For the past eight years, Toronto-based YouTuber and former MuchMusic VJ Lauren Toyota has followed a vegan diet. In fact, she’s so passionate about the benefits of meat-, dairy- and egg-free food, she has even written a best-selling cookbook called Vegan Comfort Classics (think delicious yet cheeseless nachos).
When it came to other areas of her life, however, Toyota was slower to evolve. Even after becoming a vegan, she purchased a partially leather sofa. “Five years ago, it was like, I didn’t realize I had to consider all other these things,” she says. “It was a great sofa, but it really bugged me. Eventually, I gave it away on Craigslist.”
Toyota is part of a growing trend in Canada. According to recent studies, between 2.3 per cent and 4 per cent of the country now follow a vegan lifestyle, whereas 7.1 per cent are vegetarians, and 25 per cent are trying to consume fewer animal products in general. These numbers are expected to increase in the coming decades. More than 50 per cent of vegans are, like Toyota, 35 years old and younger, a cohort that is ever more curious to experiment with plant-based living.
The rise of veganism is evident in grocery stores and restaurants, where protein substitutes and dairy-free milk are becoming mainstays. But the design world has been slower to adapt – until now.
In April, at the world’s largest design showcase in Milan, avant garde Israeli designer Erez Nevi Pana presented stools and side tables made-from “guilt-free” materials such as soil and salt. The pieces are more poetic than practical (the jagged seat of a salt crystal-covered stool isn’t exactly inviting), but Pana’s hope is that they inspire other designers to move away from animal products.
“I hope that by next year we will see more vegan designers making beautiful and harmonious vegan objects,” he says. “I just wish someone could tell this to the animals that are suffering at this moment, for the sake of the next sofa or shoes, that change is coming.”
Vegan housewares are out there, but they can be challenging to find. Recently, when Toyota was looking for a replacement sofa, she started at many people’s go-to furniture shops, popular places such as West Elm and EQ3. She was frustrated to realize that even if an ottoman wasn’t leather, upholstered in wool or had animal-based glues, it often had down feathers filling its cushions.
“It was kind of hard,” she says, before lucking out at Style Garage. “I was looking at this couch that I loved. It wasn’t specifically labelled vegan, but the sales person explained that instead of down feathers it was made from recycled plastic bottles.” Called the Parkdale bi-sectional, the couch is made by Canadian company Gus Modern and retails for $3,350. Toyota bought it immediately. “It’s so comfortable,” she says. “It just makes me think, why don’t more companies turn waste plastic – we are producing so much of it – into cushions, instead of raising geese and ducks for their feathers?”
In addition to Gus Modern, other Canadian designers are creating vegan furniture and decor options as well. British Colombia-based Vegan Yarn makes non-sheep knitting options for DIY blanket makers. Another is award-winning Toronto interiors studio Powell & Bonnell. Their Mulholland chair is covered in a 100% nylon, faux leather called Cartera that is not only produced without killing cows, but is also free of lead, PVC, phthalates, BPA, TRIS and formaldehyde. The seat retails through Toronto showroom South Hill Home for $5,435.
Meanwhile, Vancouver-based Article’s Cube sofa (which starts at $1,099) has cushions that are made with synthetic polyester. The upholstery contains no wool or leather. Vancouver-based blogger and recipe developer Erin Ireland (famous on the West Coast for her butterless yet shockingly good banana bread) recently bought one after renovating her home in the city’s Mount Pleasant neighbourhood. When considering options, Ireland reached out to Article to see what they offered. “They didn’t seem surprised at all by the question, and very quickly sent me a list of materials used,” she says. “Sometimes, the non-vegan elements aren’t obvious – like glues made from horse hooves.”
While Ireland found the process of finding the sofa “surprisingly easy,” she did have a setback at the outset of her overall renovation. One interior designer told her that going vegan would definitely make the job harder. Undeterred, she found another designer, Vancouver’s Karla Dreyer, who was up for the challenge.
“I’m not a vegan and I’ve never designed a house for a vegan client before,” Dreyer says. “But what I found is that doing this project really inspired me. It’s just about making more conscious decisions. There are so many great products out there made from recycled materials, you don’t need to rely on wools and leather to create a beautiful home.”
Dreyer also hopes that the design is more durable in the long run. According to her, “the space really reflects Erin’s value system and how she lives. Her and her family’s connection to the home is very strong, and that should last for years to come.”
As vegans, Toyota and Ireland agree that the best way to move to a postanimal lifestyle is to go in stages. “There may be different reasons why someone goes vegan,” says Toyota, noting that it could be a quest for a healthy diet, a general horror at factory farming or the belief that cows shouldn’t be raised to become show leather. “But it’s most often food first. The next-level things – make-up, cleaning products, clothing – can get very, very overwhelming.”
“It’s okay to start small,” Ireland says. “For me it was a process,” she adds, noting that she became a vegan five years ago, but didn’t immediately toss out her wool rugs (she eventually gave them away to a good home). “The thing is, once you start looking around, you will notice there are so many amazing options for things out there that just so happen to be made without animals. It’s like French fries. They’re amazing, and naturally vegan.”
Visit tgam.ca/newsletters to sign up for the Globe Style e-newsletter, your weekly digital guide to the players and trends influencing fashion, design and entertaining, plus shopping tips and inspiration for living well. And follow Globe Style on Instagram @globestyle.