If you don’t know the name Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart yet, you will soon.
An entrepreneur extraordinaire and animal rights activist, Leanne started the vegan fashion line VAUTE COUTURE to provide cruelty-free winter dress coats. With gorgeous designs and eco-friendly production it wasn’t long before the line exploded in popularity resulting in increased demand.
This led to a flagship store and a new ready-to-wear line that debuted at this year’s New York Fashion Week, an animal friendly runway show that CNN has dubbed “ History Making." We asked Leanne to let us in on the secrets to her success and the road that led her there and she was more than happy to oblige!
TDIV: What inspired you to adopt a vegan diet?
Leanne: I went vegetarian when I was in sixth grade after choosing factory farming, vivisection, and the fur industry as my topics for my social studies fair project. I was told to pick something I wanted to learn more about, and I had always had a feeling that we were doing things to animals that no one was talking about. As soon as I knew the truth, I knew I couldn’t be a part of it. A visit to my uncle’s dairy farm solidified that decision. Seven years later, I went to a camp started by Ocean Robbins called YES! We ate vegan all week and as soon as I learned that the dairy industry IS the veal industry, I knew I had to go completely animal free.
TDIV: Did working as a model have any influence on you wanting to develop your own fashion line?
Leanne: This is an interesting question. It’s not that modeling made me want to develop a fashion line so much as it gave me skills that I needed to develop a fashion line. I didn’t start the line to do fashion; I started it to use myself as a vehicle for spreading awareness for the animals where I was needed most. Modeling gave me a vast amount of knowledge of photo shoots and fashion shows, which are a big part of creating the face of a fashion label. I was lost for a long time trying to figure out where I could be used best in this world. It seemed like my path was so all over the place in the past- modeling, marketing, MBA, animal rights, art, start-ups…and then I realized it was exactly that! Those things that made my life uniquely mine and gave me a set of skills and experiences uniquely mine should be used as tools to make me a vehicle for the movement. And I think that’s true for everyone. Nothing is an accident. Following your passions now can serve you and your mission later.
TDIV: Congratulations on opening your flagship store! What were the biggest obstacles you encountered and what did you learn from them?
Leanne: Thanks! Hmph. Actually, opening a flagship store was a lot like everything else in my life. The work itself is hard, it is a leap of growth for me with risk and new territory, but really everything just lines up and falls into place to be more than I could ever imagine. After one particularly stressful season where everything went wrong, I daydreamed about a flagship store to help get me through the stress, and then a quick search on craigslist led me to the perfect space, which I signed five days later. What started as a daydream ended in a lease in less than a week, and a few weeks later I was building the space, opening for business a couple months after that. The store is one of the smartest things I’ve ever done, as it allowed me to hire staff, which freed up some of my time to do more forward thinking and proactive growth strategizing for VAUTE.
TDIV: Do you have any plans to expand beyond coats, tees, and accessories?
Leanne: Yes. We just launched our first full Ready to wear line including dresses, sweaters, blouses, pants, skirts, and more! We debuted at New York Fashion Week, called “History Making”, by CNN.
TDIV: What advice would you offer others wanting to start their own eco-conscious/vegan/ethical business?
Leanne: Always figure out what YOU have to offer first, and also first figure out what the world needs. Do these concurrently, do these deeply, and somewhat counter-intuitively, don’t worry too much about it being the perfect idea. It’s more important to DO, to start. As the Goethe quote goes: “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” To learn more about VAUTE COUTURE and snag yourself one of the hottest designs of the season visit: www.vautecouture.com
Photo credit: Vaute Couture