Forester vegan leather are an ethical concept store based in Donegal, Ireland, a place of natural, rugged beauty, the aesthetic of which certainly comes through in their work.
Alannah McGhee and Seán Forester, founders of the Forester vegan leather brand, started their mission to create an ethical alternative to everyday fashion items after a seemingly simple incident occurred; Sean’s watch strap broke.
While searching for a ‘fashionable vegan alternative‘, as Sean puts it, he was struck by the limited options available. That was the lightbulb moment which led to the formation of a company which now boasts a stylish and elegant range of innovative, high-fashion items.
Form and function clearly take priority when it comes to the stunning Forester collection but, above all else, sustainability and ethics are the foundations upon which the company is built. All of their products are made from Portuguese cork, a durable and scratch resistant substance which maintains the weighty and resilient feel of leather. These cruelty free items feel like a step up from convention, as opposed to a compromise.
Forester have also been collaborating with One Tree Planted, a nonprofit which works with amazing reforestation organizations around the world that need financial support to help them get more trees in the ground. This means that every Forester product sale will directly support tree-planting projects across the world.
To find out more about the great minds behind the designs, we spoke with Seán Forester about the future of fashion, veganism, why leather is widely considered more acceptable than fur, and how we can all make a difference in the world.
MGP: Are you both vegan? When did that change come about and when did you extend your ethics from dietary to lifestyle ones?
SF: I have just passed the three-year mark as a vegan. I was inspired, like many people by watching documentaries. I was already considering going vegan and watched Cowspiracy and it completely changed the way I thought about the environmental impact what I eat has on the world. It was around this time a lot of health warnings were coming about the dangers of processed meat and it all just kind of made sense. I was living in Dublin at the time, fortunately, so the switch wasn’t too difficult. There were many trips to Sova Vegan Butcher and someone at work gave me the first Happy Pear book which has loads of vegan (or veganisable) recipes in it which really helped. When you go to Dublin now, you’d probably struggle to find a restaurant or café that doesn’t have at least one vegan dish – it’s amazing!
Alannah didn’t make the switch until the following year when we were in Canada– she started off going veggie and gradually cut out eggs and dairy. One of the biggest things Alannah has changed is her relationship with shopping – she has made a huge effort to cut back, buy second hand, buy less, and make them last and she feels much better about her purchases now. For me, I’ve been really trying to reduce my plastic use and embrace zero waste at home and at work – this has filtered through to the packaging we use for our products too where we use recycled and organic where possible.
MGP: As the story goes, you were trying to replace his watch strap when you realised the lack of available options for cruelty free replacements. When was the decision made to branch out into bags, belts and other accessories?
SF: After we had the initial idea for the company we did a lot of research – we looked at the options (for men specifically) online and in stores and the offerings were clearly lacking.
We wanted to speak to real people about how they felt, so when we attended the Dublin VegFest we asked everyone we spoke to about our idea. We even then travelled to a vegan event in Manchester and took a stand, with no products just so we could talk to people. It was those face-to-face conversations that shaped the brand and the product range.
People told us their frustrations and needs and we tailored the line to suit them.
The whole idea evolved from a one product business to a full and expanding range. We shifted the focus from men only to a wider unisex range which has proven to be the right move for us.
MGP: What were your aesthetic inspirations for the range? Both in terms of design and tone.
SF: We knew from the start we wanted the range to have a minimalist, simple aesthetic – we wanted it to be equally adored by vegans and non-vegans alike so we chose modern designs and classic colours. There are a lot of perceptions out there about what vegan fashion is and looks like and we wanted to challenge that by showing people that it can be cool and a real alternative to leather products. We love telling people that the products are made with cork, because the response is usually delightful shock that a plant-based material can look and feel this good!
We wanted to compliment the modern look of our products with some natural beauty – we’re both from rural Donegal and we wanted this inspiration to come through in our products and our overall brand. Our photography and social media has allowed us to do this perfectly – we’ve worked with some amazing photographers who have captured the raw and adventurous spirit of the brand effortlessly for us.
MGP: Fur is an often referenced aspect of animal rights and fashion, but do you feel that leather is more widely accepted? (If so, why?)
SF: Definitely yes – Fur is less subtle in it’s aesthetic. It’s clear what it is, there is no getting around it. So it gets most of the attention but with leather people can forget where it actually came from. But things are changing.
Fur has been a faux pas really my whole life. I’ve always been hyper aware what it is, and where it comes from. At the same time, it has always seemed to have a certain prestige to it which I never quite got – it was a luxury item with a high-price point that only well-off people or celebrities would wear.
But when it comes to leather, it’s always been a universally accessible product as it can be picked up relatively cheaply, on the high-street and can be worn all year round whether it’s shoes, bags, belts, jackets etc.
I think its common use has made it ‘normal’ compared to fur. One of the biggest issues is the misconception that it is a by-product.
Consumers can justify wearing leather if they believe the skin will go to waste – but it’s just not the case. The skin usually makes up a greater proportion of the profit of an animal than meat, making it a more valuable part of the process. Often the same cow isn’t even used for meat as leather, and when it comes to calfskin leather, the baby calves are prematurely aborted so the sellers can get the softest leather. Leather is a co-product of the meat industry at the absolute best. Fortunately, all this information (and a lot more) is readily available these days and that’s why people are finally seeing leather for what it is, and has always been.
MGP: Which of your range has proven to be the most popular so far?
SF: Our bags, particularly our black backpack has been hugely popular. It’s such a great gift for people. When it comes to the wallets, the navy one has been the best seller. The belts are great as well because they are unisex – everyone needs a good brown and black belt in their wardrobe!
MGP: If you could see yourself expanding your range in the near future, what areas would you love to delve into?
SF: We want to add more products to our current lines, particularly with the bags. Definitely more bags, but we’d also love to add other classic pieces to the range.
Our plan is that each new range is made with a different type of vegan leather. The innovation in the space is incredible – from Piñatex, mushroom leather, and even kombucha leather there are so many faux leather options beyond nasty plastics.
MGP: With 2019 being cited as the ‘Year of the Vegan’, what small changes can people make to create a more positive impact on the planet?
SF: Everyone needs to take some level of personal accountability – the UN has warned we have 12 years to limit climate change and we need to take it seriously. Small changes can make a huge difference.
Firstly, whether it is for the animals, the planet or your health everyone should be reducing their meat consumption – it’s just not sustainable. There are so many vegan and veggie options available, it’s just not the challenge it once was. Even if it’s for a day a week or a week a month, it will make a huge difference.
In just one day as a vegan you save 30 square ft of rainforest, the life of one animal, 40lbs of grain and 20 lbs of Co2.
The next thing is to buy less stuff. So much cheap stuff ends up in landfill and for what? A brand-new outfit you’ll wear once? Really ask yourself, do I need this? Will I wear it 30 times? Who made it? Invest in good-quality, sustainable pieces that fit you well, don’t fall into trends and you can wear again and again. As Vivienne Westwood once said, “Buy Well, Buy Less, Make It Last” – the initial investment will pay off in no time and help save the planet.
The final small change you can make is reduce your plastic consumption – be vigilant in supermarkets, look for loose fruit and veg which come plastic-free, try and buy glass jars and cardboard containers of items and switch to soap and shampoo bars instead of the usual plastic containers.
The full Forester range is available to buy now on their official site.