Interview With Cruelty-Free Stylist Michelle Rothenburger
1) We know that you've been featured in different high fashion magazines including Marie Claire, what was the path that led you to become a trendsetter for cruelty / animal free fashion?
I went vegetarian at the age of 15 and I adopted a vegan diet in 2010 after simultaneously reading “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer and “A Kind Diet” by Alicia Silverstone. It took me a couple years after that before I transitioned to a completely vegan lifestyle and that’s thanks to Dr. Neal Barnard.
I applied for an internship with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (Dr. Neal Barnard’s organization) and during the interview I was told their workplace is completely vegan, meaning you couldn’t wear anything non-vegan and you weren’t allowed to bring any food into the building that wasn’t vegan. While I didn’t end up getting the position, it was the push I needed to convert my closet to be vegan.
I’ve always loved fashion and just as eating a vegan diet pushes you to expand your cooking skills, I feel a vegan wardrobe forces you to adapt your shopping habits. When shopping for vegan clothing and accessories you really need to scrutinize what you’re buying as animal materials can often be hiding in places you might not think to look. Even I’ve accidentally thrifted items that contained non-vegan fabrics, which prompted me to write a detailed blog post on How to Tell if Clothing is Vegan.
These days with all the great vegan brands (and vegan-friendly options from big brands) it’s becoming easier and easier to have a cruelty-free closet. Over the last 10 years, I’ve been able to put together a chic and fashionable vegan wardrobe that most people wouldn’t be able to identify as vegan.
2) What are the biggest challenges you see with the fast fashion market right now?
The three biggest challenges I see are the unethical working conditions for garment workers, the overproduction of goods and all the environmental repercussions of that, and how the industry encourages consumers to buy more, and more often, by offering an ever-rotating stock of garments.
While I do occasionally purchase new clothes and I am a sucker for the latest trends, I would say over 90% of my closet was bought second-hand. I see thrifting as a way to scratch the shopping itch without requiring an input of new resources. I realize this is not the solution to the problem but rather a step I can make in the right direction.
Thank you so much. I’ve always been a believer in being a silent voice for the things I care about by letting my actions do the talking. My blog intentionally doesn’t discuss the why of vegan fashion but rather focuses on the how. There’s plenty of information available as to why we should care about these things and when I hear about all the damage that we’re causing it can often leave me feeling helpless.
My blog is meant to encourage and show people how easy it is to exclude animal materials from their wardrobes while still looking effortlessly stylish and it’s a place where people can come after they’ve watched Earthlings or Cowspiracy and want to know how to have a vegan wardrobe. I try to be as neutral as possible (I do live in Switzerland after all!) by offering judgment-free encouragement and inspiration for people regardless of where they are on their vegan journey.
My blog is a combination of in-depth blog posts that cover topics such as How to Tell if Clothing is Vegan, Vegan Wallet Brands for Men, and the Best of Vegan Handbags in addition to posts that center around style tips where I model looks and talk about creative ways to style the current trends. These blogs might include topics such as the Coolest Vegan Combat Boots, Mixing Prints and Patterns, Spring Layering Tricks, or Oversized Blazer Tips for Petite Women. While everything I’m wearing throughout my posts is vegan (to the very best of my knowledge) these style blogs are intended for a larger audience as they’re not strictly targeted toward vegans. The goal for my blog is that it’ll be featured alongside other major fashion bloggers and influencers because I’ve presented the material in such a way that it has universal appeal. The fact that everything is vegan is just the icing on the cake.
4) We know you love high fashion vegan brands. So which luxury labels and fashion designers are setting the standards for ethical / sustainable fashion today? And what can we learn from them?
My favorite fashion designer is Stella McCartney. While she isn’t a vegan designer, she chose to exclude leather and fur from her collections from the very beginning and she is still the only high fashion brand to do so. Despite being the only major fashion designer to keep her accessories leather-free, Stella’s bags have become iconic and that’s not because they are vegan but because they are fashionable. While some might argue she isn’t doing enough for the industry, I feel we might instead shift our focus on all that she’s doing well and applaud her for all her efforts. Nobody is perfect and there are always things to be improved upon.
The takeaway for me is that when you embrace the ethically right thing (even when that goes against what everyone else in the industry is doing) it’s only a matter of time before the rest of the world catches up. It takes guts, determination, and commitment to step outside of the norm to forge your own path but the only way to truly appreciate your success is when you know the choices and decisions you’ve made align with your morals.
5) We love your Midnight Garnet Satchel. Can you tell us how to rock this cute bag?
There are countless ways to style this glamorous purse. You can make it the center of attention by styling it with a basic outfit such as baggy jeans, a tee-shirt, and red penny loafers; go for a dressy look by wearing it with a chic black coat and leggings; or opt for a punkish schoolgirl style by pairing it with plaid Bermuda shorts, penny loafers with white socks, and a graphic tee-shirt.