We Are Becoming Fully Plant-Based and Vegan!
We have always sought to create the most sustainable footwear on the planet and are beyond thrilled to announce our commitment to being a 100% plant-based and vegan brand by the end of 2021. We will not be producing any new responsible leather styles, and plan to expand our existing plant-based collection while doing what we love most: exploring the most cutting-edge, plant-based innovations available.
We will never preach that there is a "best" way to be sustainable. We always encourage curiosity and exploration. Everything we do is with the future of our planet in mind, and we can't wait to share a plant-based future with you!
To dive deeper into this decision to become a fully vegan and plant-based brand, lead blog contributor, Julia Grinberg, sat down for an interview with our Founder and Creative Director, Casey Dworkin.
Interview conducted by Julia Grinberg
As a brand that, until now, has offered both real leather and vegan leather options, what motivated this decision to become fully plant-based?
Even just four years ago, the only options were "pleather," made from polyurethane, PVC, and plastics, or recycled fabrics like denim or cotton that were not durable or heavy enough for our boots. So, our responsible approach to leather production was our most sustainable option – we use a plant-based tanning process, ensure biodegradability, reduce water usage, etc. However, the material landscape has changed drastically, and we've been working with plant-based, vegan options for the past two years. One of my favorite parts of creating for Sylven New York is crafting new combinations of materials that have never been used together, while minimizing my environmental impact as much as possible. So, given all the new plant-based opportunities on the horizon, I am really excited to make this change!
Would you say you've always seen Sylven New York becoming a vegan brand?
I always thought it was a possibility, but I wanted to have a stronger understanding of the market landscape before it could happen. Having sustainable versions of both [real leather and vegan] was a great experience. We not only learned about our vegan clientele, but we also learned that our traditionally "non-vegan" consumers were also open to trying new materials.
Did the global pandemic expedite the timing of this announcement?
Our shift toward vegan materials aligning with the global pandemic isn't a coincidence. Especially in times of uncertainty we like to practice gratitude, and one of the strange gifts of this past year was time. Everything in fashion usually moves so quickly that you sparsely have a chance to stop and breathe, but we were able to be really thoughtful about our core values, and to take a deeper look at how our own evolution could and should look.
How do you plan to combat the environmental issues that often accompany vegan leathers?
We really love to speak openly about our material use. Plant-based, vegan materials are what we are most passionate about, but we’re never going to sugarcoat things to make it seem like there is a perfect solution. We’re going to continue to talk about the pros and cons of what we use and why we use it. Plant-based leather is so much better for the environment than plastic-based leather, but there is always room for improvement. So much progress has been made in the vegan leather space, and I want us to be the brand that continues to improve season after season.
Does transparency feel particularly important for sustainable brands?
Transparency should be important in general! But, brands that consider themselves “sustainable” should realize that transparency is a part of that definition.
As consumers, we have a more intimate relationship with brands than ever before, but it’s also so easy to get misinformation. Sharing the process has always been a part of what we do, and it’s a practice that's embedded in the Sylven New York story.
How will the use of only plant-based materials influence the Sylven New York aesthetic?
In essence, our aesthetic should remain unchanged! I want our styles to transcend the materials. There are certain design elements that are dictated by material, but we'll always keep our "classic with a twist" silhouettes. Of course, the aesthetic will evolve slightly over time, just like we all do, but the designs will always to stay true to the Sylven New York brand.
How, if it all, will this affect the Sylven pricing structure?
Going forward, we are actually lowering the prices of our existing vegan collection. As it currently stands, our vegan and real leather styles have been priced the same. Our leather materials are technically more expensive if you're just looking at the cost of something like vegetable-tanned leather vs. apple leather, but the interior components and labor cost the same amount. Where our vegan styles can sometimes have added costs is in our development phase as they take longer to develop and require additional testing.
But since we plan to be a fully vegan and plant-based brand, we want to do our best to be priced slightly more accessibly wherever possible.
What will happen to the existing leather styles you still have available?
We are going to continue to sell them on our website at a discounted price through 2021, or until they are sold out. We want to take the opportunity to honor this inventory that we love. We don't want to vilify leather. We love our leather styles but we want to make space to move forward. Anything left over after 2021 will go into our Reboot program. We will never discard anything. The goal is to get these leather styles into good homes and then not produce any additional leather past what we've already developed.
We've noticed you're dabbling in a vegan diet as well. Did that influence the decision for the brand?
Ah, you're paying close attention! I started a vegan and plant-based diet in January as part of “Veganuary” -- a month-long vegan challenge supported by daily emails and resources. I highly recommend it! I honestly had never been able to fully explore vegan eating due to dietary restrictions and allergies that already make me more than difficult to feed. But, during the pandemic, I wasn't eating anywhere but my own home, and I wanted to experiment and see if it was something that felt good for me.
In full transparency, I am no longer a 100% vegan eater. But, the majority of my diet is plant-based, and right now about two-thirds of my meals are vegan.
It definitely was a major influence on my decision to transition the brand. Even though this isn't a namesake brand, Sylven New York often mirrors my own life. I have been exploring vegan fashion and minimizing my leather usage, and I think it's important to talk about how our food and fashion choices are intrinsically linked.
I think it's also important to have a conversation about veganism and plant-based living in that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. There are so many statistics that show one of the easiest ways to reduce your environmental impact and carbon footprint is minimizing your meat and dairy intake, which also extends to leather. So, I love this opportunity to talk about the process and journey of minimizing leather and meat/dairy/fish both in my personal and professional lives.
Veganism can be a pretty big lifestyle shift. What do you say to someone just starting out on their journey?
First of all, I say, “start slow.” If you go full steam ahead with any new habit it's going to feel like a huge pivot from your normal life routine, and you won't be setting yourself up for success. There is room to take small incremental steps and think of it as a long-term goal with short-term posts to hit. We want to approach a vegan lifestyle not from a place of scarcity, but instead from a place of curiosity and excitement in finding new alternatives to explore.
How do you deal with the pressure of feeling like there's always more you could be doing?
You just have to put your head down and do the best you can with what you have in that given moment. You'll run yourself ragged if you try and operate in any other way. You have to do what feels true and what you believe in. It's an adaptive and iterative process. Where there is room to improve, leave that space open for yourself. Otherwise, you’ll never be able to get anything done.
With all the different sources of plant-based leathers, apple leather seems to be a Sylven favorite. What is it about the material that you love?
There are so many reasons! First, when I initially went to visit our apple leather supplier, I hopped into a car and drove about 45 minutes from our factory in Italy where our shoes are made. I love being able to keep our supply chain geographically tight, as it helps to cut down on transport emissions. The apple waste itself also comes from Italy, so I love that our apples and our shoes have the same origin.
Probably most important to me, though, is that the look and feel of the apple leather be equal in premium quality to our luxury, Italian, vegetable-tanned leathers. This was especially the case when we were making versions of both and they sat side by side.
I also love that apples are understandable, everyday objects. There's an inherent acceptance of apple leather because everyone already has their own association with apples, and when you're working with something new, it definitely helps to tell a relatable story.
Are there new materials you're excited to explore?
Totally! I am looking into new materials constantly. Mushroom leather is definitely having a moment and we are exploring some options for future development. Cactus leather is also on the rise, and it appears to mimic leather grain in a similar way to apple leather.
I am also looking at some of the less exciting footwear elements like insoles and padding. One of my factories has a zucchini-based interior component that I am eager to test.
Can we expect to see any new plant-based releases anytime soon?
Yes!! We have a new product being released later this month in an entirely new category that we've never launched before, and I have never been more excited for a release. Stay tuned!