12 November 2010

Vegetarian Belts: cow-free, but what about the carbon footprint?

There once was a time when the unfortunate side-effect of wearing vegetarian-friendly fashion accessories derived from faux-leather sources was the forced inhalation of a gag-inducing toxic cloud of chemical fall-out – that or a guaranteed slot on any worst-dressed list from here to Timbuktu. Inexplicably, designers seemed to be under the mistaken impression that those who embraced cruelty-free alternatives preferred to look as God-awful as humanly possible while striking their granola-y pose. Thankfully, all that has changed.

Today’s fashion forward vegetarian-friendly designers clearly recognize that in addition to respecting the sanctity of life, their target audience wants to tread more lightly on the planet by making responsible yet stylish choices that reflect their sustainable lifestyle goals. While in theory that may seem like a tall order, judging by the ever-growing roster of veggie-respectful companies offering slick leather-free shoes, bags, apparel and other well-heeled accessories, embracing a plant-centric lifestyle is now just as vogue-worthy as it is healthful for the body and planet.

Of particular note, Canada’s aptly named Vegetarian Belts -- a subsidiary of Truth vegan fashion accessories -- was founded under the notion of ‘liv[ing] your truth and respect[ing] others.’ Launched nine years ago in a fashion school graduate’s apartment, every handmade belt and accessory in Renia Pruchnicki’s collection earned the praise of her unexpectedly vegan fan base because – while they were conveniently non-leather – their durable construction made them well-worth telling a friend about.

Up close and personal, the eye-catching red double top stitched matte brown polyurethane belt known as The Red Planet looks every bit as ‘real’ as its once mooing counterpart. There is no need to bemoan the absence of leather in your wardrobe with this little beauty, made all the more fetching thanks to its unexpected jolt of crimson stitching. At a cost of $55 American/$55 Canadian, it may seem a bit on the pricey side but the sound craftsmanship would seem to indicate that it’s one of those pieces that will take a licking and keep on ticking.

Unfortunately, this reviewer is incapable of offering a real-world perspective of the durability of the aforementioned belt since the company failed to ask what size would be appropriate to send. They quite generously mailed not one but two belts (the other a wide black elastic number called The Seva with an entirely different hook and eye-style buckle than what is currently available on their website) at a total shipping cost of $9.21 Canadian/$9.18 American, which, while certainly appreciated, was a wasted effort. Here's the problem -- neither fit…not even just a little. This seems like a valid issue to bring up – particularly for any company that manufactures planet-friendly goods.

If you’re going to go to the trouble and expense of sending merchandise to a willing, eco-minded reviewer, at least think with the planet in mind as well as your own bottom line. Why bother sending ill-fitting goods well over 1,000 miles that can’t even be used by the recipient…and why risk what could potentially be worthwhile word-of-mouth buzz? Instead, I’m left thinking that Vegetarian Belts may indeed take the pressure off of cows, but based on their lofty shipping carbon footprint and lack of regard for practical matters such as proper consumer size, I’m left with very little sense of why this company is worthy of This Dish Is Veg praise.

Fortunately for Vegetarian Belts, I can’t stand the idea of wasting anything, so I’m going to donate their two teeny weeny waist cinchers to the first Freecycle user who pounces (and pray that the lucky person is local so I don't bring even more Greenhouse gas guilt into the picture). Then, I intend to follow up with the Freecycle recipient down the road regarding how their Vegetarian Belts work under pressure/regular use and report back to TDIV readers!

Elizah Leigh | @elizahleigh
Elizah Leigh's master's degree in education combined with her passion for the written word and deep-seated interest in environmental issues has proven to be the ideal trifecta for her present status as a green journalist. Currently commissioned to write a reference book on vegetarianism, Elizah hopes to inspire people through her words. Follow Elizah on Facebook.

Photo credit: cc: flickr.com/photos/compujeramey