10 MINUTES WITH… Annick Ireland


Luxury Vegan Fashion is the Future

One of the best places to shop luxury vegan fashion right now is on the marketplace Immaculate Vegan.  We have been fans from the very beginning and were one of the first brands to jump on board.  So, last week, we caught up with Founding Director Annick Ireland to find out more.

Annick is Founding Director of Immaculate Vegan and responsible for marketing, content, category development and brand acquisition. Her background is in marketing and branding, having held senior roles within a number of large media organisations.

When and why did you start Immaculate Vegan?

I became vegetarian after adopting a greyhound from the Retired Greyhound Trust, and making the link between the pets we love and all animals; and then soon after that the penny finally dropped and I became vegan. But I initially found it hard to find really high quality and on trend vegan bags, shoes and accessories. After a LOT of time on Instagram I finally found several gorgeous brands, but what struck me was that as a committed vegan it was still sometimes hard to find what I was looking for – and in all likelihood the average ‘conscious consumer’ who’s just looking to make some better choices wouldn’t find them.

Real, impactful change will only come from persuading the many, not the few, to choose more ethically and sustainably. And I firmly believe that to achieve change on a large scale, the alternative needs to look more beautiful, more sexy, and more aspirational than the status quo. And it needs to be presented without judgement.

So I founded Immaculate Vegan to do that. We launched a content blog in Summer 2019 and then our full online store in Winter 2019. Our mission is to help drive the shift to an ethical and sustainable lifestyle that optimises happiness and wellness, for the many not the few. And we believe we can do this by changing the perception of the vegan lifestyle – from alternative to aspirational; and from limiting to transformational.

What was the initial reaction to the concept?

We’ve been really overwhelmed with how much support we’ve had from people – brands and customers alike. The main response has been how impressed they’ve been to find so many amazing brands and products that are such high quality, beautifully designed, and are 100% vegan. A lot of people have struggled to find the beautiful things they want (and used to buy before they became vegan or vegetarian), and have been frustrated with the vegan versions they’ve come across.

It’s summed up for me in this feedback from a customer:

“Finally a single source for exquisite products! I am so tired of only casual options and poor quality products for vegans. We go to events, we want to look nice, we want to say.. oh, you like my shoes? They’re vegan! [I’ve been] aching for new savvy products on one site! You nailed it! You have a customer for life.”

Which were the first brands to come on board?

We actually launched with about 60 brands (we’re now at around 90), so we were lucky to have so many great brands from the start. And we were delighted that Watson & Wolfe joined us right from the get-go!

How have you seen attitudes change to cruelty-free and eco fashion in recent years?

Luxury brands have been at the forefront of the fashion movement for decades, but now luxury vegan fashion is making it's mark too, where the emphasis is not only on superior quality and cruelty free, but where ethics and sustainability are also a huge consideration too.

100%, there’s been a big increase in the levels of interest and engagement with ethical and sustainable fashion from a consumer perspective. It’s driven by a few things coming together – the increasing urgency of climate change issues; an increasing awareness of the damage caused to animals, people and the environment by industrial animal farming; and the same for fast fashion.

What we’ve also seen at the same time, and it’s related, is the launch of lots of new high-end fashion brands in the ethical and sustainable space, so the choice that consumers now have is fantastic.

The materials have just got better and better too. If you look at the vegan leathers used by brands like Watson & Wolfe, Good Guys Don’t Wear Leather, and HOZEN, to name just three examples, the quality is incredible, it’s better than animal leather. And these brands are using so many great renewable, sustainable sources, with leather made from bio-oils, apple skins, pineapple leaves.

You really don’t have to compromise on style or quality anymore if you want to buy ethically and sustainably, and I think the quality and variety of the brands we have on Immaculate Vegan are testament to that.

Do you think the current situation with the Covid 19 pandemic will result in more people moving to a plant-based lifestyle and making more ethical purchasing decisions?

I do, absolutely. It’s accelerating the speed at which people are linking up the choices they make about what they purchase and consume, with the effect those have on the environment. And that includes the damage inflicted on ecosystems not just by animal agriculture for food, but also by fast fashion, and fashion that includes animal products.

We need to ditch leather not just because of the animal cruelty involved, but because it’s the single most environmentally harmful material in fashion (followed closely by silk, inorganic cotton and wool – see the 2017 Pulse of Fashion Report). It results in huge amounts of deforestation and habitat loss, which brings animals and humans closer and closer together, and facilitates the spread of viruses like COVID 19 (and there are many more scary viruses out there that can make the leap next). The trade in wild animal skins like snake and crocodile does the same thing.

And fast fashion – whatever the materials used – is depleting the earth’s natural, finite resources at a speed at which they can’t be renewed, contributing to climate change through hefty carbon emissions from manufacturing, and creating pollution and landfill. All these things are interlinked – global warming causes habitat loss through desertification and flooding, landfill causes habitat loss, farming the raw materials causes habitat loss, a warmer climate facilitates a greater spread of diseases. It’s a complex chain but a light is finally being shone on it. And it’s all fed by consumer choices and consumer demand, which I’m very hopeful we will see changing.

We set up Watson & Wolfe as we feel men are under-represented in this sector. Would you agree and do you think the tide is turning?

I do agree, and I think that’s largely because there was just less demand out there. But I think that’s definitely changing  – we only have a small men’s offering so far across bags, shoes and accessories, and we haven’t been actively marketing to men, but we’ve had strong sales of our men’s products, which I think is because they’re really searching for beautiful, high quality items that are also ethical and sustainable, and they’re harder to find.

We’re seeing several brands expand out from women’s shoes and bags to include men’s ranges now, and there are also lots of new men’s brands launching all the time, particularly in sustainable clothing, so I’m hopeful there will be a much better choice available soon.

What new Vegan brands should we be looking out for?

There are so many exciting new vegan brands out there! Some of my favourites are Humans Are Vain and BeFlamboyant, who both make gorgeous sustainable trainers; and we’ve just welcomed new brand Alkeme Atelier to the site, who make the most beautiful women’s handbags and accessories.

I also love our new swimwear collection, including Swedish brand Syvende; and our new Eyewear collection, including Pala Eyewear. All of these brands, like Watson & Wolfe, have sustainability built into their business from day 1 and they’re always thinking about what else they can do to be more sustainable and give back, which is brilliant.

We’ll be welcoming lots of new brands to the store over the next couple of months, so watch this space!

Which are your personal favourite/ go-to-brands and why?

I genuinely love every brand we sell, and we set very high standards about who can come on board – we have to believe in the products, the team behind them, and the sustainability story. But if I have to pick some highlights, I would select LUXTRA London for their sleek, minimalist aesthetic (I’ve got my eye on their new mango leather bags); Dauntless for their very cool vegan leather jackets; Good Guys Don’t Wear Leather for their chic, French style footwear; and Neighbourhood Botanicals who make the best face oils (I’m addicted to their Dream Dream Dream Night Oil, it feels and smells divine).

What have you been cooking in lockdown?

It’s great being vegan in lockdown, as it’s been relatively easy to get all the good basics in, which for me is a ton of organic brown basmati rice, and every type of bean available! I’ve been doing lot of big pots of soup, stews and curries, and now that the weather has got so lovely, things like falafel and substantial salads with everything thrown in them. I also love treat meals like vegan hot dogs (Moving Mountains are my favourite), burgers (Frys) and ice creams for hot days (vegan Cornettoes and even vegan Magnum Almonds!)

What are your favourite cookbooks?

I don’t buy cookbooks but I follow lots of vegan bloggers. I generally go for simplicity. The best stuff I’ve made has been by @rainbowplantlife, @oatmeal_stories and @bosh.tv.

What are you wearing today?

A navy jumpsuit by People Tree and these BeFlamboyant trainers.

What advice would you give to someone considering moving to a plant-based lifestyle?

We have just written two articles about this, 10 Reasons Why Now is the Time to Try a Vegan Diet and Top 10 Tips for Taking the Plant-Based Plunge, which has several recommendations on how to start and how to keep it up. But overall I would say just go for it, don’t procrastinate – there really are no downsides, only a positive impact for your health and the environment; and also start small. You don’t have to become 100% vegan overnight, unless of course you want to. But if you’re anxious about it, or don’t know where to start, just make some simple swaps that you can keep up, such as finding some meat-free recipes for a few meals you love; or swapping out your milk for dairy-free alternatives (my favourites are Plenish Cashew Milk and Rebel Kitchen Semi-Skimmed – but there are so many options out there). And then you can add more swaps every week, until you get to where you ultimately want to be.

There’s also so many support groups, advice and recipes online, so ask for help if you’re struggling or short on ideas, this can and should be a really enjoyable journey!

What plans do you have for Immaculate Vegan in the future?

We have only recently launched, and we have very ambitious plans for the future. Our goal is to be the leading global vegan lifestyle platform, with a rich content offering alongside our store. We have already started creating much more content under our Editorial section, and this will be a much bigger feature in the future. We are also working hard to expand our product categories and the brands we have in each category, including clothing, denim, activewear, nightwear and loungewear; we will expand out our men’s offering; and we will expand our global brand offering, as we want our customers to be able to choose to shop more locally and regionally.

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