by Dominique Side
Now more than ever, veganism is on the rise. An estimated 80 million adhere to a plant-based lifestyle across the globe, with the number of vegans in the United States skyrocketing from 0.4 percent to almost 3.5 percent in the last two years or so. But despite this growth, veganism still holds an odd place in the minds of most consumers; they tend to think both of radicalized hippies and of the organic Whole Foods produce they can’t even afford. It’s a confusing duality.
My own journey to veganism began four and a half years ago. I was on a specific workout regimen, and one of my trainers said, “Try this plant-based protein powder. It’s better for your digestion.” So I did, and I loved it. So much that it got my wheels turning about makeup … and as soon as I did even cursory research, I saw that vegan cosmetics were far better for both my skin and the planet. Next came vegan cleaning supplies, a few products for my kids … and yet I still wasn’t thinking about food.
Until I watched a documentary on veganism. And then it was all over. I knew I could never go back to eating any animal products again.
And, being me, I immediately began scheming on ways to convince others that veganism wasn’t just the right choice but a fantastic and life-enriching choice. So I built a boutique vegan grocery store and clothing company. I made sure my studio, media complex, and production facility were all eco-friendly. Then I started to think about ways to help individual influencers embrace the vegan lifestyle. I knew that making the leap was the toughest part and that people could use help easing into the transition. And after doing some research, I saw that the luxury market wasn’t getting a lot of love from the vegan community … which seemed like a missed opportunity.
After all, top earners and wildly successful people have the resources to surround themselves with the best of the best, but they’re often too busy to do their own research. So they may gravitate toward whatever society or the media tell them has value. If I could show them that veganism was the best possible choice for the environment, for animals, and for their own health and longevity, I could bring some seriously heavy hitters into the vegan fold! I could elevate veganism overall and create a generation of influential individuals who led by example.
And that’s how my newly launched luxury vegan clothing line Nikki Green was born.
Nikki Green combines luxury earth-friendly materials, custom hardware, and figure-enhancing cuts. Nikki Green is both opulent, sustainably sourced, and expertly combines compassionate living with high fashion.
In developing Nikki Green, I’ve worked closely with my long-term stylist, Christian Allen, to conceptualize the collection, dreaming up textures, tones, and elements that feel fresh and elevated. Every step of the process, from design to production to packaging, is responsibly sourced and centered on compassion.
What I’ve found as I’ve worked with my elite clients is that many, many people still think of “luxury” and “vegan” as opposite ends of the spectrum. They know that a vegan lifestyle can be costly but assume any animal-free wearables, skincare options, and menus will have that earthy, boho, downmarket feel to them. I got curious. I wondered if entrepreneurs in the fast-emerging luxury vegan market struggled to convince customers that their meticulously crafted wares were, in fact, cruelty-free. So I spoke with 17 innovators in the vegan market … and here’s what they told me.
Vegan means quality, quality means cost
My interviewees ranged from chefs and food production experts to cosmetics formulators and fashion designers, and nearly all of them said that when you’re questing for the absolute best materials and ingredients, they are generally vegan. Even if you’re not looking for vegan options, the best quality components tend to be plant-based and cruelty-free.
Lindsey McCoy, CEO and co-founder of Plaine Products, told me, “We do personal care products and the ingredients are all vegan. Interestingly enough, we didn’t set out necessarily to do that, but it turns out when you just prioritise good, clean, natural ingredients, that’s where you end up.”
Nina LaBruna, CEO of LaBruna Skincare, explained that her research led her naturally to buy and use exquisite ingredients.
“Most of our carrier ingredients are actually luxurious. They’re really expensive,” she said. “I buy goji berry oil and sea buckthorn in their pure form, where other lines might water them down with carrier oil. My ingredients are really pure, really rich, and that makes them really expensive. So I do consider my line to be a luxury line.”
Helena Pantahos, founder of Desyllas Luxury Vegan Footwear, pointed out that it’s not just materials but also methods that elevate vegan products. They’re often made by craftspeople, specialists, and artisans who pour their knowledge into the items they’re making.
“People are a bit confused at first when you say luxury vegan,” she told me, “but when you think of luxury shoes, or luxury items, they’re usually a bit more exclusive, made a bit slower. And then, when you look at veganism and sustainable businesses, they’re also a bit slower, more exclusive. So I love how well the two fit together.”
On top of all this, there is a subset of elite consumers who don’t just want logo-encrusted goods, they want small-batch, pasture-raised, organic food. To them, that is the height of luxury, and they’re willing to pay for it.
Courtney Lindsay—executive chef of Mo’ Better Brews, owner of Houston Sauce. Co., executive chef at Houston Sauce Pit, and owner of Big Hot Chicken—summed this up beautifully, saying, “Just because you become vegan, that doesn’t mean you stop liking luxury or name-brand items. Or well-crafted items that may cost a little bit more.”
Wellness is HOT
Goop, Peloton, Lululemon … some of the biggest names in influence and commerce these days are wellness brands. In a recent report for Luxe Digital, Florine Eppe Beauloye pointed out that, “Wellness is the new affluence and status symbol. Wellness has become a luxury lifestyle to be enjoyed and flaunted.” Clean diets, strict yoga regimens, and toned bodies are all brag-worthy these days.
Many of the people embracing the wellness revolution gravitate toward veganism for health reasons. Much like me, as soon as they begin to investigate what they’re putting into or onto their bodies, vegan options become more appealing. Keli Smith, founder and CEO of minimal plant-based skincare brand Kaike, is encouraged by this and hopes more people will start researching the products they use.
“When people take a more mindful look at not only what we eat, but what we put on our skin, that shapes the industry,” she said. “The more that we take a closer look at what we consume and what we use, the more we can impact the industry at large.”
LaBruna explained that it was the trendy nature of vegan wellness products that got her foot in the door with national chains. Clean beauty is so hot it’s become a business advantage.
“The wellness industry is booming right now, so I know that the luxury space is catering to that,” she said. “The way we started getting into some of our bigger retailers and making those partnerships was because that was our identity. Nordstrom was doing a clean beauty pop-in where they were highlighting vegan, luxury, cruelty-free brands. We wouldn’t have been able to be in that space if we didn’t hit those points.”
Big retailers are starting to pay attention and partner with emerging vegan brands in the wellness sphere. That includes high-end department stores, exclusive boutiques, and elite online retailers. They all know that wellness is a lucrative game, and they want in.
Green is trendy
Even aside from health and wellness, eco-friendly products, services, and choices are becoming increasingly popular with luxury consumers. Millennials and Generation Z consumers are driving 85 percent of global luxury sales growth, and 75 percent of those same consumers were willing to spend more on a product if it was created by a sustainable or socially conscious brand. A recent report on the luxury goods market from Bain & Company asserted that, “Social responsibility remains top of mind for luxury customers and encompasses more than just environmental impact: 80 percent of luxury customers say they prefer brands that are socially responsible.”
Big name luxury brands are listening.
Gucci has developed its very own vegan leather alternative called Demetra, which has drawn accolades from vegans, luxury shoppers, and luxury-loving vegans alike. High-end beauty formulators, including Chantecaille and Josie Maran, have begun to offer vegan and cruelty-free options. PĪFERI, a footwear line created by the former head designer at Jimmy Choo, offers exquisite heels, sandals, and boots that are completely animal-free and aimed squarely at affluent consumers. Across industries, luxury eco-conscious and compassion-minded options are multiplying.
Chef and owner of I Eat Grass Ayinde Howell has witnessed the high-end consumer’s hunger for earth-friendly options firsthand.
“We’re in a moment where everybody wants plant-based stuff,” he told me. “When I was a private chef working for wealthy people, they were probably 99% plant-based. They wanted the good shit. They wanted the organic, the shade road, the small batch.”
When Star Simmons, founder of vegan consumer apps vKind and vWire, first launched her company in 2019, she allowed the brand to take on the more “granola” look and feel that many people associate with veganism. But now, just a few years later, she’s revamping everything to align with luxury sensibilities.
“Now we’re redoing everything, new drop downs, new colours, because I know where that market’s headed. I can see it with our company, the brands that we’re working with, the beautiful purses that are coming out,” Simmons said. “That’s what’s happening, and when you get names like Kardashians, as you know, that are getting behind it, that’s the direction we’re going. Everything is vegan now.”
My own research leads me to believe that vegan products, restaurants, and wearables are gaining traction in the luxury space in part because they are being produced en masse for the first time in history. Vegans have more options, including more high-quality, high-end options. And as more entrepreneurs and investors get wind of the money to be made in this segment, more and more options will crop up.
But the pioneers I spoke with warned newcomers not to enter this space JUST because it’s trendy since vegans can sniff out a poseur in a millisecond or less.
“I would definitely say, do not enter this space just to be on trend because the customers in the space can tell when that is your reasoning,” said Dyandra Raye, founder and designer of footwear line Jo-Anne Vernay. “People love to greenwash these days and say that they’re sustainable when they’re really not.”
More luxury vegans wanted
This is an exciting moment to be in the luxury vegan market. Hundreds of innovative cruelty-free materials are being made, and thousands of animal-friendly products are being manufactured to serve the high-end vegan market. But I, for one, am still recruiting: I want to spend as much of my time and energy as possible bringing big-hearted luxury consumers into the vegan family.
Sometimes I feel like a very small person … but when I think about the fate of our world, I know that by using my platform to affect change in other people, I’m doing my best work. I became a vegan because I have compassion for other beings, and I have compassion for the planet, and I have compassion for myself. My mission now through Nikki Green is to help others unlock those levels of compassion in their own lives and embrace the wonders that the luxury vegan lifestyle has to offer them.
About Dominique Side
Dominique Side is a Sustainability Expert and Leading Authority in Luxury Ethical Living. As the co-founder of the 7-figure entrepreneurial multiplex VgnBae Studios, luxury vegan fashion line Nikki Green and serial entrepreneur, her mission is to inspire and support other change-makers and influencers to transition to a compassionate-based vegan lifestyle, without compromising on their luxury quality of life.