Just how vegan is “vegan”?

Just how vegan is “vegan”?

As part of Wildling Shoes' mission as a sustainable company, many teams focus on corporate and social responsibility within their work. Especially members from Supply Chain and Positive Impact have really picked up speed and are breaking new ground as Wildling Shoes continues to further reduce its minimalist footprint. This focus has given us the opportunity to dig deep and really scrutinize and investigate issues like sustainability along the entire supply chain.

When the idea of achieving vegan certification for Wildling shoes was first considered, the curious minds from our teams started out by asking all kinds of gateway questions that in turn opened up a veritable Pandora’s box of challenges – and not just for Wildling Shoes. For one thing, there were plenty of question marks surrounding the legal aspects since, at the time, we didn’t know exactly which provisions and regulations were in place. But far more important still was the question of how to jointly go about defining our own standards and those of our customers. Because ultimately, what is the point of being (legally) entitled to label a product as vegan if we don’t really want to portray it that way?

“What are the necessary criteria for certification?”

Team member Anna-Maria is responsible for Wildling Shoes' sustainable supply chain, and one of the very first questions that came up when she started looking at this issue was: “What standards need to be met to be able to label our minimal shoes as vegan?” So she took this question to our independent testing agency.

Up to now we have quite deliberately not attached the vegan label to our shoes – even the models that don’t contain wool. Instead, we have used the – admittedly somewhat unwieldy – phrase, “without materials of animal origin.” But there’s a reason why we opted for the wordier term. Before we started digging into the matter, there were a host of unanswered questions. Could a product still be labelled vegan if, say, one of our suppliers used additives of animal origin as an ingredient in the lubricants used in their production machinery?

The feedback we received from the testing institute gave the all-clear: The specifications don’t require such in-depth information since, for vegan certification, only the end product itself is tested and those kinds of additives can generally only be detected in trace amounts or are impossible to be detected at all.

Image: Dewi Koomen Fotografie

Vegan Wildling shoes ...

But this news immediately gave rise to the next question: “How useful is it to apply for certification if it ultimately only comes down to which materials the shoe is made from – and we already know that none of them are of animal origin?”

And so, after some deliberating, we decided not to apply for a seal, but instead to start labeling the new autumn/winter models without wool as vegan.

Still, Anna-Maria was determined to leave no stone unturned and contacted all our suppliers to make sure that nothing animal-based was used in their fabrics. She didn’t expect any major revelations, but figured it was best to err on the side of caution.

... or maybe not?

In fact, a few days after that, the manufacturer of our EVA insoles contacted us with the news that they were using animal fat in their production. Fortunately, fears that this substance might be incorporated directly into the sole were quickly dispelled and Anna-Maria’s contact person reported that it was merely an auxiliary material. A few folks may have even overheard the collective sigh of relief that emanated from everyone at Wildling Shoes...

A short time later, one of our partner companies for cotton fabrics called to ask, “Just how vegan is vegan?” and shared with us that the questions we had asked there had sparked a great deal of animated discussion and continued research. As it turned out, none of the other companies it supplies had ever looked into the idea of a completely vegan supply chain, and consequently, no one gave it a second thought – because obviously it is reasonable to assume that cotton is inherently vegan. But Wildling Shoes wouldn’t be Wildling Shoes if we let that assumption go uncontested.

Image: _wildundwunderbar_

Opportunities for change

As it turns out, what at first seems to create considerable uncertainty is, in fact, just another chance for us to make a difference together. Currently, we are in the process of searching for a vegan alternative for the EVA sole or a way to do without it altogether.

Thanks to the (wo)manpower within our teams, we can now take a much closer look, raise questions, and stimulate change for the better. And even if this initially creates a bit of uncertainty, it also opens up tremendous potential for us to move not only feet, but also make a move towards real change.

For the time being, the Wildling Shoes online shop will continue to rely on our old standby phrase, “without materials of animal origin,” which in the meantime has become almost second nature. But all the while we are pursuing quite the opposite approach and working to create even more transparency.


We are part of the Re:generation.

Header: @jasminalozar_photographer