Nikki Reed designs a line of vegan handbags, but she's not a vegan. That might seem like a contradiction, but you don't have to be a vegan to see the value of veganism and incorporate aspects of it into your life, just like you don't have to be a hardcore Directioner to enjoy 1D's music. Still, it's not often that you come across a vegan fashion brand led by a non-vegan celebrity, so Cosmopolitan.com got on the phone with Nikki to find out exactly what was up.
You designed a line of vegan handbags for Freedom of Animals, but you're not a vegan. How does that work? **
What I was initially drawn to was the sustainability aspect. The collection is made of recycled plastic from the ocean and from landfills. It's also made in the U.S. That's why the bags are priced the way that they are [at around $300 each], because producing in the U.S. literally costs five times the amount that it does to mass produce overseas, but it's really so important to support your local economy.
You're not a vegan, so what are you?
For the last seven years I haven't eaten meat or dairy, and I consider myself, for the most part, plant-based. But I don't enjoy labels. I do what works for me. The vegan community, at times, can be very strict and for myself, personally, I don't believe in rules or guidelines. I believe in doing the best you can, when you can, where you can, and making decisions that reflect your morals to the best of your ability.
Does that mean you still use genuine leather in your personal life? **
I still have leather. I still wear leather. I don't approach anything with an extremist mentality. I don't eat meat, but I don't mind people who do. I might have a bag line that's made from recycled plastic, but I can still pull out an old pair of leather shoes that I have from five years ago and wear them.
That's actually a much more sustainable approach to fashion than if you just threw them out — reusing a product because it is still perfectly good instead of just getting rid of it because you no longer like what it is made out of. I'm trying really hard to go plastic-free this year, but I'm still going to use the plastic pieces I own because they are still functional and I don't want to turn them into waste. **
That's what I love about this line. For me, it has created a shift in my mentality about what I actually consume. This isn't about a vegan bag line, this is an all-encompassing message about us making conscious decisions to do the best we can with fashion.
There will always be people on this planet who eat meat and use animal products. So how do we, each of us, try to reduce that by 5 or 10 percent in our lives? That's why, at this point, I don't appreciate the word "vegan." I think it is often misunderstood and misinterpreted, and unfortunately, the vegan community, in a lot of ways, has actually scared people away. I don't call myself vegan because then I would have to say that I'm vegan in every aspect of my life and I'm not. I find myself somewhere in the middle.
It's easy to get overwhelmed by the totality of something like veganism, but if being a vegan is one of the best things you can do for the environment, then, from an ecological standpoint, incorporating aspects of veganism into certain parts of your life is certainly better than doing nothing at all. **
It's so intimidating. People get scared and they do nothing, so I'm trying to teach young people that waking up in the morning and deciding to just turn off your water when you're brushing your teeth and saving those two minutes of water is pretty fucking cool. Or, say you turn your shower on and you know that it's going to take 90 seconds for the water to get hot, instead of wasting that water, you put a bucket in your shower and save it and maybe use it for your grass outside. That's pretty fucking cool too. And if that's all you do, that's still great. If we could all just do one little thing, we could accomplish so much.
It's not about creating these little armies of extremists that feel like they need to isolate everybody else for not doing what they consider enough or perfection. That is the wrong approach. For me, it's not about creating a world of vegans. It's about giving people options in the fashion world so that if* they feel like making a decision to purchase something that is cruelty-free or sustainable or recycled, they can.
You don't have to be perfect to get started.
Throughout our lives, we all keep learning, keep growing, keep absorbing, and that's the beauty of being human. Being in the public eye, people love to criticise you for growing or changing or your "inconsistency," but we are all constantly growing and changing and learning and seeing what works for us. As long as our intentions on this planet are good, that's enough.
I've seen people attack others on social media for trying things like "Meatless Mondays," saying it's a crock of shit, but I'm of a totally different mentality. We have billions of people on this planet. If everybody did a Meatless Monday, it actually would have a huge impact on the planet. It's a very touchy area, but I think if we all try our best and we're all doing something*, that's pretty damn good.
Absolutely. It's demoralising when you try to do something good and the only feedback you get is negative. And worrying about other people's reactions can make it really hard to get motivated to even try in the first place. Do you have any suggestions for overcoming that? What about for people who know they should* care, but, for whatever reason, they just don't. What can they do to make* themselves care?*
Sometimes you just need to start with you. That's how I started. I realised that making my own food and not using animal products just made me feel good. It just made me feel better. Helping the planet or making a difference was secondary then.
At the same time, I think human beings like to do good. I want to believe in my heart that people want to do good. And if you're making a conscious effort, that's good. There's no, like, standard that you need to meet. Don't approach things with the mentality of how can I do everything right?* Just do what feels good.