Today I would like to share with you, my interview with Heather Whittle and Natalie Dean, duo behind vegan shoe brand Beyond Skin.
It can be hard to find non leather footwear that is on trend and stylish but Beyond Skin design and produce fashionable, well made shoes – with love …
What inspires your brand, Beyond Skin ?
Beyond Skin is a British, indie, luxury, vegan footwear brand. Our uniqueness lies as much in our approach as it does in our design aesthetic of dynamic, vintage inspired styling.
Our philosophy creates the opportunity for us to embrace an unusual use of fabrics, prints and weaves within our designs, which has become our signature style.
Although fundamentally we are a cruelty-free brand, sustainability is equally at the core of our philosophy.
Do you work to fashion forecasts or prefer to focus on your own ideas ?
When we start designing our new collection, we do refer to trends & forecasts, but mainly we are led by our own ideas. We often find that the two are serendipitously fused. We believe it’s important to retain a focus on our own ideas & inspiration, as that is what makes each designer different.
We do our trend research at textile tradeshows, like Lineapelle, to source new fabrics & suppliers for our new collections. Our next step is creating some sketches by hand then translate our finished design to a detailed working drawing. This is then passed on to our manufacturer to be turned in to a sample.
Is it more challenging to produce vegan and vegetarian shoes i.e. the fabrics etc ?
We believe that the manufacturing process is the main obstacle that we come across producing non-leather shoes. The textile industry has developed tremendously over the last few years & as demand increases we see that there are more & more incredible alternatives to real leathers available.
The most popular misconceptions of faux leather are that it is not breathable, not eco-friendly and is cheap. Nowadays most leather skins are super cheap as they are sourced from the developing world where regulations regarding leather production, effluent and environmental policies are virtually non existent.
The technology of synthetics nowadays is super advanced and all our Italian made faux leather and suede’s cost considerably more than most skins and are of remarkable quality.
There are now many companies experimenting with recycled PET plastic so it won’t be long before we are able to use recycled faux leather’s in our line. Currently each season a large core of our collections are produced in a sustainable faux suede alternative called Dinamica. This fabric breathable, expensive and made from 100% recycled PET plastic bottletops and has the look and feel of real suede yet unlike its real suede counterpart, can get wet, be cleaned and does not watermark. Due to it’s incredible durability it is used in the auto-industry by both Jaguar and Mercedes Benz for their high-end interiors.
Beyond Skin is the first footwear label to utilise this incredible, sustainable material, which could potentially, one day replace real suede.
Aside from ensuring your shoes are 100% vegan – what are other important factors in the design of your shoes ?
Our philosophy is that we are a cruelty-free brand, and our styling has a vintage, feminine design. We want to demonstrate that vegan shoes can be fashionable, and comfortable.
Quality is imperative for us, as we want to provide non-leather shoes, which are well -made, not cheap PVC shoes that are so readily, and cheaply, available on the market. All of our shoes are currently made in Spain, it’s important to us that our shoes are made by workers who are receiving a fair wage, in decent working conditions.
It is our design, product and brand that makes Beyond Skin unique.
Are the products you use ever evolving ?
Absolutely, there are always new fabrics becoming available to the market, as demand increases and technology advances.
I love your bridal range – which style is most popular ?
We love our range of Bridal Shoes too – it’s incredible how hard it can be to find a delicately designed pair of wedding shoes that are free from leather. The most popular style has been the ‘Fiona’ style, which is cream faux suede, mid wedge peep toe court shoe with a flower detail on the toe. We’ve been selling these continually really well this season.
What’s your overall best seller ?
For this season, AW’13, we have launched a new Diffusion Line of more wearable, affordable shoes, which have been very well received. From this capsule collection, the little flat pumps Joanie have flown out of the window! We sell plain courts, with vintage silhouettes featuring our key bold use of printed fabrics. This is a signature look for Beyond Skin.
Which Season are you working on right now ?
We have just finished the selling season of SS’14, and are now designing our Autumn/Winter 2014 collection. We are using lots of deep & rich autumnal colours & some very tactile textures…
Can you give some advice for someone wanting to start a company selling ethical products ?
Don’t be too hard on yourself. We all have ideals and philosophies that we want to work to, but as you & the world changes, it’s good to be open & adaptable. We have had to make compromises along our journey, we first wanted to have all shoes made in the UK as this was a strong USP of our brand. However, as our business grew, we needed to confront this approach & we ended up moving to Spanish manufacturers. We would advise to be open to making some compromises and reach new solutions to new problems you may encounter.
We have discovered that as long as you are transparent with your audience about the decisions & changes you have made, that no-one can get frustrated or upset. Determination & passion go a long way, these are the key ingredients for starting an ethical company.
Thanks Heather and Natalie. Great advice and gorgeous shoes !
To see more of their range, their website is www.beyondskin.co.uk.
You can also follow Beyond Skin on twitter – @BeyondSkinTweet or become a fan on facebook.
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