see it more as a trend that they really don’t understand?

There’s a lot of confusion and “green-washing” by corporations…but here’s the thing: humans have a basic instinct to relate to and care about their habitat….They just feel asleep, and are slowly waking up now. Sometimes I look at a product labeled “green” and I think, “What makes it green?” The marketers are making it confusing on purpose − the more your mind is wrapped up in lies, the less you can see the truth.

Can you tell me a little about your fall line? What inspired it?

It’s earthy colors, with 6os “mod” styling….inspired by the season of fall and revolution.

How have you personally evolved from working for Tommy Hilfiger to having your own line of shoes?

That was a job, and I was a slave to their corporation for paper money….Now I live and work in my own life-stream for a greater good….It’s night and day.

What is your favorite quote and why?

Its one that is repeated over and over, but it’s my favorite because it is direct and inspires action: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” (Ghandi)

Whatever you’ve got the tingling for that’s not right, work to change it. Be it. Be the example and manifest the change. That’s what you came to the planet to do.


Photos courtesy of Olsenhaus

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