Vegan Shoes From Bourgeois Boheme Make Giving Up Leather Easier

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An interview with Alicia Lai, Founder of the premium British vegan footwear brand Bourgeois Boheme and her journey from being a Podiatrist in Australia to settling down in London and starting her own Company that abides to her ethics as a vegan.

In a quiet beautiful street tucked away in South London, Alicia Lai and her team are preparing for their forthcoming Autumn Winter vegan shoe collection. On a cold afternoon, I met Alicia and her team at their office located on the top floor of Alicia’s lovely and classic British home. As I take off my coat and settle myself in, I notice post-it notes, list of vegan brands and pictures of vegan influencers plastered over a printed white wallpaper featuring company’s brand identity. The cozy HQ of this premium vegan shoes brand is where all the designing, strategy and marketing takes place, while the shoes are made in Portugal.

A vegan for eleven years, and mother to two vegan daughters, Alicia’s journey in the shoes industry started in 2005 with Bourgeois Boheme. “I couldn’t find any quality, modern vegan accessories and footwear in the market at that time. So I decided to start my own online marketplace for vegan accessories and footwear, which later turned into a footwear brand,” says Alicia.

Alicia Lai Bourgeois Boheme vegan shoes - Luxury vegan shoes - Vegan boots - Ethical shoes Camera shy Alicia at her office, finally posing for camera after sincere request!

Beginning her humble start as a vegan marketplace to launching an exclusive vegan shoes collection, this time around Alicia upped the ante by launching artisan made androgynous line of shoes and boots inspired by sophisticated British design coupled with her ethics as a vegan.

Fun, positive and enthusiastic, these qualities that define Alicia can also be seen in her collections. Alicia discussed how each pair of shoes she designs is made from sustainable materials like Italian-made cotton-backed microfibre PU (polyurethane), bio-polyoils, and even cork and Pinatex (upcoming collections). As a brand, their focus is on creating styles that transcend seasons instead of being the “hottest trend” that dissipates the next season. In addition to this, BB also ensures that their shoes are made under fair trade conditions, for which Alicia makes regular visits to the factories in Portugal where her shoes are produced. Hence, embracing all aspects of sustainable fashion:

  • Eco-friendly materials
  • Fair treatment of workers
  • Free from cruelty towards animals
  • Offering high quality timeless designs that would last for years

While sipping the customary cup of tea {in a British home}, I sit down with Alicia to talk about her background, inspiration, why are ethical products are expensive, her favorite vegan restaurants in London, where she shops for vegan fashion and beauty and what’s in-store for her new collection.

Did you always want to be shoe designer?

“I never planned to be in the fashion industry. I was a Podiatrist and worked both in Australia and London across the Podiatric disciplines. As a keen sportswoman, I was thrilled to treat International Australian Sports athletes and was on call for Wimbledon too. I did a Master’s in Public Health in Sydney Australia with a focus on developing countries, and hope to fulfil my lifelong dream of working with NGOs in child and maternal health.

It was out of need that I started a vegan marketplace. While I was running my online store, I was disappointed with current shoes offerings: I could not find a strong visual product with high quality vegan materials, ethical craftsmanship and celebrated classic British influences. That’s how I re-launched Bourgeois Boheme in 2014 as an exclusive vegan footwear brand, to fill this gap in the market.”

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Photo courtesy BB

Who do you design for?

“BB’s customer is a person that appreciates quality, design, sustainability and is conscious about where and how their footwear is made.  It’s all in the detail which is important to us and we focus on all these positive aspects.”

Who is your inspiration?

“It’s not a who but all creatures great and small that inspire me each day.  At BB, we want to show that animal materials are obsolete in fashion and there are better innovative cruelty-free materials now available.”

A photo posted by Bourgeois Boheme (@boboheme) on

From a customer standpoint, vegan and eco fashion price points are not low. What is the reason behind this, and considering most customers are either price or brand conscious, how do you cope with this challenge?

“We do receive some comments that our shoes are on the expensive side but our prices are indicative of the effort we put into the above factors. In this day and age, especially in the UK, fast fashion has become a norm. People have got used to going into a high-street store and buying a pair of shoes for £10. Plus, the fact that the stores are constantly on sale can be quite challenging.

However, we work with enthusiasm to inform customers of sustainable quality products that stand the test of time versus fast throwaway fashion. Our customers are conscious shopper, who appreciate quality and are loyal to the brand.”

How long do your vegan shoes last, because the biggest challenge with vegan shoes are they chip or damage quickly unlike leather?

“The main point here is to educate people to take care of their shoes.  Shoes are the most neglected fashion accessory.  People walk miles in them through the sun, rain, snow, mud and so forth and think nothing of a simple clean and polish.  We also provide tips on our website.

The materials used with all vegan shoe manufacturing and can damage a little more easily than leather which is a hide but with good care and regular upkeep of them, they will last you years.  I have shoes from our first collection from 8 years ago.”

Which are your favorite vegan fashion brands?

“All of them.  We are all working for a more compassionate and thoughtful society. We appreciate all brands challenging the leather default in fashion but style-wise, some personal favorites are Gunas and Time IV Change. It’s an evolving scene however and we love seeing new brands popping up more frequently than before!”

Best vegan places to shop (fashion, handbag, shoes, makeup)….

“Oh gosh, there are so many great companies out there and I usually buy online from their website. I have some great Gunas bags and purses, vegan-friendly cosmetics from Lush, upcycled products from boutiques, ethical clothing from the FAIR shop in Brighton are just a few.”

London has so many amazing vegan and vegetarian restaurants. Which ones do you absolutely recommend?

“There are so many which is great we have so much choice. Manna, The Gate, Mildred’s & Nama Foods are a few I frequent.”

{At this point I was famished and I mentioned Alicia about my plans to meet some friends over for dinner. She was kind enough to quickly book a table for me at The Gate. I had one of the most delicious vegan meal later!}.

Life mantra?

“Be positive, happy and anything is possible, never say never!”

What’s new in your upcoming collections?

“In every pair of Bourgeois Boheme shoe we have always made sure to inject some personality into the designs through our signature asymmetrical detailing and lotus flower punching. In the past few seasons we have chosen to place a greater emphasis on luxury through versatility, time-honored designs and material innovation, and for upcoming seasons you will see an increased heritage input with bespoke detailing which we are beyond excited about! We are also building a campaign around our upcoming Pinatex collection (the famous material made from pineapple fibres) for SS17! Stay tuned…”

Can you guess what’s coming this summer? ☀️ We are going pineapples for it!

A photo posted by Bourgeois Boheme (@boboheme) on

Vegan leather is the need of the hour. It isn’t just for vegans, but anyone who cares for the planet. In addition to inhumane exploitation of animals {and even humans} the leather industry causes extraordinary levels of pollution. The fact that most of the leather comes from developing countries like India, Bangladesh, Brazil and Ethiopia where the tanneries and processors are unregulated and the level of damage done by them in terms of emission of toxic chemicals and pollution is dangerous for the planet.

With brands like Bourgeois Boheme coming up with high quality leather-like sustainable shoes, there’s no need to wear leather at all. It’s time to make the switch from leather to its cruelty free alternatives.

Written by Editor of Address Chic, Shruti Jain

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