Fashionistas on the prowl for new, cutting-edge styles and products now have another shopping option. Fast and Furless, a small St. Paul boutique may not have the expansive array of stilettos or the latest Parisian fashions but what it does boast in its line is exactly what few other retailers don’t: None of the stores products are made from animal products. But this is more than just a fanciful spin on pleather.
Owner Jon Novick is a longtime vegan and his store carries a vegan array of shoes, accessories, t-shirts, make-up and snacks that are made out of recycled and natural materials. Whimsical and colorful appliqués pop off of shoulder bags and coin purses. Sweatshop-free t-shirts tout vegan slogans and the shoe selection ranges from casual kickers to dressy loafers and boots.
“To me, the essence of fashion is that which doesn’t harm the environment or animals,” Novick says.
Working to also ensure that all his products are sweatshop labor free, one line of shoes also carries a “sweet spot” on its toe — a large red dot that signifies its purpose to “kick corporate ass.”
And Novick’s line at Fast and Furless is also kind to the environment.
“The leather industry is the most profitable part of the meat industry,” Novick says. “But leather is living, organic material. You have to douse it with chemicals to make sure it doesn’t decay.” Those chemicals aren’t only harmful to those working in tanneries; they are also detrimental to the environment. Prior to opening shop, most vegans had to resort to shoe shopping at Payless, the discount chain that offers non-leather shoes — but doesn’t necessarily avoid sweatshop factories or toxic chemical use in its materials.
Relying on sustainable materials like hemp, cork, jute bamboo (yes, you can use the plant for fabrics), organic cotton and recycled or natural rubber, the store’s vegan options don’t necessarily look all that different from similar products you can find anywhere else.
A longtime vegan, Novick set up shop on a earth-friendly strip near Macalester college. Taking over the home that his grandfather built, Novick set up shop in the home’s living and dining rooms (he lives in the back of the house). Nearby stores also tout an organic or earth-friendly spin: Pea Pods sells organic infant products, there’s an Oriental medical storefront, vintage clothing and gardening center – all speak to the growing market for eco-conscious products.
Open since November 2005, Novick’s niche business is slowly growing. The Twin Cities have long been known to be vegetarian friendly and the population here embraces more progressive politics and issues, allowing Novick’s venture to find a foothold. Like numerous small business owners, Novick gave up the corporate world (he worked in marketing research) to follow his own vision. After shopping at similar boutiques on the coasts, and experiencing the frustration of ill-fitting mail order items — “I had to mail order all my shoes and if they didn’t fit, I’d have to ship them back and that got expensive,” Novick says – he decided that it was time for the Midwest to enjoy the benefits of vegan fashion.
“People will come in and apologize for wearing leather shoes,” he says. “I don’t want anyone to feel guilty, I just want to be a resource and show that it’s easy to still be stylish.”
Here are some related links:
Definition of vegan
ABC News reports cat and dog skins being used in fur fashions.
Vegan blogcast and more
Co-op America‘s campaign to end sweatshop labor