Inside Vaute: Williamsburg’s Vegan, Environmentally-Conscious Fashion Label

Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart of Vaute

Vaute by Leanne Mai-ly Higart is a line of environmentally-conscious and vegan clothes that are totally manufactured in New York and sold out of a store that was constructed in as ethically-aware of a manner as the clothes themselves. Located on Grand Street in Williamsburg, the interior of Vaute was built and decorated using repurposed items like discarded Abercrombie & Fitch mannequins—”that explains why they’re so tan,” Higart tells me, laughing—and also contains “the mantle from Lady Gaga’s Barney’s exhibit painted with recycled paint.” The clothes are made of “organic plant based fabrics with cutting edge weatherproof performance fabrics made of recycled and recyclable closed loop fibers” which are designed to withstand cold and wet New York winters without sacrificing style. I visited the store and had the chance to talk with Higart about her background, inspirations, and why starting a line like this was so important to her.

Higart started the line in 2010, but didn’t open the store until early 2012, after finding an ad for the space on Craigslist and “coming in out of the rain and seeing that it was perfect. And realizing that all the best decisions are the ones that your heart just decides to do and you just go for.” Although Higart is originally from Chicago, she has traveled extensively—including stints as a model in Hong Kong and Taipei—but felt instantly at home in Brooklyn. Higart tells me, “Everyone I knew here was very much in alignment with the things I felt passionate about. It was a cool thing because I felt like everybody knew me at my best. It was so great because all the people knew me for the things that I cared about most and they also cared about those things too. It felt like joining this club of people who care about the same things I do, like animals rights, and are all doing their part to make a difference with their own special skill set. It’s a great collaborative energy.”

Higart was always artistic, constantly drawing and crafting things in her spare time even as a young girl, and was similarly passionate about the environment and animal rights. Vaute is notable for both its sense of whimsy and its practicality—its combination of style and utilitarianism. Higart tells me, “Fashion makes sense to me because I’ve always loved art and I’ve always loved creating things. I’ve always wanted to raise awareness about the things I care about and this is a great way to do it. I didn’t start the label to be in fashion. I really looked where I could be useful to have a voice to help animals and environmental issues. And when I realized that the winter coat was one of the last things people said ‘Well, you have to wear wool and down to be warm’ and I realized that if I developed something that was warmer and that would look stylish, I could do something that would innovate for the whole industry. But if I wasn’t doing it—I think I’m an entrepreneur through and through. I love creating things and so I would look for some other way to make a difference. So, I’d have to think of something else that would be needed out there.” Higart grins and offers, “Maybe some good deodorant? There’s a lot of good stuff out there but a real void of vegan, cruelty-free deodorant.” I’m pretty sure that whatever Higart decides to do, she’ll bring her deft creative touch and passion for important issues to the project at hand, and follow-through beautifully.

Vaute Couture, 234 Grand St

Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen

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