Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart
Some background - I've been an animal activist since I was 8 -- vegan 22 years, at 16 I fought for dissection alternatives in my high school which helped a bill turn law in IL requiring alternatives for all students. I was always the artist in the class - when everyone stopped being my friend for what a weird animal rights recycling girl alien I was I luckily had art and music. I've always loved creating, in the basement in my EZ bake oven. One of the purest joys of my life is creating something from nothing.
Fast forward to 2008, I was modeling in Hong Kong and getting my MBA and realized I could speak up for animals through fashion - there are billions of sheep and geese suffering terrible lives for outerwear, and everyone thought it was okay because they aren't killed directly for the clothing. But in fact their lives are endless exploitation and they are killed in the end anyway. I knew I could combine my love for creating, animal rights, my training in business, and in fashion marketing from modeling - into a way to speak up for animals and create a better option than wearing them. I ran VAUTE for 13 years - in that time I found a sense of belonging with other weirdos who love animals and the Earth as much as me.
And we accomplished a lot!
- SAVED about 44,000 geese (from being plucked for their down)
- SAVED about 3,000 Sheep (from being factory farmed for their wool)
- RECYCLED approx. 265,000 plastic bottles
- DIVERTED approx. 60,000 YARDS INDUSTRIAL FABRIC
- SUPPORTED hundreds of local NYC (and Chicago) artisans
- DRESSED tens of thousands of the most brilliant wonderful customers
and now we are here!
As the brand grew - it was harder and harder to run because the ethical and design standard that was integral to the company wasn't easy to scale in this current industry. So after considering a few business deal offers which did not meet the ethical or quality standard of the brand, and while my body was slowly but surely breaking down from the stress, after trying everything to keep it going - I closed VAUTE in March 2020 the week COVID began closing NYC.
I truly believed I'd never start another fashion brand and tried really hard to come up with something else I could do. I spent a few years processing all the things my workaholism had kept me from processing - starting thinking through the difference between what was fulfilling to me, and what made me happy. And could I have both? VAUTE fulfilled me no doubt - finding ways to serve others through creating was so fulfilling, but was I happy? At peace? Did I feel rested and healthy? My body was breaking down and my emotional, social, and physical needs were not being met.
I've spent the past few years considering how could I lead a fulfilling life that also is healthy and happy for me. I felt lost when I wasn't creating - but I coudn't fathom taking on the old relationship I had to my career. And so here it is- a very TINY and SLOW business, that isn't trying or hoping to get big. Extremely small number of pieces we can make each month, and per style - designs that are high on ART and sourcing unique sustainable materials (amplifying my favorite parts of running a business), supporting inspiring women and artists, that speaks up for animals, creates LESS waste in the world, celebrates love, and speaks up for the animals.
Meet the artists here I work with, and who made many beautiful things here.