Last week, I got to spend an hour talking to the adorable Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart, designer of the line Vaute Couture, in her cozy West Chelsea studio. Vaute Couture (pronounced like “haute” but with a v for vegan) is a chic coat line that just so happens to be vegan, eco-friendly, and super warm! As an added bonus, Hilgart is a vegan queen. She knows every vegan restaurant worth knowing in New York City and beyond. She also happens to be best friends with one of my vegan man-heros, The Discerning Brute, aka Joshua Katcher. Although she would probably flinch at the title, Hilgart is definitely one of the cool kids on the vegan scene, but in a totally all-inclusive, super-enthusiastic way.
Hilgart’s passion for and devotion to animals has been a thread throughout her life. Since she was eight years old, she has been educating herself and organizing campaigns about factory farming and vivisection. She describes herself as that weird kid who made her own puffy-paint animal slogan T-shirts and was always collaging pictures of kitties onto her Lisa Frank binder in the back of the classroom. It was about that age that she discovered she could “be who I want to be and do what I want to do,” regardless of the sometimes disparaging comments her classmates would make. In high school, Hilgart helped push a bill through legislation that made dissection alternatives mandatory in all schools in her home state of Illinois. Throughout college, she continued her activism, always focusing on channeling compassion and love for animals into action.
When a career in education didn’t pan out as planned, Hilgart applied for a marketing position and began to teach herself business. Working in this field, she learned that “business touches so much” and could be a catalyst for creating change in our society’s views on animals. In thinking about “activism through the vehicle of what is needed,” she decided to start a coat line. Truly eco-friendly coats were a market area Hilgart found lacking, where she felt she could “innovate…do it right, with no compromises.” Meanwhile, she taught herself the ins and outs of business and accounting so she could successfully run her line. After eight months of fabric research, she launched her line for pre-orders in the summer of 2009, and did a completely self-funded first run.
Her awesome coat line is pretty perfect for those who live in cold (or super cold) weather regions and still want to look cool. They are also eco-friendly to the umpteenth degree. In many cases, Hilgart has created the fabrics just for Vaute Couture (like the vegan alternative wool used in her F/W 09 line). She also makes sure that everyone involved in the Vaute Couture production line makes a living wage.
One of my Vaute Couture favorites is the Soy HandKnit Parallelogram Scood. I love the idea of this transformable piece; my friend has one and this past winter I stole it from her everyday because it's a perfect accessory that goes with everything. It’s made from the waste of soybean fibers and is super versatile (can be a scarf/hood/shawl/wrap), not to mention soft and amazing!
Spending an afternoon with Hilgart was both informative and inspiring. She is a totally badass businesswoman who is passionate and excited and happy about what she does.
Support her and score her totally awesome coats here.