Please note: This article was first published on The Vegan Tourist and last updated December 23, 2012.
Fancy shoes are a woman’s birthright, and shoe shopping should be fun. Unfortunately, for vegans it is anything but fun.
Each year, I give it a try. I spend an afternoon on Mariahilfer Straße, Vienna’s ultimate High Street. More than 400 businesses, restaurants, banks, supermarkets, and movie theatres are located there.
A few weeks ago I gave it another try. I visited every single shoe shop on Mariahilfer Straße except three stores which sell almost exclusively sneakers and a few stores which sell primarily clothes (in addition to a handful of shoes). I visited 20 different stores and asked for vegan shoes.
Not one of the stores sold a single pair of vegan shoes.
Twenty stores with several thousand different kinds of shoes, and not a single pair of vegan shoes.
None of the sales clerks even knew what the word “vegan” meant. They all tried to sell me shoes that weren’t made from leather. When I asked if these non-leather shoes were produced with vegan glue, the clerks all looked very confused. None of them had ever heard of such a thing as vegan glue or knew that regular glue, which is generally used for the manufacturing of shoes, contains animal ingredients.
I’ll give a full list of all the shops I visited at the end of this article, but let’s take a closer look at three different companies first, which all have multiple branches on Mariahilfer Straße.
The biggest shoe retailer in Austria is a company called “Leder und Schuh International AG,” which owns and operates about 420 stores (under different brand names) in eleven different countries. Their biggest store brand (in Austria) is Humanic, and there are three Humanic stores on Mariahilfer Straße alone. In addition, the company also owns the Stiefelkönig store brand, and there are two additional shoe stores under that name on Mariahilfer Straße.
Humanic sells approximately 2.500 different shoe models, but only two of those are currently (December 2012) listed as “vegan.” They are sneakers produced by one company, “Vans.” Upon closer inspection, both of these models are made from leather. Not vegan at all. Does Humanic think that leather grows on trees?
When I asked a sales clerk at one of the Humanic branches on Mariahilfer Straße about vegan glue, I was told that all shoes sold at Humanic were made with vegan glue. When I told him that almost no shoes are, in fact, manufactured with vegan glue, he insisted that at least all non-leather shoes are manufactured with vegan glue. That is absolute nonsense, of course, but no matter what I said, he insisted that he was right. This clerk – and by extension Humanic – gets extra points for ignorance. Idiocy knows no bounds.
Stiefelkönig, the other shoe store chain owned by “Leder und Schuh International AG,” has two branches on Mariahilfer Straße. A preliminary research on their website back in July (2012) listed 75 different models as “vegan.” I could not verify a single model as such. There is no product information given on their website besides available sizes and colours. No information about materials or the production process. As a vegan, I only buy shoes if I know everything about them.
I wrote to one of the companies whose shoes were listed as “vegan” on the Stiefelkönig website back in July, Tamaris. A representative for Tamaris told me that their company did not manufacture any vegan shoes and that they would let Stiefelkönig know and ask them to correct the false information on their website.
I also wrote an Email to Stiefelkönig’s Public Relations company, Baar-Baarenfels PR, and asked for more information about the 75 listed vegan shoe models. My Email was ignored – I’m still waiting to hear back from them. However, Stiefelkönig subsequently updated the product information on their website. Currently, there are no vegan shoes listed on their Website. From 75 to Zero, I can’t say I was surprised.
There’s another fairly large shoe retailer in Austria, Salamander. The company is owned by “ara AG.” Salamander owns and operates about 30 stores in Austria, and another 170 or so in six other European countries. There are three Salamander stores on Mariahilfer Straße. Not a single one of their shoe models is listed as “vegan” on their website. When I visited their stores, this was confirmed. The company does not sell vegan shoes.
All this takes the fun out of shoe-shopping in Vienna. As a result, I buy most of my shoes over the Internet, from small companies that I know and trust. For example, I’ve bought several pairs of vegan shoes in the past from Vegetarian Shoes in Brighton, UK. (Review to follow.)
This means that Austrian retailers are missing out. They’re probably not even aware that there’s a customer segment that’s not being served. Vegan customers are so used to being ignored by all the major shoe manufacturers and retailers that many of us don’t even try any more. I know that this was my very last attempt at buying shoes on Mariahilfer Straße. Clearly, it’s a total waste of time, so why bother? I’ll be spending my money elsewhere.
This is a list of all the stores I visited on October 25, 2012 on Mariahilfer Straße. Not one of these stores sold even a single pair of vegan shoes:
Salamander (three branches)
Humanic (three branches)
Stiefelkönig (two branches)
Görtz im Gerngross
Gabor Shoes & Fashion
See also Vegan Shoes (Part I – Manufacturing)