Oh, the Challenge of Being Cool and Conscious!

My UGGs were sooooo old, I couldn’t even remember when I bought them. Resoled at least twice. Footbeds like concrete. But it wasn’t until I discovered rents in one shaft that I finally began what turned out to be a holy quest for warm, snow-tolerant, cruelty-free boots that would have tested the mettle of even Sir Galahad.

Why, you might ask, did I wait so long? Well, for one thing, I believe in renewing, not disposing—why toss what’s still useful or beautiful and could easily remain so with a little TLC? And for another, my UGGs were leftovers from a previous life, and I’d tried, but failed, several years running to find replacements that were in alignment with the values of my current life.

You see, I just want to be able to walk through the world without leaving a swath of waste and misery and destruction behind me. I want to alleviate suffering around me, if I can, not create more. I want to tread lightly, and with a kind, compassionate, thoughtful step. I would rather be a leaver than a taker. I want to look data in the eye and heed it, not ignore it. It boggles my mind that knowing what we know about cigarettes and smoking that people actually still smoke, that kids actually start smoking! The risks are no longer a secret. Knowing that plastic water bottles are enemy no. 1 for the environment, and will be for more generations to come than you can count, why would anyone choose to buy bottled water? Knowledge is power, the power to change, to change the world we live in. Bringing more consciousness to our actions as we go about the business of being human allows us to be more accountable … by choice. And that’s a good thing.

It’s a practice. You don’t rock headstand the first time you try, and you don’t instantaneously leave a zero carbon footprint in your wake, but slowly, gradually, one examined choice at a time you make progress. So it was that nearly a decade ago I adopted a plant-based diet, realizing that it just wasn’t necessary to kill other beings to eat—it’s not good for the animals, and it is certainly not good for the environment, i.e., our life-support system. And eventually it became time to stop buying products that are tested on animals or in any way cause suffering to them. So long, down! Hasta luego, leather! Arrivederci, lipstick with lanolin or beeswax!

That does not mean I think I’m the Dalai Lama—far from it! I take loooong showers. I drive when necessary—and I consider heading to the mountains as often as possible to ski necessary. I still buy wool socks. My coffee is shipped here from another hemisphere. And besides all the conscious choices I make that lean toward the selfish rather than the selfless (to succumb to grilled artichokes in a shrink-wrapped-plastic package or not? cherry tomatoes in a nonrecyclable clamshell? raspberries from another hemisphere in a nonrecycable clamshell?), I probably unconsciously commit myriad acts every day that would make me cringe if I knew better. As I said, walking lightly and compassionately is a practice. I am making progress, but I’ve still got a long way to go.

I admit that I can be a tough customer to please, that I can be exacting in my needs, wants and desires to the point of stubbornness, that I would rather do without than lower my standards even one millimeter to do with (even once refusing the gift of a brand-new car from my grandparents because it just didn’t say “me”!). But who knew that in a world in which you could order a cappuccino at least twenty different ways that meeting my criteria for winter boots would be more difficult than trying to grow coffee in Colorado? All I asked was that they be reasonably comfortable, not hideous, cozy enough to render socks obsolete, easy to slip into (I loathe laces) and functional whether I’d just tugged off my ski boots, wanted to snowshoe or was going out to dinner, in the mountains or the city—in all of which circumstances my UGGs had performed like Patricia Arquette in Boyhood.

Natch, my search started by Googling “vegan winter boots.” Jambu, Planet Shoes, Alternative Outfitters, Polyvore, MooShoes and of course Zappos and Amazon all chimed in, but ya know that sometimes those boots turned out to be nonexistent or fit for winter only if you lived in the temperate zone. Oh, did I mention that, thanks to years of waiting tables and bartending to put myself through college and then some, I wear a size 11?! Anyhoo, I finally ordered a pair made by J-41, a company renowned for its ethical practices—knee high, with buckles and laces and plush collar that made them look like something a warrior princess would wear traipsing through the woods with baskets of goodies for the critters whose favorite morsels are buried under mountains of snow. Because I had ordered them from Zappos, they arrived practically the next day, which was a good thing, because winter was already having her way with us here in the Rockies. Alas, my excitement and relief dimmed as soon as I put them on: I would’ve had to wear three pairs of extra-thick socks to make them fit, and there was absolutely no foot support. I walked around the house in them, trying to convince myself that they’d be fine, that I just wasn’t used to them yet. I even wore them outside, just to see how they felt on snow-pavement-grass. Which was just awful. Back in the box and back to Zappos they went. And so ended my search for a couple of years.

Cut to last summer, when I could no longer avoid the issue because of said gaping wound in my UGGs. My hopes soared when I heard about the fashion-forward Nicora Johns (“a groundbreaking company changing the way footwear is made today, by manufacturing 100% eco-friendly, cruelty free, and affordable handmade shoes on U.S. soil”), but plummeted when I didn’t see any truly Rocky Mountain-ready boots on the website. Then rose again, when after some emailing back and forth, I was told they would be happy to build me my perfect boot … for only $1,200. Crash!

After some more frantic Internet-searching, the only solution seemed to be a pair of Stellas. As in Stella McCartney. As in, her boots cost more than most mere mortals, let alone a yoga teacher, can afford. I’d been eyeing and secretly loving on her Harper boots for years. As you can see for yourself, what’s not to love? Except, of course, the price tag. Which, compared with the Nicora Johns option, seemed practically a bargain. Besides, winter was yet-again approaching and my only other choice seemed to be going barefoot, and I am too much a creature of comfort for that—at least until I move to Maui. So, yes, dear reader, I smacked $550 down on a credit card and Barneys had them on my doorstep before I had to face the harsh reality of my folly.

The Stella Harper boot

The Stella Harper boot

It was like Christmas in July (or, um October), the creamy Stella box nestled into the sui generis Barneys box, the boots swaddled in tissue paper as soft as silk. I could barely contain my excitement (was that a fever breaking out?) as I removed the cardboard and crumpled paper holding the boots’ shape, unzipped (no laces!) a boot and slid a bare foot into the faux-shearling interior. Hmmm, seems a little snug, I thought, even before I zipped it up. Omg, really snug now. But I didn’t despair; I just put its mate on and walked around the house, pretending that snug was good, snug was cozy, snug meant I didn’t even have to think about wearing socks. Maybe they’ll stretch, I thought. Maybe I can have them stretched.

I was crushed (and I’m not talking just about my feet). But also, I have to admit, relieved not to have to try to justify such an extravagant purchase. Also now definitely in a state of despair. So I shifted into high gear and hit the infinite mall that is the Internet as if I were being paid to shop. (I’ll save you all the boring details.) The upshot was that between the grueling work I put in online and the serendipity of walking through the shoe department at Target one day, I was able to get my feet shod just in time for winter, although it took two pairs of boots to get the job done: one purely functional, from L.L. Bean (“weather-resistant nylon insulated with warm polyester”; $99); one relatively stylish, from Mad Love (polyester, polyurethane, thermoplastic rubber; $49). Truth be told, neither pair is certified vegan (glue is usually the villain), but I did do the duest due diligence I could, and so I was satisfied with the results on all fronts—fashion, function, animal-friendliness.

L.L. Bean + Mad Love

L.L. Bean + Mad Love

Of course, polyester is plastic, and that’s not so good for the earth, and both pairs of boots were “imported,” which, especially in the case of China (Mad Love), I take to be code for “sweatshop labor,” and that’s not so good for the sentient beings known as humans. It’s always something!

But my guilt over human exploitation vanished after discovering a TED talk by Leslie T. Chang, who spent ten years in China writing about its workers and asserts that the “narrative equating Western demand and Chinese suffering is appealing … but it’s also inaccurate and disrespectful.” In fact, she says, “Chinese workers are not forced into factories because of our insatiable desire for iPods. They choose to leave their homes in order to earn money, to learn new skills and to see the world.” So it seems that buying Chinese is actually kind of socially responsible. Hmmm. …

As far as plastic and polyurethane go, I’m def not crazy about them, but if they’re my only alternative to an animal’s skin, so be it. I’m sure you’ve noticed that we don’t live in a perfect world. Which means that we can’t always make perfect choices. But what we can do is make the best choices we can, given the information we have and our sense of personal responsibility. And if we keep making choices that cause less rather than more harm, designers and manufacturers will get the word, as they already have, and eventually we’ll have more options, and they’ll be more affordable. Stellas at Target?! You know what they say: Vote with your wallet. Each of us has to be the change we want to see in the world. And who doesn’t want to live in a compassionate world that is sustainable for generations to come? Lotus

 

Bonus Trax

• Diehard UGGistas can find cruelty-free alternatives, here: http://veganamericanprincess.com/18-vegan-ugg-boot-alternatives-many-great-styles-and-price-levels/

• And this will be my next go-to for serious winter boots: http://sunshineandslaughter.com/2014/11/12/vegan-winter-boots/

• If you want to know how to start living a cruelty-free life by making authentic food choices: http://www.tedxmuenchen.de/beyond-carnism-and-toward-rational-authentic-food-choices-melanie-joy-at-tedxmuenchen-at-second-glance

• If you want to know why a plant-based diet is not only good for you and good for the animals, but essential for the planet, check out the brilliant documentary cowspiracy to find out why cow farts are more hazardous to the environment than gas-guzzling cars and what cows have to do with the vanishing rain forests.

• For the 411 (does anyone say that anymore?) on how Stella does it: http://www.stellamccartney.com/experience/en/stellas-world/sustainability/sustainability-questions-and-answers/