The Vegan Shoe Designer

Elizabeth Olsen founded Olsenhaus at age 35, after a long career in fashion.

After working for designers like Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein, Olsen decided to forge her own path by designing shoes made from recycled materials, including TV screens, black cork, and tire rubber. So she founded Olsenhaus Pure Vegan, named after her Nordic heritage.

Olsen, who has been a vegetarian for 23 years and a vegan for 4, wouldn’t be caught dead in fur or leather. In fact, she postponed our conversation because a stray cat “found her” during a run — and she decide to take it in. She chats below about the collapse of our planet, vegan stereotypes, and being a man in a previous life.

Title: Founder, owner, and designer at Olsenhaus Pure Vegan
Age: 38
Graduated from: University of Florida, degree in art and art history; FIT, degree in accessories design
In the business for: 3 years
Previous jobs: Creative director at Tommy Hilfiger; designer for Calvin Klein, Bulga, Nine West, and Jodi Arnold MINT; ad-campaign stylist; commercial and film stylist

Job description in one sentence: I am a creative visual artist/designer and consciousness educator. I came to the planet to bring the vegan lifestyle into the 21st century mainstream.

Shoe materials: Mainly faux suede, mixed with sustainable cotton, cork, wood, and linen.
Number of shoes produced per year: About 6,000 pairs.

Are they made in America? Unfortunately not. There are no women’s or men’s factories in the U.S. that can produce in volume at a feasible cost and on time. I work in Mexico, Portugal, and India – all factories there are personally checked.

Define “personally checked.” I look for ventilation, check that machinery is up to date, inspect the payroll, ensure the workers are getting breaks and vacations, and check the bathrooms. Being there tells you a lot about the energy of the workers; if they seem afraid or unhappy, something is wrong.

"Joy" (L) is made from recycled TV screen, black cork, recycled tire rubber, and sawdust. "Dream" (R) is also made from recycled TV screen, and has a wooden heel.

Is there really a big difference between purchasing vegan and non-vegan shoes? Being vegan is the single biggest way to stop negatively impacting the inhabitants of the Earth, our environment, and the collective consciousness.

How has your work experience in Malaysia, Italy, South America, Asia, and Africa shaped your current perspective and mission? Experiencing so many different cultures has made me super adaptable to any situation with ease, and the realization that everyone just wants the same thing, deep down inside: to feel loved and a part of something. Cultural differences are so overrated, and cause so much hate, angst, and war. It’s all the result of the overrun human ego.

Inspiration to start Olsenhaus: When I worked for other companies, I’d often wonder, How can I express myself and not have to answer to unqualified people? I wanted to talk about what was happening to animals and the process of making leather. About 10 billion animals are slaughtered each year, which is completely unnecessary.

Origin of the company’s name: It pays homage to my Nordic heritage by combining my last name, Olsen, with haus, which is the German word for house.

Watch Elizabeth discuss her passion for vegan shoes:

This might seem obvious, but do you keep a vegan diet? Yes. I have been vegetarian since the age of 15, and vegan for the past four years.

Best part of your job: Saving animals and pushing vegan fashion forward. I enjoy watching people’s minds start to change.

Worst part of your job: I hate being lumped into any kind of “vegan” stereotype, and I dislike when people use the issue of animal rights to feed their own egos.

Why are vegan products so important? Humans must move away from the usage of animals, and the rate of physical and mental destruction is simply not sustainable. The health of all beings will continue to decline and the planet will collapse.

What’s the next big trend in fashion? Eco with a certain look – not the hippie-dippie type. For shoes, I think it’s going to be natural elements mixed with silver and futuristic tones.

Your everyday shoes are: Actually, I am usually barefoot. But I’d have to say flip-flops, flat sandals, or ballerina flats. I only wear heels when I’m attending an event, or at night.

Beach ball sandal with chain and studs from the Olsenhaus Spring 2011 collection.

What shoes are you wearing right now? The beach ball flats from my Spring 2011 collection (see left).

Something at the top of your bucket list? I’ve done all the exciting daredevil stuff – from rock climbing to safaris to parachute jumping. I’ve traveled the world extensively.

So….there’s nothing you still want to do? Now, my bucket list consists of normal stuff, like settling down. I also want to take time off to spend in India.

If you could be reincarnated into someone dead or alive, who would it be? I’ve never wanted to be anyone but myself. Lives I have found most interesting, though, include Siddhartha, Gandhi, Joan of Arc, and Julian Assange. And I was definitely a man in past lives.

How do you know? I’m pretty uninterested in things that are stereotypically female; I’m fine just wearing yoga pants and a tank top all day long, and I don’t love dresses and makeup per se.

This industry is not actually that glamorous, so be prepared for very long hours. The overall trend for the future is for goods to have a meaningful message and a positive impact on the planet, humans, and animals.

Follow Elizabeth on Twitter at @Elizabeth_Olsen, and check out where you can purchase Olsenhaus shoes. All photos courtesy of

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