Green shoes of change


THERE are certain connotations associated with veganism that start with lentils and end with all hemp everything.

So it might be fair for those unfamiliar with the lifestyle to expect all of the above from The Pineapple Room, a vegan pop-up shop and social hub making its debut at the Old Truman Brewery next weekend.

Alicia Lai, the event organiser and founder of vegan shoe brand Bourgeois Boheme, can’t wait to prove them wrong, with a gathering of some of the most innovative vegan brands in the business.

“Our aim with The Pineapple Room is to show people that there are alternatives to what’s out there in the mainstream market,” she says.

“It’s not just about veganism, more educating people on sustainability in regards to people, animals and the environment.”

Alicia moved to London from her native Australia to work as a podiatrist, but found it difficult to feed her serious shoe addiction with products that also met her vegan values.

She launched Bourgeois Boheme in 2005, first as a marketplace for stylish, sustainably-made, animal-free clothes and accessories, but soon discovered a gap when it came to shoes and decided to fill it.

Bourgeois Boheme is now one of the UK’s most established vegan footwear brands, producing classic designs made with animal-free products under ethical conditions; championing slow fashion that challenges the perception of leather-free footwear.

“We spend the bulk of our time researching and sampling the most innovative materials to get the products as eco-friendly as possible,” Alicia says.

Case in point, The Pineapple Room is doubling as a launchpad for Bourgeois Boheme’s SS’17 collection, their first ever using Piñatex, a natural and sustainable non-woven textile made from pineapple leaves fibres.

Developed by Ananas Anam, Piñatex can be used as a leather or textile alternative, and gets extra eco points because the leaves are a by-product of the pineapple harvest and therefore require no extra land, water, fertilizers or pesticides at production stage.

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Harvesting pineapple leaves to make Piñatex.

Eco-innovation will form the basis of a series of panel discussions and workshops at the pop-up studio, led by experts in the field.

Piñatex founder Dr Carmen Hijosa will appear as part of a panel discussing the future of sustainable textiles, while Erik Houlihan-Jong will lead a chocolate tasting session for Divine, a chocolatier supporting women cocoa farmers.

Stylist Alice Wilby will host a workshop on curating a sustainable wardrobe, and artist Andrew MacGregor will lead a talk on the symbolic and eco-luxe aesthetic of the pineapple in contemporary culture.

It’s a diverse programme of events, but one Alicia hopes will illuminate pathways towards more sustainable lifestyles.

“People have gotten too used to buying fast fashion, walking into a shop and spending £10 on a pair of shoes then replacing them the next season, none of this is sustainable, so we still have a long way to go.”

“[But] it’s definitely getting better – Topshop and Zara both have conscious collections and Emma Watson is wearing our shoes on her press tour, which was huge for us, and when those big players are getting involved it shows an understanding that there’s a need for it.”

The Pineapple Room is on at Old Truman Brewery from 24 to 30 April.