U.K. department store chain Marks & Spencer (M&S) is celebrating Veganuary with a 350-style collection of vegan footwear just days after introducing a line of vegan food products.
Veganuary is a month of vegan awareness promoted by an eponymous U.K. charitable organization founded five years ago. Vegan product launches during the month-long celebration can drum up attention from consumers personally interested in the movement or in supporting organizations that promote the cruelty-free vegan cause.
“Vegan searches on our websites have more than doubled in the past year,” Rachel Silver, host of the M&S corporate podcast, said on her show. “To meet this demand, our skilled clothing technologists have expanded our vegan-friendly footwear offer—going the extra mile to ensure styles are available with 100 percent vegan elements.”
M&S announced the 350-style vegan collection through its @marksandspencerfashionpr Instagram account, encouraging followers to “Step into Spring with some new season shoes, including our vegan-friendly women’s wear and men’s wear styles, available online and in stores,” and offered a brief video montage highlighting many of the styles that will be available.
“We’ve got a big breadth to offer. We’ve got, basically, synthetic versions of everything from court shoes in various heel heights to casual shoes, to slippers,” Stephen Lawson, footwear technologist and design engineer at M&S, told Silver. “And this covers across men’s, kid’s and women’s wear.”
Lawson emphasized that the collection wasn’t designed specifically to be vegan but, rather, M&S wanted to make a synthetic line that would also appeal to vegans. The footwear technology team completed the research and development phase in roughly nine months, according to Lawson. Asked about the challenges facing his design team, he admitted that getting the word out about veganism is still the hardest part.
“One of the challenges is being able to communicate it to the customer. Synthetic materials, they’re made deliberately to imitate leather,” Lawson explained. “That’s the starting point for our consumers, as well. They were confused about it, the synthetic product looks so much like leather.”
Convincing vegan-conscious consumers that M&S products are the real deal is the first step toward making the line successful, Lawson added.
A popular footwear line would be a welcome development for the retailer, whose financial report on Thursday revealed category underperformance in both food and clothing & home over the holidays. Apparel & home revenue, in particular, dipped 2.4 percent year-on-year to 1.1 million pounds ($1.4 million) for the 13 weeks leading up to Dec. 29, despite a year-on-year increase of 14 percent in online sales.
“In clothing & home we are at the early stages of far-reaching changes in range, in style, customer focus and channel mix,” Marks and Spencer CEO Steve Rowe said in the report. “Our objective is to reshape our buy, deliver market-leading value and focus on stylish and wearable wardrobe ‘must-haves’ as we grow our business with family-aged customers seeking style, quality and value.”
The vegan footwear line at M&S may be the first of those “far-reaching changes,” but it was simply a matter of reacting to a high level of interest in vegan clothing, Lawson noted, adding that the increased demand stems from heightened consumer awareness.
“You’ve got to satisfy that demand,” Lawson concluded.