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From 5 December 2004 Issue

Veganism Inspires Fashion
By Ruth La Ferla
New York Times News Service
Posted on Sun, Nov. 21, 2004

It's not just taste that prompts shops to offer animal-free attire.

Erica Kubersky met her first cow when she was 8, during a visit to Israel. To hear her tell it, the experience was defining. "We formed this connection when it started sucking on my hand," Kubersky recalled. "I knew I could never eat meat again."

Kubersky and her sister, Sarah, have parlayed their distaste for meat and, for that matter, all goods derived from animals, into a vigorous business selling vegan products - that is, imitation leather shoes, bags and motorcycle jackets - at MooShoes, their boutique in Lower MManhattan. MooShoes, where the best-sellers include pointy-toed microfiber dress shoes ($85) and canvas bags, is one in an expanding roster of shops catering to people who, from motives of conscience or style, have banned animal products from their diets and, often, their wardrobes.

"I haven't given up wool or silk," said Jen Mazer, a 23-year-old New York Web site designer, "but leather is where I draw the line." Until recently, ferreting out stylish vegan clothing and accessories had been a futile exercise. But Mazer said she's impressed with her new options. "It looks like more designers are realizing that people have become more conscious about the kinds of products they buy," she said.

Dozens of merchants now offer wares that are labeled cruelty-free; the Web site Vegan Essentials offers hemp shoes and clothes. And Stella McCartney, long an activist for animal rights, has added shoes stamped "suitable for vegetarians" to her collection. Her fabric-and-Lucite pumps are available at Nordstrom.

Vegan products are finding takers not only among the roughly six million Americans who call themselves vegetarians, but also among shoppers attracted to prices that are often 60 percent to 75 percent lower than leather. A spike in demand prompted Earth Shoes to introduce 15 vegan styles this year. "We are marketing to people who, whether or not they are vegans themselves, would be happy to have stylish vegan products," said Vern Aisner, the company's director of marketing.

Animal-rights activists such as actress Alicia Silverstone and skateboarder Ed Templeton have helped fuel the trend.

"Today vegan products appeal to a younger generation that is interested in culture and fashion and has a sense of humor," said Josh Hooten, publisher of Herbivore, a quarterly for vegetarians.

All the more reason for the makers of vegan styles to buff up their image. "A lot of people still assume we are granola hippies or that we are overly political," said Jeremy Crown, an owner of Otsu, a San Francisco store selling vegan accessories. "Hopefully we will change people's minds about what a vegan looks like," he said.

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