But now those dark days are over, thanks to Birkenstock’s new leather-free line of clogs and sandals, being released to U.S. animal lovers starting on Jan. 9, Yahoo Style has exclusively learned.
“When our customers told us that they wanted vegan editions of Birkenstock’s classic sandals and clogs, we listened,” the German-based company’s head of communications, Jochen Gutzy, tells Yahoo Style. “Birkenstock was always concerned about choosing the best raw materials from natural resources. With our selection of vegan styles, we can keep taking steps closer to an even more sustainable and compassionate future.”
While vegan versions of the iconic clunky-comfy shoes — deemed “stylish” and even “sexy” by Vogue as of 2013 — have been available in Europe for several seasons now, they were hard to come by in the U.S.; the closest thing has been the line of sandals made with manmade Birko Flor uppers, but with suede linings of its contoured foot beds.
“This season, we are offering more styles to the U.S. market and marketing them as a true Vegan Collection,” U.S. company spokesperson Scott Radcliffe tells Yahoo Style. “We decided to increase our product portfolio with vegan styles to cater to Birkenstock fans that look equally for animal-friendly products as well as comfort and style.”
The first run of the shoes in the U.S. will include 30,000 pairs in various models, such as the classic Boston clog and the city-chic Gizeh thong sandal, with foot beds made from a soft and breathable microfiber.
This is welcome news to vegan activists, including PETA, which recently honored the vegan version of Birk’s Madrid sandal with a Vegan Fashion Award in Germany.
“Every day, PETA hears from shoppers who are looking for vegan-friendly retailers, and Birkenstock now fits the bill,” Anne Brainard, PETA director of corporate affairs, tells Yahoo Style. “These iconic vegan styles meet the skyrocketing demand for footwear that’s as trendy and comfortable as it is kind to animals and the environment.”
Leather fashion products aren’t environmentally friendly and are not a natural animal byproduct. The skins must be treated through a highly toxic tannery process that includes the chemical chromium, which harms both the environment and the tannery workers.
“People say, ‘I need to have leather shoes,’ and don’t really know why they’re saying it,” vegan fashion blogger and designer Joshua Katcher told Yahoo Style for a story on cruelty-free fashion recently. “It’s because of the effective marketing that has gone on for a very long time around leather. The leather industry owns words like genuine, real, authentic, durability. It doesn’t mean that nothing else can be durable and high quality and feel supple and all of those things.”
Find the full Vegan Collection ($30–$110) online at birkenstock.com/us and at select retailers nationwide.