Fed up with the lack of stylish, good quality, non-leather footwear on the market, Natalie Dean decided to put her frustration to good use and in 2001 founded Beyond Skin, a line of vegan shoes for women. “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,” says the Brighton, UK-based designer, describing the brand’s birth as “a manifestation of my transition from a long-time vegetarian to vegan.”
Known for its unusual use of fabrics, prints and weaves, Beyond Skin counts Natalie Portman (who wore the brand to the Oscars and Golden Globes) and Anne Hathaway among its famous fans. Fundamentally a cruelty-free brand, sustainability is equally important to Dean and her co-director Heather Whittle. Production is based in Alicante, Spain, where fabrics are locally sourced. A large part of each cruelty-free collection is made using faux leathers made from polyurethane and a suede alternative called Dinamica, which is made from 100 percent recycled PET plastic bottlecaps and has the look and feel of real suede. “Unlike its real suede counterpart it can get wet, be cleaned and does not watermark,” Dean explains, noting that the fabric is also used by Jaguar and Mercedez-Benz.
Despite its vegan roots and strong ethical values, Beyond Skin is first and foremost a boutique lifestyle brand, attracting a wide audience that spans animal lovers and eco-fashionistas to simply shoe-loving ladies. “We endeavor to target fashionable, discerning, style-led women who have an understanding of their consumer choices and their impact on the world,” Dean shares, adding, “Veganism encouraged me to become intensely aware that everything I 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.”
FP: What is your first shoe memory? ND: Trying on school shoes in Clarks as a child and being infatuated with the collection of babies’ shoes. Think it was really the distorting mirrors in the store that made it so memorable!
FP: Who is your style icon? ND: Audrey Hepburn.
FP: Which celebrities would you love to see in one of your designs? ND: Cate Blanchett and Oprah Winfrey.
FP: Where do you like to shop? ND: Vintage and charity/thrift shops.
FP: Which shoes in your closet are getting the most wear? ND: Our Cat slippers in black and gold geometric print.
FP: What shoe must every woman have in her closet? ND: Black vintage-inspired pumps with an elegant heel.
FP: Which trends do you hope to never see again? ND: Shoulder pads.
FP: Which designer do you admire the most? ND: Stella McCartney for her commitment to her ethics.
FP: What is your favorite part of your job? ND: When our new collection of samples arrive!
FP: If you weren’t designing shoes, what would you be doing? ND: Working at an amazing charity or NGO that is passionate about some amazing cause!