Once upon a time I lived in this flat in Paisley:
See the Living Room (far right of the picture)? My sister and I were strictly forbidden to enter. My dad had two very nice Le Corbusier chairs in there which one or other of us gnawed chunks out of, hence the ban.
Naturally, we slithered in there frequently for the thrill of it. There was a walk-in cupboard in the Living Room, about 4 feet deep by 3 feet wide, possibly more. It seemed pretty huge at the time, like a cave. Cupboards are great places to hide in and think in and this cupboard had the extra bonus of housing a fur coat. My dad bought it for my gran. I have no idea what kind of animal it once was.
Possibly my gran thought the coat was a cruel thing because she never wore it. So it lurked silently in the cupboard except on the odd occasion when I’d wear it around pretending to be a bear. When my parents sent the fur coat out to join me in Sydney a few years ago I was at a loss about what to do with it. The coat remained unworn in public until very recently. I wore it round the house from time to time, remembering the cupboard, being three foot tall and growling under my breath. It smells of camphor and stale air but still looks quite shiny (see below).
It is macabre to think that it had once belonged to an animal at all. Like many city people, I have never witnessed the violent death of an animal and the meat products that I buy are packaged in neat, gore free packets. The only things that I have deliberately killed have been cockroaches and (oh the irony) the odd biting ant on my yoga mat.
I wore it to a friend’s house for a cocktail party a couple of weeks ago with these Gucci steel heeled stilettos shoes that I have been on the hunt for on and off for 10 years. One of the guests thought I looked like Cruella DeVille.
“You even have her hair” he said.
He’s right – I do. The style anyway. The white is well covered. Or so I thought.
Then SiouxsieLaw tugged on the remaining ethical bone in my atavistic legal body by commmenting on my last but one blog thusly:
You have officially killed any thought I had of going shoe vegan. But that probably is a good thing.
But is it really a good thing Siouxsie?
A while back, I tweeted that Shoe sales in Australia had gone up this year by 26% (Relief spending up on little luxuries) and my anarchic writer friend Stinginthetail suggested that I had spearheaded a mini-shoe boom via Twitter. At the time, I was quite chuffed. Now I feel like some evil death peddler.
Basically now I worry that with every pair of leather shoes that I buy, I further demonstrate my lack of any deep or real compassion for other living creatures. Being a shoe obsessive fully implicates me in the usual range of lethiferous, vain, rapacious and merciless human vs animal behaviours.
So for a couple of weeks now I have been sitting and thinking and thinking and sitting and feeling guilty and wondering how not to.
Some of the sitting and thinking was done in lotus listening to my yoga teacher talk about yamas. Yamas (and niyamas) comprise part of the Hindu, Jianist and Buddhist codes of conduct for living a mindful life. Yamas comprise ten thou shall not do imperatives we should apply in our dealings with the rest of the world and are roughly equivalent to the 10 Comandments. The Sixth Comandment is, for example: “ thou shalt not kill”.
The First Yama is Ahimsa – a prohibition on the killing or injuring of living things.
The application of Ahimsa, like the Sixth Comandment, is interpreted entirely differently depending on the person that you speak to. (Which is lucky because the beastie under that shoe looks like something that I’d try to step on too after shrieking loudly).
In the Jain religion, for example, the meat, leather, and dairy industries are tangibly, economically and hopelessly intertwined. No milk, no meat and absolutely no leather is mandatory and the ideal Jain (and possibly Hindu and Buddhist) diet is a vegan one. Jains take pains to avoid hurting even small insects.
On the other hand you have the Christian religions, like Catholicism, which embrace and congratulate the concept of bloody self-sacrifice and martyrs. Catholics are an odd bunch though, speaking from personal experience, and not to be relied on in ethical debates.
Leaving the mental Catholics aside (sorry Dad) ethical utilitarians of all faiths will tell you that if you are going to kill an animal, the very least that you can do is to have the good manners to use every single bit of its horribly murdered carcass for a useful purpose.
I do look occasionally at cruelty free, vegetarian shoes and have tried to reconcile my love for quirky shoes and sky high heels with my love for yoga.
To date, the biggest gripe that I have about so-called compassionate shoes is that many of them are made of polyurethene. PU is truly horrible stuff. Faux leather reminds me of faux meat veggie mince.
Both are possibly even more horrible than the real thing. So if If I am going to buy a right thinking vegan shoe, it better not pretend to be a bit of an animal.
That said, there is no harm in trying to be a little more ethical in my shoe purchases. There are some compassionate, cruelty free, ethical and elegant shoes being designed out there. I looked.
Hetty Rose Shoes, for example, make some funky shoes to order from recycled leather car seats and upholstery fabrics. These are exquisitely made, bespoke shoes and are accordingly quite expensive. The good news is that Hetty Rose has launched its first Ready To Wear range with prices starting at £150 (Source: Shoeperwoman)/
Terraplana on the other hand is a bit more affordable if a bit less interesting.
The big problem for me is that ethical shoes, like foot friendly shoes, are just so damnably virtuous looking. I am a shoe fetishist. I love heels. High, high heels.
Heels do not figure in any vegan shoe collection other than Stella McCartney and I am far too Scottish to spend that money on something that doesn’t smell of leather.
So, if there is any resolution to my shoe and fur dilemma it can only be for me to consider how to reconcile my passion for high heels with mindfulness.
Therefor for me ahimsa means (largely) buying shoes and clothes second hand from vintage shops, charity shops and online marketplaces like Etsy and eBay. If you (like me) can’t stand the thought of wearing someone else’s shoes rest assured that a bit of cleaning with disinfectant/hand sanitiser takes care of the bacteria quite nicely.
If you cannot bring yourself to wear second hand shoes, buy deadstock. Deadstock consists of brand new but forgotten shoes. The ones that pop up in the sale sections of the newspapers.
Alternatively, if you cannot buy anything but new footwear, the thing to do when you do this is to spare a thought for the poor animal who gave up its life (and its skin) for us to have better looking legs, a spring in our step and an extra couple of inches in height.
The poor bugger did a bloody good job.