Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart is the CEO & Creative Director of Vaute Couture, the world’s first completely vegan apparel label. While other fashion brands occasionally sell vegetarian-friendly clothes out of materials like faux-leather, Vaute doesn’t use anything derived from animals—you won’t find silk, wool, suede, or down in the line, even in its super-warm jackets. In 2013, Vaute became the first vegan brand to show at New York Fashion Week. And thanks to a rapidly growing, loyal customer base, the company just opened a new headquarters in Brooklyn, and is in the process of opening a new storefront in Nolita.
At 32, Hilgart radiates with contagious excitement and a quiet yet unmistakable confidence. This is a woman who figured out how to combine her passions—animal rights and fashion—and turn them into something lucrative, lasting, and impactful, with no previous experience being a business owner or fashion designer. She’s modest and gracious in conversation, but her incredible accomplishments speak to the fact that this risk-taker had the drive and wherewithal to succeed despite the odds being stacked against her.
“I realized that all the most important things I did in life I did without asking for approval or permission,” Hilgart says. “I knew I had to just do it and prove it, and maybe one day they would get it, but it wouldn’t matter, I had to create this; it had to be done. And that was that.”
Read on for her story of risk and reward, photographed in and around Vaute’s new headquarters (oh, and if you’re wondering—everything Hilgart’s wearing is from Vaute.)