‘It was empowering to know that the choices I made both as a consumer and how I ran my business could and did make a difference’. Natalie Dean, Beyond Skin founder.
We’ve long been admirers of the Beyond Skin collection and its fabulous website, and I have several pairs of its shoes, and I love them! The success that Beyond Skin has achieved in the footwear and fashion world is impressive for a niche brand. It has attracted major magazines and celebs to their shoes, so we spoke to Natalie Dean (not Portman!) — the brains behind Beyond Skin…
Here’s just a few of our favourite styles, and if you like them as much as us you can buy them by clicking on the images:
Beyond Skin began in 2001 ‘born from a combination of frustration and vanity’, explained Natalie. ‘At the time there were simply no stylish, good quality, non-leather footwear items available’.
‘In the past, attempts to combine fashion and ethics generally resulted in one side of the equation being sacrificed. I wanted to prove that fashion and ethics did not have to be mutually exclusive’.
‘Beyond Skin is a British, indie, luxury, vegan footwear brand’ continued Natalie, outlining what makes Beyond Skin special. ‘Our uniqueness lies as much in our approach as it does in our design aesthetic of dynamic, vintage-inspired styling.’
Before Natalie founded Beyond Skin she was a make-up artist in the fashion and music industry. She describes Beyond Skin as an extremely personal endeavour and a manifestation of her transition from long-time vegetarian to vegan. Veganism encouraged her to become intensely aware that everything she did had a consequence. ‘It was empowering to know that the choices I made both as a consumer and how I ran my business could and did make a difference.’
We wanted to know more about Beyond Skin’s mainstream success and we found out that they have done collaborations with Anthropologie UK and Sportsgirl and hope to have a lot more collaborations coming up soon. We suggested People Tree, and they said ‘great idea’!
Natalie believes it is Beyond Skin’s ‘careful design and aesthetic’ that distinguishes and separates it from most of the other ethical/vegan companies out there’.
Natalie made it very clear that her first and foremost concern is veganism and animal welfare, telling us that ‘human rights, animal rights and the environment are subjects we feel extremely passionate about, yet quality and style is what will make us stay the distance’. She was very aware that Beyond Skin and other ethical businesses cannot survive on ethical merits alone. Like any other business, they will have to continue to produce goods that are well designed, good quality and competitive within the market.
Beyond Skin used to manufacture its shoes in the UK, but Natalie and her team had reluctantly move production away from England. ‘As awareness of our brand increased, more and more boutiques wanted to carry our range but frustratingly we were unable to offer the line to them wholesale due to the high cost of UK manufacturing’. Their quantities had started to grow so the factory was finding it harder and harder to deliver. When they were introduced to a Spanish agent they felt moving the production to Spain was a natural progression to develop the brand & expand their audience.
Beyond Skin now had an agent who helped them find some Spanish manufacturers to build the brand with, although ‘this still was not an easy feat as many factories often only work with leather. All of our shoes are now made in Alicante, Spain, but obviously if a suitable opportunity arose in the UK that could sustain our business we would happily return’.
As in many of our interviews with other vegan companies and celebs, we wanted to know if Natalie feels that the mainstream footwear industry views vegetarianism and veganism as a fringe pursuit. ‘More and more brands are realising there is an emerging market for non-leather products and are beginning to offer vegan options. We hope to see this market explode in the next 5 years and we hope to be at the forefront’.
The fashion industry now ‘has embraced the concept with vegan being a much more familiar term with brands like Stella McCartney & Melissa shoes contributing to making ‘vegan’ cool’. For Beyond Skin, they find that currently the US, German and UK markets are more open to the concept of non-leather footwear.
Natalie explained how the technology of synthetics nowadays is ‘super advanced and all our Italian made faux leather and suede’s cost considerably more than most skins and are of remarkable quality’. There are now many companies experimenting with recycled PET plastic so ‘it won’t be long before we are able to use recycled faux leather’s in our line’.
Currently each season a large core of Beyond Skin’s collections are produced in a sustainable faux suede alternative called Dinamica. ‘This fabric is breathable, expensive and made from 100% recycled PET plastic bottle tops and has the look and feel of real suede. Yet unlike its real suede counterpart, can get wet, be cleaned and does not watermark’.
Due to it’s incredible durability it is used in the auto-industry by both Jaguar and Mercedes Benz for their high-end interiors! Beyond Skin is the first footwear label to utilise this incredible, sustainable material, which could potentially one day replace real suede.
In the future Beyond Skin has plans to open a flagship store in Brighton, which we are really excited about for them and for all of us!
Natalie said they hoped to launch a men’s range in Spring 2014, ‘we are in the process of tweaking designs and eagerly awaiting our first samples with baited breath’.
Natalie makes the kind of shoes she likes to wear herself, so we asked her if she had a favourite pair: ‘I have two favourites, the Kat style which is a cute vintage court that is trans-seasonal. We always make them in fun fabrics and I seem to have a favourite every season! I also love the Kelly style which is a more contemporary round toe court with vintage inspired metallic detailing on front and back – it is sooooo comfy for a high heel!’
Today, Beyond Skin shoes are available at www.beyondskin.co.uk and they ship worldwide (hooray for spreading fashionable vegan footwear across the globe)! There are also a small selection of independent boutiques that stock Beyond Skin shoes both nationally and internationally. Natalie told us this exciting news too: they have recently acquired a US distributor so hopefully they will have many more stockists throughout the US coming soon!
Visit www.beyondskin.co.uk to see the full range, and look out for the men’s range in 2014.