The incredibly talented and inspiring Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart is the force behind Vaute Couture, a groundbreaking fashion and independent fashion house. Spelled for Haute Couture with a V for Vegan, but said like VOTE, Vaute Couture is dedicated to develop fabrics and clothes that are not created from animal products.
Leanne never planned to be a fashion designer but always knew that she would do all she could to help the animals. At the early age of 8, she ran her first campaign, in the Chicago suburbs where she grew up, to raise money and awareness for the homeless animals at the local shelter. Then at 12, she did her Social Studies Fair Project on vivisection, the fur industry and factory farming, and even sold her title “Being Cruel Isn’t Cool” to a national tee shirt company! She went to college with the idea of becoming a teacher, but after being discovered by a Ford Modeling Scout, she gave up this career path and modeled for Ford Models in Chicago and in Asia while looking for business ideas that would help her raising awareness to the animal cause. She was in Hong Kong when it struck her: a winter dress coat which was at once warm, stunning, and vegan did not yet exist! She developed a line of winter dress coats, warmer than wool, snow resistant, windproof, and heat retaining, and made of cutting edge fabrics of recyclable and recycled fibers, and manufactured locally first in Chicago, and later in NYC. Her first line launched in summer of 2009, and despite the recession, got hundreds of preorders from customers who hadn’t even seen the coats! In 2010, Leanne moved to New York and opened her first store in Williamsburg. Vaute is now quickly growing and Leanne is constantly working on new ideas and innovations.
Animal Fair met with Leanne Mai-Ly Hilgart and asked her about her love for animals, being a vegan designer, and obviously about her beloved pets!
Animal Fair: Tell us what inspired you to be a vegan designer!
Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart: The first campaign I ever ran for animals was when I was 8. I sold my art door to door with my friends, to raise money and awareness for the local animal shelter, and awareness; there were so many wonderful dogs and cats who needed homes! I have a strong belief that who you were when you were a child, before the world tries to tell you who you should be, is your ideal self as an adult. So for me, that was someone who spread awareness for animals and a kinder lifestyle through art. Later, when I realized that business was a way to create exponential good through each part of the production process, I knew that I needed to figure out where I was best used with who I am. While modeling in Hong Kong, I took a second look at something I had always wanted: a beautiful warm winter dress coat, that was also vegan. When I realized that cold weather was the last excuse people used for wearing animals, it dawned on me that if I created a winter dress coat that was vegan but actually warmer than wool, that that would be my contribution to the movement of living compassionately. That I could say: “Look! There’s no reason left to wear animals!”
AF: Was there one animal or one story that sparked this way of life?
LMH: When I was 6, a girl down the street from me got a rabbit fur coat for Christmas. I didn’t know anything about anal electrocution, fur farms, or trapping, but I knew that there were rabbits who had died so that this silly coat existed. That was just not right to me!
Later, after doing my report in 5th grade on factory farming, vivisection, and the fur industry, I went to visit my uncle’s dairy farm in Wisconsin, and after playing with the cows I came inside for dinner: steak! I tried to eat it to be polite, but I felt like a traitor. My heart said no. I never ate another animal again.
AF: Tell us about your dogs! Where did you adopt them?
LMH: I adopted Whitman from Chicago Animal Care, where I used to volunteer with my Animal Rights group in college. I knew that one day I would go back, when the time was right. I saw Whitman in his cage, stretching, terrified, and angry with everyone. And when I heard his story, I knew that I needed to spend my days with him. I named him Whitman because he looked like he was writing poetry in there. After moving to NYC with him, I knew he was ready to meet the love of his life. This when I adopted Audrey, who was named Tiny then. A friend had adopted her from Waggytails Rescue, but she turned out to be allergic. Instead of sending her back, she had taken photos and posted them on Facebook, and as soon as I saw hers, I knew, I just knew, that she was someone I would have in my life! She is a little dancer, like the former ballerina Audrey Hepburn, with her long white fancy gloves.
AF: Are your pets fashion victims ?
LMH: Sometimes Whitman wears his letterman jacket from when I visited Taipei. As for Audrey, she has a burgundy corduroy coat from my trip to LA, and a sparkly blue collar that reminds me of the stars. They are my muses!
AF: Who are your favorite animal charities that you support?
LMH: I have a few and each has their own voice for the animals. Farm Sanctuary is my favorite place on earth, and gives farm animals a face, a story and a voice. Their sanctuaries are heaven on earth and a must visit for everyone! The Humane Society of the United States does incredible work getting fur banned and taken out of the big labels, and the Physical Committee for Responsible Medicine has done an inspiring job closing down animal labs at universities and schools. There are so many organizations that I’m so inspired by.
AF: What is your favorite vegan recipe you can share with our readers!
LMH: Being a Chicago girl, I love to make a great deep-dish pizza – it’s so easy! I don’t really follow a specific recipe, I just put stuff together that sounds good to me! I love to make a Southern Comfort Deep Dish Pizza. Here’s how I do it:
1. Get these ready made vegan corn pizza crusts by Vicolo (at Whole Foods)
2. Add barbeque sauce to your marinara for the base
3. Sautee kale with garlic, sea salt on the stove, and pull apart into small pieces
4. Put tater tots, green onions, and Daiya on top
5. Grab a vegan breaded “chicken” patty, tempeh, or seitan, to marinate in barbecue sauce overnight, and add to your pizza
6. Don’t forget your favorite vegan cheese – Daiya shreds, Teese cheese, or the new shreds from Trader Joe’s are all great.
7. Finally bake (on a baking sheet) at 425 for approximately 15 minutes.