Q Are those vegan shoes causing way more environmental damage than leather? Do you know where I could buy cool eco dress shoes?
A Tortured is the ecologically conscious soul who wishes to wear fashionable yet ethical footwear. Somehow finding a shoe that meets all your needs (sweatshop-free, eco-friendly, cruelty-free and funky) seems like too much to ask.
What if hemp store sneaks aren't for you? Well, the classic vegetarian pick has always been faux leather, traditionally made from PVC. I bought a sexy pair of pleather boots nearly 10 years ago, thinking I was doing a good deed by sparing a fuzzy animal's life. Alas, this toxic plastic is reviled by the eco community for its polluting manufacturing process, the hormone-disrupting plasticizers that off-gas from it and the dangerous chems emitted if, at the end of their life, your boots are burnt in a crappy municipal incinerator.
The last few years have seen a rise in the use of PU (that's polyurethane to you, mister) as a replacement for PVC in the faux leather biz. It doesn't have the same haunted rep, but making this stuff is still far from holy. In fact, Greenpeace ranks it as the second-worst class of plastic, tied with styrofoam and bisphenol-A-laced polycarbonate. But it's still considered moderately greener than PVC.
If you're still down with scoring stylee men's and women's dress shoes made of this stuff, head to MooShoes.com. This adorable New York-based shop sells everything from hot high heels to classy guy gear and claims to get 70 per cent of its stuff from unionized European factories. Toronto-ites can score a smaller but still stylish assortment of union-produced PU/cotton-blended footwear at Left Feet on Nassau in Kensington.
Microfibre (aka fake suede) is another option but again isn't totally ecologically benign. It's woven from polyester fibres, which are of course petroleum-based. Left Feet and MooShoes carry some.
If you ain't feeling fantastic about sportin' non-biodegradable plastic and aren't convinced a hemp oxford will match your suit, then it's time to wade into leather. (Warning: serious vegans might want to skip the next two paragraphs.)
This is a tough debate, because while meat is one of the most energy-intensive industries around, many would point out that leather itself is a waste product that would be tossed otherwise, so we might as well use it. Once you've got your leather, the most polluting part is definitely tanning and dying it. The process is horrifyingly toxic, especially if it's done in developing countries like India that have few enviro standards.
Now, what if you could replace those toxic hues and use vegetable dyes instead? And in place of neurotoxin-laced glues use water-based ones and recycled rubber or cork shoebeds? If those sound appealing to you, there's a whole world of fashionable footwear at your feet, friends. Companies like El Naturalista (available at ElNaturalista.com or at local stores including Trove on Bathurst) and Think! makes trendy toe-wear (www.thenaturalshoestore.com). Even more conservative (and damn pricey) Mephistos (www.mephisto.com) and Eccos use veg dyes (www.eccocanada.com).
And, hey, if hemp sneaks are your thing, check out Simple's Green Toe line (www.simpleshoes.com) not just sneaks, but a whole gamut of casual oxfords and Mary Janes made from eco fibres. Converse also make its Chuck All Stars in hemp but can't guarantee they're sweatshop-free . Adbusters' Converse-style organic hemp shoe is made in a union shop and meets all vegetarian needs. For hemp clogs, hemp oxfords and hemp sandals, check out Rawganique.com.
Q Do you know where I can find earth-friendly men's suits?
A Unfortunately, the world is not all that egalitarian, and this is one instance where men get screwed. Planet-conscious girls can get dolled up much easier than tree-hugging boys, but that doesn't mean you've got no options. Rawganique.com has certified organic hemp dress slacks and matching suit jackets as well as Oxford shirts in several hues even hemp ties! Downbound.com also carries organic hemp suits. The crispest, classiest dress shirts are made by Boll Organic (www.Bollorganic. com). Moments in the Sun on Augusta in Kensington also carries a wide selection of fair trade organic cotton men's button downs. And if you're willing to order from overseas, check out Greenfibres.com, which offers three-piece organic linen suits suits as well as beautiful tweed jackets and waistcoats woven from organic Highland wool.
Speaking of linen, you can find this flax-based eco fibre in many men's stores at this time of year. They just might not be sweatshop-free.
Or go second-hand. You can hit vintage shops for swank retro threads, or for really fancy occasions, try renting a tux or a suit instead of buying new. Of course, the dry cleaning solvents used between rentals might not be all that green, but that's tough to avoid.