Before They Were Shoes


When going vegan some people have trouble giving up bacon or cheese, but my struggle was shoes (okay, so I struggled with cheese too!). Thanks to Cowgirl (see Vanity or Life for the story), I think I’m past it now. If I get tempted to buy leather again, however; I’ll reread this fab comment from the anonymous writer of An Untitled Press.

Here’s what anonymous has to say in response to Cowgirl’s story about meeting a friendly steer at the Farm Sanctuary:

“That friendly steer story reminded me of a documentary I had watched years ago about leather that’s made in Turkey. I was expecting for the documentary to show views of gorgeous cobble-step sidewalks, wine and cheese-making fields, and the whole Turkey-ish country scenes I had imagined the documentary was gonna show (I’m sure I was mixing the country up with another one; oh, now I remember, I thought I was gonna see Tuscany – hahaha!).

Anyhow, the documentary showed tourists going on a trip to see how the country of Turkey was able to make such soft leather, which they’re known for worldwide. It started off the ultimate of grossness, when they showed freshly stripped-off leather skins being washed in huge pools in some outdoor area (looked like some wayside street, instead of a factory). All of the goriness of bloody skins was already sick to see, but what was even worse was when some of the tourists watching the process had thrown up.  Their barf was going into the bloody pools! Ah! Gag!

Then the saddest thing about how a leather-making father had wanted his son to grow up to have a better life, but his son couldn’t find any other work, but to make leather as well with his Dad. It was hard work! The son had to step on the leather skins with his feet in waist-high water for hours and hours. The documentary commented that if a person were to have any open sores, then they couldn’t do the leather-stepping part of the job because they’d get ill (infected?) right away.

And in the end, they showed what was the most valuable ingredient that helped to make their leather so soft: pigeon poop. It was incredible to me how the leather-makers were gathering pigeon droppings so carefully (with their bare hands), scooping it up as if it were expensive jewelry. I had no idea leather could ever be made in that process. I thought they were just dried out in the sun with some kind of softening oils brushed on ’em or something, ya know?”

Thanks to Cowgirl and An Untitled Press – I think my leather wearing days are over for good!

Cruelty-Free Shoes

If this post inspired you to get some cruelty-free shoes, here’s some links to check out!

Moo Shoes

Alternative Outfitters

Italian Style – Cruelty-Free Shoes for Dandies

Compassionate Couture

Photo courtesy of

About celestedimilla

Hey there. I’m Celeste, California girl, writer, psychotherapist and burgeoning plant-based foodie.
This entry was posted in Animal Welfare, Beauty & Fashion, Daily Life and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

48 Responses to Before They Were Shoes

  1. Great article, after reading it I’m thinking that coloured wooden clogs are the way to go! To accompany my business suit, some polished black ones would be the appropriate choice! It might just be the new vegan workwear fashion? Cheers, Steve

  2. Perfect timing! My Cri de Coeur booties arrived in the mail yesterday evening (Compassionate Couture carries them). So stylish, sustainably made, all leather-free, and a vegan company to boot (pun intended). 🙂

    It’s getting easier and easier to have a cruelty-free wardrobe. Thanks for this post!

  3. I have also seen the documentary described above and it was truly gross!! What was even sadder was that it seemed the people had no other choice of work to have a sustainable income.

  4. I suspected the leather-making process was pretty horrid, but it’s much worse than I thought. I’ve been slowly giving away my “old” leather shoes and bags (my goodness do I have purses…). Coincidentally, just as another commenter wrote – I just received my black “snakeskin” pumps from Compassion Couture. Beautiful, comfy, and nothing had to die and be stepped on for me to step IN them.

  5. Jeanne Allen says:

    This a gross process to attain soft leather. But that is Turkey. I am still going to buy leather shoes because they breathe and better for my feet.

    • Hey Jeanne! I hear you girlfriend. Like I said, shoes were the hardest thing for me to give up. And I know you are doing the vegan thing more for health reasons anyway. I understand and I certainly don’t judge you!! Celeste 🙂

  6. Mychael M. says:

    Great post, Celeste. Since becoming vegan, I have become ethically vegan. I do believe that shift is what will keep me vegan, make me willing to work really hard to keep animal parts out of, and off of, my body. Do you know the name of that documentary? Another great one along those lines that I recently watched- Our Daily Bread, a German film about factory agriculture in general. Really well done, disturbing, but low-key in a way. No dramatic music to try to make you feel something, just images of what actually goes on in order for us to eat. I really felt for the people in the film who work in these situations. I’m pretty sure I would put a gun in my mouth if all I did all day was to use a hydraulic cutter to remove the feet from hogs. Not sure how folks psychologically bear any type of factory work, but especially when it involves slaughter of sentient beings.
    I have not struggled with any kind of addiction to leather boots, although I have always loved a good, comfortable and sturdy pair. I am, however, a climbing arborist, and have had a hard time finding arborist boots that protect my feet and do everything I need them to do that are not leather. Or even if they are not full leather, they usually aren’t completely vegan. I’ve been all over on line, have asked around, written letters to companies, etc. There are boots available to purchase from England. I don’t know about you, but buying boots online is a little tricky for me, especially when they have to be shipped that far. I need to try them on, walk around in them, you know? I recently bought some hikers from REI (Salomon) that are really great for walking, but a little slippery in the tree. My old leather boots are getting near the end of their life, and I’m trying desperately to make my next pair vegan. My old Wesco Highliners can be re-soled, so until someone comes out with a great pair of vegan loggers (anyone ever met a vegan logger?:)), that may be my best solution. For my everyday climbers, I’m kind of banging my head against a (carnistic) wall:( If anyone has any ideas, I welcome them.


    • Hi Mychael! Like you, my veganism has taken on an ethical meaning, and like you, this has strengthened my commitment to veganism. When I first gave up meat and dairy, I did it for health reasons alone and I cheated a lot. Since learning about the animal and environmental issues involved with eating meat, I’ve only cheated twice. I feel more strength to say “no” now that I’m fully aware of what’s at stake.

      I don’t know the name of the film my reader is referring to here, but I’ll ask her about it. I’ve never seen “Our Daily Bread”, but I’ll have to check it out. Thanks for the tip!

      As far as your search for vegan arborist boots, I haven’t a clue! It sounds like you’ve searched everywhere! I know what you mean about ordering shoes through the mail. I’ve got hard feet to fit, and I like to try shoes on before I buy them. I do know, however; that most mail order companies are good about letting you return stuff if it doesn’t work out. Still, that’s a bother.

      I wish you good luck with your boot search, and let me know how it plays out! Oh, and I just heard that a Native Foods opened up in Encinitas. Have you been?

      Celeste 🙂

      • Mychael M. says:

        Yes, Native Foods is great! Great service, great food, nice setting, very clean- overall highly recommend. Also, Veggie Grill even more recently opened at UTC. Just ate there last night. San Diego is getting to be quite the haven for dining vegans:)

        Thanks for the reply. I’ll let you know if I ever find those boots. In the meantime, I think I may try climbing in Dr. Marten vegans and see how that works!


  7. What a great post Celeste!

  8. junefit says:

    Great post and important because we must appeal to what is harmful, or digusting in this case to us humans. I just kept tkinking if these steers were skinned alive as done with the fur trade.

  9. Hey Celeste!
    Thank you for your comment, I’m glad I found your blog 🙂
    I have been recently considering buying a new bag and was thinking “what’s more sustainable, a durable leather bag or a more vulnerable faux leather one?” I did a little research online and was pretty horrified to know how many toxic chemicals and waste are involved in tanning leather….I might just use a nice cotton bag I already own for now 😉

    • Another commenter brought up the toxic chemicals and waste involved in tanning leather. I was woefully unaware of this stuff! It’s amazing what we don’t know about the stuff we use and eat. The more aware I become the more horrified I become. Anyway, a nice cotton bag sounds great to me! Thanks for your comment! Celeste 🙂

  10. Thanks so much for raising this Celeste. It’s something so many people are completely unaware of. I’m super pleased with my new vegan ankle boots 🙂 Wore them for the 1st time today in fact!

  11. Years ago, you could only get really cheap and nasty synthetic shoes. These days, I have beautiful ballet flats, biker booties and knee high boots that are all synthetic and still affordable. Importantly, it didn’t take a lot of time and money to track them down either. I still have some second hand leather boots my mum gave me, but she would have tossed them and they’re still going strong. Great post. I didn’t realise this process still went on.

    • So true!! It used to be that people only bought synthetic shoes when they didn’t have enough money to buy leather (besides the vegans, of course!). Although some synthetic shoes continue to be cheap knock offs, there’s a growing segment of really great vegan shoes. And yes – they’re getting more and more available. Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to comment! Celeste 🙂

  12. beautycalyptique says:

    yup, leather manufacturing is a really gross process, and the chemicals or heavy metal used in “better looking” factories are really harsh for the environment. and we’ve not yet started discussing the cruelty of obtaining those animal skins – I think we all know of the horrors of pythons skinned alive…

    and then it’s not even really safe to *wear* leather (even for those who don’t care for animals or the planet, granted) – it’s really soaked in toxins to make it soft, or sturdy, to add or to remove colour…
    in fact, leather shoes got tested last year in germany; and they found atrocious amounts of toxins everywhere from cheapo to luxury shoes.

    personally, I’m wearing up my old motorcycle jackets (as in: real biker jackets, not just the fashiony stuff) but I don’t buy any leather anymore. I also like to go to my former fave stores where I used to shop for bags or wallets or shoes and to casually ask them for toxin-free and cruelty-free alternatives, as if THAT was the latest trend, so that they kind of get the spirit 🙂

    • I’m so glad you brought up the safety issues with wearing leather – that’s not something that I’ve thought much about. Someone who commented on this post said that she’s not giving up leather shoes because she believes they are better for her feet than synthetic shoes. I wonder if she’s aware of the level of toxins in leather. I do wonder, however; if there are also toxins in synthetic shoes. I might start doing like you do and ask for toxin-free and cruelty-free alternatives.

      Great comment – thanks for sharing! Celeste 🙂

      • beautycalyptique says:

        I love the discussions here chez toi! 🙂

        well, sadly, man-made leather isn’t all roses either… yes, so it comes without the suffering one might think. but it’s still a petrochemical – and so it’s somehow responsible for enviromental issues and, ultimately, for animals in danger. it’s vicious, really :/ I am still researching all the options, and I’m sometimes *that* close to giving it up (but I won’t).

  13. I was surprised Stella McCartney shoes didn’t make the list 🙂

    • Hey Rika! I didn’t actually plan to create a comprehensive list of vegan shoe sites on this post, but Stella McCartney shoes are great. I might do another vegan shoe post and list where you can get vegan shoes. Thanks for all your support as usual!! Celeste 🙂

  14. Vanessa says:

    Great resources for finding veg friendly shoes. Thanks for sharing!

  15. offmotorway says:

    Getting non-leather shoes is always tough, although I have now managed for a couple of decades! But it seemed to get harder in non-veggie shops as leather just seemed to get so cheap – I dread to think what that means for the animals…

    • That’s great that you’ve been successfully buying non-leather shoes for so long!! It’s been a real struggle for me to find non-leather shoes that I like. As far as leather becoming cheaper, this might actually be good for animals. I know this sounds bad, but hear me out.

      I recently went shopping for a desk chair and told the clerk that I didn’t want leather. The clerk told me that the cheaper forms of “leather” are actually not leather at all anymore. Don’t know if this is true or not, but according to him a lot of non-leather stuff is being called “leather” these days. This may also be why it’s become cheap. Just saying… Celeste 🙂

  16. sf says:

    The anonymous chick here. I still crack up about Cowgirl’s sharing that the steer was referred to as her “bovine boyfriend”. Haha! I thought that it had only been a little over a week since I had gone on the Vegan way of chowing, but when I looked at my post about my trying to eat healthier, it has actually been about 25 days. Wowee!
    I can’t say that I actually “feel” any different (and wished I looked different – as in less pounds), but am seriously amazed that I could make myself pass on eating meat and dairy these many days. Right now, my struggle is for some serious dessert (like strawberry shortcake!) or cream in my coffee. But other than that, I’m happily doin’ a-okay. Yippee!
    Thanks for mentioning Native Foods cuz I’ve been trying to get my booty over there. I went the other day, but went too late, so they were already closed. Gonna try to go again this week.
    Thanks for sharing those links! I had no idea about Moo Shoes and will check ’em out!

    • Congrats on your 25-days – that’s a great accomplishment!! You’ll probably start noticing differences soon, especially in your skin and weight. And do get your booty to Native Foods – love them! Some good picks there are The Sesame Kale Macro Bowl, The Portabella Sammie and the Mambo Italiano Wrap.

      • sf says:

        Went to Native Foods finally, the other day. Was in a hurry, so I just grabbed a drink and one of the carrot cake cupcakes. Talk about super-high icing! It was great! Wrote down your suggestions and will definitely try ’em the next time I’m gonna stay to dine there. Thanks!

  17. nusrat2010 says:

    Thanks for the informative post, dear friend. Thankfully I was never into fancy shoes/clothing. Simplicity is what I do and preach 🙂
    It was an honor to read your thought process about leather shoe industry.

  18. I think I would have been a bit shell-shocked, too, if I was expecting an “Under the Tuscan Sun”-type movie and ended up seeing a Turkish leather exposé. LOL.

    I’m so glad that my story resonated with you, Celeste. And I’m so glad to be part of your journey, as you have been a delightful part of mine. Love your blog!

    Oh, and if you still have cheese cravings, I tried Treeline cashew cheese recently and it is really good stuff (with recognizable ingredients). I eat it on Mary’s Gone Crackers. You can probably get it in Orange County, but if not, check out Viva La Vegan Express, an all vegan grocery store that recently opened in Santa Monica. (Their Grand Opening is this weekend and apparently there will be samples – woo hoo!) The larger store (billed as the largest vegan grocery store in the world) is in Rancho Cucamunga, if that is closer to you. The express one doesn’t have much in the way of fresh produce, but since you can get that elsewhere it’s still fun to be able to go in and just buy anything that tickles your fancy. I got some Treeline cheese, some jerky made with shiitake mushrooms, and some all natural deodorant. They also bring in a variety of Ronald’s donuts from Las Vegas from time to time. Hands down the vegan donuts I’ve ever tasted. Long story short (yeah, that ship has sailed – sorry), the cheese….try it. 🙂

    • How funny! My husband and I almost went to the vegan grocery store in Rancho Cucamunga once. We decided not to, however; because we weren’t sure if it would be worth it. I mean, Rancho Cucamunga isn’t a place you’d expect to find a lot of vegans. Now that you tell me it’s supposed to be the largest vegan grocery store in the world, however; I’m going to talk my hubby into going this weekend. Maybe you think it’s funny that I’m choosing the Rancho store over the Santa Monica one, but I imagine the grand opening will be crowded (and I hate crowds!). I’ll look for the Treeline cheese.

      I will say, that you’ve got my mouth watering at Ronald’s donuts!! I have yet to try a vegan donut!

      Oh, and what are your thoughts about going to the Farm Sanctuary the first weekend in November? You can send me an email about it at,

      Celeste 🙂

      • I’m with you on crowds, although in this case, I hope they do get a lot of folks since I want the store to succeed and hopefully move to a larger location. I’d go to the Rancho store in a heartbeat (much, much larger and they have more fresh produce), but the SM store is down the street from my work and I haven’t a clue where RC is! LOL. I told the clerk at the SM store that RC didn’t strike me as a hotbed for veganism, but he said the store does well and people travel from all over to go there.

        The vegan donuts I had prior to Ronald’s were dense, unsatisfying cake donuts (not the light, fluffy, un-healthy-as-hell donuts of my youth), but apparently a family member of the owners is vegan so they figured out how to do them right. Hope they have some there when you go. Kind of funny saying you had a donut imported from Vegas. LOL!

    • Ronald’s donuts are going to have to wait, we’ve decided to stay home and finally clean out the garage this weekend. Not much fun, but we’ve been putting it off forever!!

      How cool that you work in Santa Monica! Lots of great vegan lunch spots around there!! I bet the Viva LA Vegan Express will be a huge success. Maybe one day they’ll open one in the OC.

      I’m not really sure where Rancho is either, but my husband tells me that we’re an equal distance from Rancho and Santa Monica (about an hour and 15 minute drive).

      Celeste 🙂

  19. P.S. I tried the soft cheese, but Treeline’s hard cheese are on my list to try.

  20. I saw a similar video, I am pretty sure.

  21. jennypugh says:

    Wow, I must shamefully admit that I didn’t know anything about the leather process, but I can honestly say I’ll be shoe-shopping in a whole different way now! Thank you so much for posting such an informative article Celeste 🙂

    • I’m right there with you Jenny! I’ve only become aware of these things recently and I don’t think most people know this stuff. Thank you for reading and for your support! Much appreciated!! Celeste 🙂

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