Photo by Adam Laiban
Founder, Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart
Known as the artist in the class, at 8 she ran her first campaign for animals by coordinating friends to create arts & crafts they sold door to door to raise money and awareness for homeless animals at the local shelter. At 12 she took the title of her Social Studies Fair Project (on Vivisection, the Fur Industry, and Factory Farming), “Being Cruel Isn’t Cool,” and sold it to a national tee shirt company. Later she waged a campaign against cat dissection at her high school, which soon helped push a bill into law in IL that required alternatives to be given to all students. A year out of school, Leanne soon gave up on her college degree career path—teaching—and spent the next few years among a couple of seemingly unrelated careers: developing grassroots marketing strategies at Sittercity.com and for other companies while modeling with Ford Models in Chicago and on contracts in Asia.
During this time she realized that business was an amazing opportunity to create positive change through every aspect of the process. She just needed to figure out where she was needed most. It was on her contract in Hong Kong that she discovered that a winter dress coat which was at once warm, beautiful, & vegan did not yet exist—and realized that cold weather clothes were the last excuse to wear animals. If she could create something better, then we could work to move the world forward into a future without wearing animals.
Without a background in fashion or outside investors, and a (nearly) impossible timeline, she started VAUTE. While she failed the first launch date, she knew there was no option to give up. Today, VAUTE is in its 7th year, has a small but mighty growing team, has recently brought on our first angel investors, who wish to create a better world with us for the animals.
VAUTE ("Haute" with a "V" for Vegan, pronounced “Vote”) is “The World’s First All-Vegan Fashion Brand.” (NYLON) Based in Brooklyn, VAUTE was founded by Chicagoan Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart as a quest to take animals out of the fashion equation, and create the perfect winter dress coat warm enough for a Chicago winter. VAUTE broke runway history as the very first vegan label to show at New York Fashion Week, CNN said "Hilgart is the rebel of fashion week, VAUTE is breaking runway history," PETA named Hilgart the “Most Influential Designer” and Glamour Magazine & Conde Nast called Leanne a "Gamechanger, embodying courage, conviction, and creativity." VAUTE has also been featured in WWD, Elle France, BusinessInsider, and more. Celebrity fans include Angela Kinsey, Alicia Silverstone, and Emily Deschanel.
The line launched in summer of 2009 in the depth of the recession, to hundreds of preorders from customers who had never seen the coats in person, most of which had never met Leanne, and would wait months before receiving them. This proof of concept allowed Leanne to produce her line's fabrics with the same cutting edge mills that work with Patagonia and North Face. Without a background in fashion but 8 months of fabric research, Leanne realized that marrying these high tech performance textiles with structures, cuts and finishes of dress coats created a coat that had the look and feel of a beautiful wool coat, but the warmth and protection of a ski coat, and without any animal fibers. Her entire first production run was funded by her earliest supporters.
In 2010 Leanne moved the business and herself to NYC, opened VAUTE's first flagship store in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, from 2012-2015, and showed in New York Fashion Week in 2013 as the first vegan fashion label. VAUTE now has two brick & mortar locations this season in Los Angeles and Manhattan, and is headquartered in Brooklyn. Our goal is to create the best outerwear- beautiful, weatherproof, with love for the Earth, the Animals, and workers. We continue to develop innovative textiles and apparel so that one day the world will look at wearing animals as a thing of the past.