How Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart Started Vaute Couture
I’m so thrilled to introduce our first guest blog by Vaute Couture founder Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart. She has an inspiring story, and she’s so warm and wonderful and cute! Just like her coats!
Anywho, here is Leanne’s first blog:
Hiii!!! Ohmygosh, I can’t tell you how excited I am to meet you guys (web-meet that is!) I’m Leanne (Mai-ly Hilgart), and this was me when I was ten… at the time everyone in my class was obsessed with Limited Too & TRL countdowns (maybe they still are? I have no idea, I have no TV inBrooklyn!) but all I could think about was animal rights and making stuff.
I was obsessed with my Easy Bake oven and making my own clay necklace beads from dough I made in the kitchen, was constantly researching new ways to hand make statement tee shirts with puffy paint and stamps I hand carved from potatoes (you know the kind), and most of all, was all about rebranding everything I owned (ahem, like my Trapper Keeper) with AR slogans, dogs, cats, and my very own “logo” of a paw print with my initials in it and the year written across the paw tips. I also cut my own hair (1 inch of uneven bangs, thankyouverymuch!) & dressed myself (off the shoulder unicorn tees, 80’s dresses) in a way that meant very quickly I had cleared the Uncool List. One boy told me that he couldn’t imagine anyone ever liking me, not “like that.” No one could understand why I cared so much about animals and so little about, well, what everyone else cared about.
More than my look, though, was what I cared (and didn’t care) about. I didn’t like the mass-made stuff in the mall; I liked creating stuff. But mostly, I couldn’t stand seeing others treated unfairly and I was very curious how things were made and where they came from. I had a voice inside me that wouldn’t shut up, as much as my 10-year-old self wished it would. When my sixth grade teacher asked me to pick my social studies fair topic to be about something I really cared about, I picked Factory Farming, Vivisection, and the Fur industry. I didn’t know what we were doing to animals exactly, but I knew whatever it was we weren’t talking about it, and I had to get to the bottom of it. Soon, Peter Singer instead of YM became my new favorite read.
Before starting my research, I titled my project “Being Cruel Isn’t Cool” and that title soon became my first published tee shirt slogan, sold by a company then called Wild Wear, and I was paid in, well, tee shirts. Fast forward through junior high, high school (I waged a campaign against my high school to offer dissection alternatives and we won—that year a bill became law in Illinois requiring it), to college where I ran an animal rights organization on campus and later was discovered by a Ford Modeling Agency scout in a summer for fun acting class.
Long story short, I had no idea what I was going to do with my life… I felt terribly, utterly, lost. Could I be an activist for a living? How could I help others see how easy it was to care, to be vegan? I had to figure out where I could put my time into making a difference where it was needed most. On a very lonely modeling contract in Taipei, I had read in the Seven Spiritual Laws of Success that this junction of who you are and what the world needs was Dharma, a place of abundance. Doing marketing for then start-up Sittercity.com I realized that business could be an incredible venue for activism IF you purposefully developed each part of the process to create good in itself.
While in Hong Kong on a modeling contract a couple summers later, I thought again about my frustration every winter with not being able to find a winter dress coat that was at once vegan and actually warm enough for a Chicago winter. I had no idea anyone else wanted one or would pay for one, but I did realize that if I could reinvent the dress coat to be at once vegan, and as protective (or more) than a conventional wool coat, then it would be something that would show the world we didn’t need to wear animals to stay warm. And so, I quit my modeling contract with Ford, and my MBA, and started on 80-hour weeks of fabric research in the fall of 2008 to develop this coat… I did it without any formal background in fashion or any experience in apparel manufacturing, with the sheep in my heart. One of my favorite poems is the E.E. Cummings one: “I carry your heart, I carry it in my heart” because that’s where I keep the animals, always.
Thank you, Leanne! Do you have more questions about how to get a vegan business off the ground? Leave them in the comments below!