Some call it a trend..
We prefer to call it a movement; the movement of the mind reaching greater heights, and seeing beyond what is placed in front of us, to distract from reality. Looking at the space between the objects and seeing truth vs lies, good vs evil. Also known as being consciously forward; a term perfectly embodied by the founder of VAUTE COUTURE : the beautiful Ms Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart.
This is a success story, like no other; and one that is particularly dear to our hearts. Leanne has always had a love for animals; dating back to when she was 8 years old, running a campaign with her classmates to sell arts & crafts, in the aim of raising awareness for homeless animals at a local shelter. Years later, this love for those sweet creatures has evolved into a powerhouse business; spreading good vibes and good fashion – we like. A true artist and ambassador of love, with no background in fashion, Vaute Couture began with a mission to create the perfect winter coat; and of course, prove to the world that animals had no place in the fashion equation. After months of R&D, the first piece of her collection was a success; exhibiting ethics, function, design & quality. The coat is made of vegan recyclable fibres, produced locally, warmer than wool, windproof, snow & rain resistant, and heat retaining – all this with a high end look & feel. With hundreds of preorders for the coat, from individuals who knew little of Leanne and her designs, this was all the support she needed to go full force into production.
A year later, Ms Hilgart moved to the city of lights; also known as, New York City. Consequently, two years later, she opened her very first Vaute Couture store in the art centred hub, of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Never looking back, she says it was the best decision she has ever made. The space was designed using all salvaged materials; including old Abercrombie mannequins, a custom photo booth made of recycled doors and ex-school lockers. Talk about fashion meets the consciously cool. And as she continued on her unstoppable path, another year later, she broke grounds at New York Fashion Week; as the first ever all vegan collection. With the media in love with Leanne and her conscious fashion and that deep rebellious passion that keeps her going, one thing is for sure : this woman is one to watch.
Read on for more with Ms Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart.
KA – Ms Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart; you have a beautiful name (and an equally beautiful appearance). Where do your roots reside and do they play a role in your present life.
LH – That’s really so kind of you! My mom is a big city girl who came to America from Taipei in her twenties to become a doctor. She met my dad, an inventor from a small town in Wisconsin, on an airplane that my dad was not originally booked on. He changed his seat to sit next to her. They go ballroom dancing each week, and brought me to a Thich Nhat Hanh retreat upstate this August, that changed my life. It wasn’t until I was in high school that I learned my name means lotus flower in Mandarin, and then my mom told me that the lotus is not tarnished by the most difficult conditions, in fact it’s the mud that makes the lotus grow. My last name is derived from the German first name Hildegarde (also my grandma’s first name), which represents the female protector of the battle. There’s so much to learn from one’s ancestors- I’m excited to visit the part of Germany that my dad’s family is from.
KA – What drives you on your mission to remove animals from the fashion equation.
LH – As a 6 year old child, I saw a neighbor had a rabbit fur coat- and it was just simple, a simple injustice, that this silly coat existed, and because of it some rabbits did not have a life. Later at 10, when I researched the fur industry, factory farming, and vivisection and learned just how awful these systems are that we have set up to use animals for our clothes, food, and to test on, I knew I had found a mission that moved me, though I hadn’t yet figured out quite how I would be useful in it. These industries are not cruel on purpose, they just are trying to be as profitable as possible, and living sentient beings don’t belong in this type of machine. So, I then needed to figure out the best use of my experiences & skills to create an easier way to live compassionately and I soon realized that the adventure of my life added up to offer me tools to start a fashion label that would do its best to develop something better than wearing animals, and share with the world just how brilliant and wonderful these animals raised and killed for fashion & food really are.
KA – For those who may not know, the V in Vaute Couture is for vegan – could you kindly shed some light, on what exactly constitutes vegan materials & consequently, fashion.
LH – Just like how vegan food is anything you eat that doesn’t come from an animal, vegan fashion is anything you wear that doesn’t either. So, no wool, silk, down, leather, fur. But it’s not really about what you aren’t wearing. It’s about what you are- something you’ve chosen that impacts the world how you want to impact it, instead of silently participating in a system that an industry has created. Vegan isn’t about what you can’t have, it’s about empowering yourself to choose your impact on the world. How something is made- ethically, eco-consciously, it’s all part of it. And this is not clothes just for vegans. I put my life savings and 5 years of my life into this mission to create apparel that will push the industry forward for everyone.
KA – What are some of the obstacles you encounter, in going against the grain and pushing forward in the vegan couture movement.
LH – The biggest obstacle in creating a business and creating art is yourself. You know yourself better than anyone- and you know how to sabotage yourself better than anyone. Reading the War of Art by Steven Pressfield helped me learn how normal this is, and how to externalize this suffering we put upon ourselves day in and day out through this creative process. The rest of it has been just fine. Cash flow issues kill me. Logistics and shipping kills me. But that’s probably just made me stronger, and reincarnated me each time into a more focused entrepreneur who knows when it comes down to it, I’m nothing too special, just someone who doesn’t give up, because I know I’ve been giving these experiences and tools in my life that I can use to make it easier to live without using animals, and that I need to do whatever I can to keep going.
KA – How did the idea and manifestation of Vaute Couture come to life.
LH – While modeling in Hong Kong with Calcarries, I was bored after days of shoots & castings and needed a creative outlet. My brain is like a child- constantly needing to play. I started running through many concepts that I had dismissed before as not marketable when I was building business plans for competitions while at school. When I hit upon the quest for the perfect winter coat, I realized something. While there wasn’t a huge amount of vegans in the world (the question “How big is your market?” is #1 for a Marketing Plan in your business plan asked by any MBA school), I realized that was NOT the question I needed to ask, because if I used the choice to take animals out of the fashion equation as an opportunity to create something better for everyone, than my market was anyone from a cold city that wanted to feel beautiful. And more importantly, I could tell the world that there was no excuse left to wear animals. After having done many business plan competitions with other ideas earlier that year, and felt the need to water down my ideas to make them more marketable and understandable, I realized that the most wonderful things I had ever done in my life had never been approved of. I just did them because they had to be done. And so, I told 2 people before I started Vaute, and then I started it that week. Quit everything. And built it piece by piece from what felt most natural and easiest for me- and almost 6 years later, here I am.
KA – It must be a great honour to be the first ever, all vegan line, to show at New York Fashion week. Can you tell us a little about this experience, and how it has affected your progress forward.
LH – I decided to show at Fashion Week only 4 weeks before Fashion Week. When we were listed on the official Fashion Week Grid next to all the big labels, it blew my mind. Being on the homepage of CNN.com meant telling the world we don’t need to wear animals. For me it said something about the validity of vegan & compassionate living past what we eat. So often fashion and business act as if they are exempt from ethics, but that’s exactly when we need to think most about how things are done, because they will be done exponentially- good or bad. This press and validity has allowed us to reach more people and it’s just been so much fun.
KA – You moved both yourself and your production to NYC in 2010 and opened up shop in 2012; with your first brick and mortar store in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. You continue to reach for your destination, in a seemingly effortless way. Can you tell us a little about your adventure and share with us, some words of wisdom.
LH – What’s interesting about effort is that if you dedicate yourself day in and day out to use your life and the tools in your life to create good through each process, this in itself is a daily practice that is full of a quiet effort, sometimes painful, sometimes tedious. You do it not for an outcome, you do it for the sake of the action itself. But then, I’ve noticed that if I trust that while I’m doing my best, and while it’s sometimes tough, that right when it’s getting toughest is when a momentum has been building through each daily effort to culminate into the next big step. There’s a quote by Bruce Lee that says, “There are no limits, only plateaus.” It’s every time that I feel I’ve reached the end of the road, my limit, when I find it was only a plateau, a stage in this journey, and if I just allow myself to dream of the next step, it will be there. The store started as a daydream, but within a week everything made it possible to make it real that I couldn’t ignore. I’ve learned to never second guess my heart, and never second guess something that appear from the outside to be too good to be true. Because it’s really just like what seems like an overnight sensation from the outside, but really was 10 years in the making, day in and day out. It’s been bubbling up for years, and now is the time it’s ready to appear. Trust yourself, trust your heart, create good in your daily life, and believe that something wonderful has been building behind the scenes.
KA – Since your time in the big apple, you must have discovered many amazing places and things to do! Seeing as how this is the CITYGUIDE, please do fill us in your top 5 hangouts in NYC.
LH – 1. Champs Family Bakery: the Buenos Dias Salad & Red Velvet Pancakes are to die for.
2. The Ice Cream Shop formerly known as Lulas (on Avenue B & 6th): Their handpacked cashew ice creams are incredible, vegan egg creams & banana splits that will make your heart sing!
3. Any park in the summer with a movie! This is my dream evening. A movie in the park with lots of snacks and lots of laughs.
4. My rooftop! Making dinner & watching the stars with my rescued pup = pretty perfect.
5. Brooklyn Botanical Gardens for cherry blossom season- I’m going next week, I can’t wait!
Vaute Couture : New York – More info at vautecouture.com
Written by Diana Eskander / CITYGUIDE, KA Magazine
*Photos by Balarama Heller. Photo of Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart by Bridget Laudien