By definition, veganism not only dictates what you eat but what you wear, too. It, “by extension," The Vegan Society states, "promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment.” That makes material innovation not only an effort rooted in sustainability — using less cotton and water — but inclusivity, too. With the total number of vegans surely growing, and plant-based food options ever-expanding, clothing and sneaker manufacturers must act fast if they wish to both keep customers that have converted and attract lifelong vegans who've otherwise steered clear because they couldn't find a product fit for them.
"The exact numbers of vegans are almost impossible to establish, but surveys have shown rapid growth," The Guardian says of veganism, which started as an animal rights initiative, turned into diet fad and is now a respected dietary restriction like allergies or faith. "One suggested there had been a 40% increase in 2020, bringing the total to around 1.5 million."
New Balance isn't blind to this surging consumer base. It's why, although they have animal-free shoes that simply forgo those materials in favor of mesh, vinyl and foam, they've proudly made their first-ever vegan 990, called the Vegan M990 v5. They're made in the US from animal-free leather, mesh underlays, an EVA midsole, the brand's iconic ENCAP technology cushioned heel and standard cotton laces.
You can enter a raffle for one of the first few pairs — which are retailing slightly higher than usual ($299) — now via Seven Store until January 21st or wait until they hit New Balance's site later this year. Quantities are likely limited no matter which route you choose, but New Balance, evident by the way they've pushed these to higher-end retailers first, is all but guaranteeing more vegan releases down the road.
Like Blundstone, who debuted vegan boots last year, New Balance couldn't stand by its goal to service everyone without innovating into this emerging category. "We want our brand to be open for everyone to feel a part of and engaged with. And, I think, from a very simple perspective, we decided we couldn’t truly stand by that unless we moved into developing [vegan options]," Blundstone CEO, Adam Blake, told us.
The brand's boots didn't come with an official marker to prove they're vegan, because, honestly, while they're not hiding it, they'd rather you couldn't tell. New Balance hopes wearers don't notice a difference between leather-based 990s and the new animal-free iteration, but designers did make a subtle adjustment to the heel of this shoe to nod to its new nature-based DNA: The "V," which appears on the heel of all 990s, is a glowing green — a reference to plants and nature — instead of the usual maroon or gray.
Details on the makeup of this new vegan leather are under wraps for now, but we've reached out to New Balance for more information. We'll update this post as it becomes available.