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February 2003
My Ten Year Love Affair with Vegetarian Shoes
By Claudette Silver


Shortly after I finished college in 1991, I entered the UK on a student work visa. I had six delightful months to experience London and make a tiny bit of money in the process. Aside from drinking a few pints of Guinness and exploring castles, I had but one goal in mind—to locate a pair of hip, high quality leather-free shoes. Yes, I owned plenty of plastic shoes but they were toxic, made in sweatshops, scuffed easily and killed my feet. And yes, there were a few vegan companies in the U.S. who made shoes from non-leather materials; their styles, though, left a lot to be desired and they didn’t last long. I had heard of a shoe company in England that actually made their shoes of something they called vegatan—a breathable, less toxic material specifically designed to be vegan! The company was aptly called Vegetarian Shoes.

Vegetarian Shoes began in 1990 by artist Robin Webb who was inspired by hearing of shoes made in Africa from recycled car tires. Says Webb, “This got me thinking and soon I was making shoes out of anything I could lay my hands on, but being veggie, I didn’t want to use leather. Then I made an exciting discovery—a synthetic Microfibre material used for yachting upholstery. It looked and felt like supple leather, but was ‘breathable,’ unlike other plastics. After some experimenting, I realized that this was what I had been looking for, and Vegetarian Shoes was born.”

Pair #1: 1992
Low Rider Biker

I hadn’t even landed a job yet when I began my mission. I figured the right pair of shoes might help in the job search, right? Less than 48 hours in London and I found my way to a place called The Ecology Center, a now defunct exhibition gallery that housed an eco-friendly shop and vegetarian cafe. Immediately I saw the shoes I wanted, and truth be told, they had absolutely nothing to do with me finding a job. About £40 later (roughly $80, a hefty sum for a student at the time), I walked away with a low-rider biker style shoe, black of course, with pointed toes and not one, but two silver buckles in the back that jingled when I walked. Unless I planned on being a rock star, they were not, however, the most appropriate work shoes—but I didn’t care.

I wore those shoes every single day for six months. Those shoes never, I repeat never, hurt my feet, never cracked, never wore out like my plastic shoes. I waited tables in them, wore them backpacking in Spain and even wore them with a suit once to work. (From a fashion standpoint, I really wouldn’t recommend this.) I still have them, and wear them every now and again—minus the suit or backpack, of course.

Pair # 2: 1992, several months later
Full Biker Boots

Now see, here is where you are about to witness my greedy side. Shortly after I returned home, a friend of mine from England planned to come for a visit. Immediately I thought of the really cool pair of full biker boots that I still wanted. If she bought them for me, I could easily pay her back with U.S. dollars, and save an enormous amount in shipping. Pair number two was not far off.
It was the simplest transaction I have ever made. She brought me the boots, I gave her the cash, and they fit beautifully. Note—I have never taken them for a spin on a motorcycle, but they worked extremely well through many DC winter snows.

Pair #3: 1995
Mid-calf Boot w/Chunky Heel

I can’t believe I went three whole years without a single purchase from Vegetarian Shoes. But that would change when I stopped in London on my way home from an amazing archaeology dig in Israel. I had not been to London in the three years since I left, and I was ready to connect with friends and down a few pints. My former flat-mate, Maria, suggested a day trip to Brighton, and it dawned on me that a final aspect of my love affair could be realized—a visit to the actual store!

Brighton is a really beautiful little seaside town—the whole place smells of ocean salt. We found the store right away, and ah, the heaven—an entire store of my favorite shoes! I hadn’t taken a single picture on my trip thus far, but you better believe I wanted to document that moment. The fellow behind the counter was pleasant, but obviously thought I was a nut job for wanting my picture with him. He smiled, we took the picture, and I bought simply the cutest pair of boots you have ever seen. Oh, I was one happy girl.

Pair #4: 1996
Doc Martens Hiking Boot

A year went by. Still, to the best of my knowledge, you could only buy Vegetarian Shoes in England or place a mail order and hope they fit. By this time, Vegetarian Shoes were making Doc Martens. Yes, that’s right. I kept waiting for them to be picked up in the U.S., but to no avail.

Then, at Christmas, I planned a hiking trip in northern Thailand, so I decided to place my order for a pair of Doc Marten hiking boots. Order I did, and within two weeks I had them. They were perfect, except too small! So I sent them back, waited, and two weeks later I had the pair that was the right size. I went to Thailand, they were perfect, or rather they would have been perfect had I done any hiking; instead, I went mostly barefoot hanging out on the beach the whole time. They served me very well for a few years of hectic city life, but unfortunately, this pair ends with a sad tale.

One summer, I had to travel a lot with my job and was gone for almost three months. I sub-leased my apartment to a friend, who was happy to stay at my place and watch my kitty, Pinky. He is a complete darling, except for his nasty “habit” of urinating on things to show his displeasure, and—well, you guessed it. Who knows how many times over those three months he registered his complaints on my shoes in the back of my closet, but by the time I discovered them, it was too late. They were soaked in three months’-worth of cat urine. I tried every neutralizing agent and soap—even soaked them in a bath of Nature’s Miracle—but it was hopeless. A level of stink is acceptable in shoes, but not this kind of stink. So sad…and yes, I still have the cat.

Pair #5: 2001
Doc Martens “Coppa”

Wow, how I made it five whole years with no purchase I will never know. A friend and I were in New York and just happened to find ourselves in the Brit-punk boutique, 99X. Although I never quite recovered from my last Vegetarian Shoes/Doc Marten experience, I thought it might be time to try again. By now, there were actually a few places in the States to buy the shoes. 99X had at least a dozen choices, and the first pair I tried ended up being the winner—a standard pair of black Doc Martens with yellow stitching and steel toes. All my years of going to punk and hardcore shows and I never owned a single pair of steel-toed shoes (often worn to protect one’s feet from being stamped on in the “mosh pit”). Mind you, there was a certain amount of irony to my purchase—the whole reason I was in New York was to work on a project with the Backstreet Boys tour—strictly professional work, by the way. I finally had a traditional pair of steel-toed shoes, but their need would be lost on a crowd who thinks the term “pit” refers only to Brad’s last name. One last note—steel toes really do set off metal detectors.

Today, there are several places in the U.S. where you can buy Vegetarian Shoes, and now other kinds of vegan shoes as well. You can actually go in and try them on! The demand for vegan shoes has greatly increased over the past decade—a true sign of progress. Vegetarian Shoes are no longer able to make their shoes by hand, but most are still made in British factories, including the oldest co-op in England, established in 1881. Obviously, I just think the world of Vegetarian Shoes. Ah, if only they could love me as much as I love them!

Vegetarian Shoes can be bought in U.S. dollars online or with a credit card at or fax (011-44-1273) 679-379. Visit the store or write them at Vegetarian Shoes, 2 Gardner St., Brighton, East Sussex BN1 1UP, UK; call (011-44-1273) 691-913 or email

Places in the U.S. to buy Vegetarian Shoes and other brands in-store or online:
99X (no online sales but you can request a catalog for mail-order), 84 E. 10 St., New York City; (212) 460-8599.
Moo Shoes; 207 E. 26 St., New York City; (212) 481-5792; or
Otsu (see article).
Vegan Essentials (see listing).


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