In our market, consumerism and convenience go hand-in-hand. While staunch vegans and activists will put their wallet where their ethics are, the unfortunate truth is most people buy what’s in front of them, no matter whose blood or sweat was involved. Because of this, it’s crucial for vegan businesses to join the status quo and allow ethical shopping to be a norm, not a novelty.
“If people don’t have access to the tools they want to live, they’ll compromise their principles,” Scott Fitzsimmons, owner of Sudo Shoes says. The classical musician and staunch vegetarian opened up the cruelty-free footwear store nearly two years ago. It’s success and eclectic customer-base is a testament to the fact that having ethical options available can be a force for positive trends.
Sudo shoes is a no frills store—one hardwood room with white walls lined with shelves, and a large block structure in the middle that showcases the footwear and gives the customers a place to sit. But each item bought and sold is a step forward, for animals and society.
As a vegan it’s a luxury to have a venue where you can peruse without having to meticulously analyze every option to make sure it’s on par with your principles. Sudo provides that luxury with a stellar selection of stylish high heels, antiquated wingtips and casual sneakers, from brands like saucony, habitat, macbeth, vegetarian shoes, good guys, di romeo, novacas, neuaura and olsen haus. Each of these provides the same comfort and quality as your standard footwear, but without the callous production practices present in most companies.
What makes a shoe not vegan? While the leather exterior is the culprit in most kicks, the “pig split” part of the shoe—the interior heel—is usually made from pig skin or leather. Also, many shoes use animals in their glue.
Fitzsimmons is also mindful of labor practices when choosing what brands to sell. He usually contacts the prospective company or he checks resources such as ChinaLaborWatch.org. Another source he notes is PlayFair2012.org, which has received considerable attention with the recent summer Olympics, and Free2Work is an app that takes the guess work out of buying ethical; all you’ll need to do is scan a barcode with your phone to find out a company’ labor practices. Fitzsimmons has had to bypass certain brands due to their tainted history (cough Asics cough).
There is also an air of eco-friendliness in the merchandise at Sudo. According to Fitzsimmons, the shoes he carries that mimic leather are made from polyurethane—or “PU”—microfibers, whereas most faux leather—the kind you find at your local Payless—are made with vinyl, or PVC.
While an inorganic material can have a stigma for an environmentalist, Fitzsimmons asserts that the polyurethane industry has taken leaps and bounds in the right direction. One PU manufacturer, Brentano Fabrics, notes that polyurethane does not use the harmful solvents in its production process that are required for PVC or leather, and unlike PVC it will degrade over time.
Also, compared to the tanning process of leather, which at times uses chromium as an agent and creates hazardous waste, polyurethane is a greener and more progressive alternative.
Since its conception, Sudo has enjoyed a great deal of success from the Cambridge community, “From day one it was paying its bills,” Fitzsimmons says. While the store’s Facebook fan page is inundated with vegans, its clientele is varied—many people don’t even realize they’re in a veg shoe store when they first come in.
Fitzsimmons likes how his business doesn’t force the issue, instead he sees it as a potential avenue to an ethical lifestyle that people will follow only when they’re ready. While words like “vegan” are a beacon for those with a plant-based proclivities, it can have the opposite effect for others who aren’t familiar with it. Instead of taking a hardline in-your-face stance, Fitzsimmons believes you can show someone the option and they can cultivate an understanding on their own, because only they can make the choice to lead a principle-based existence: “[When] your system is ready for it, then you have your moment,” he says.