Vivienne Westwood: PVC Debate


Lady Dragon

Vivienne Westwood: Lady Dragon

Vivienne Westwood recently teamed up with Melissa to create a new shoe collection. “The Fashion Audit: 02/02/09” in The Independent claims that these shoes are made from recycled rubber. The shoe company offers limited information on the details of the environmental factors associated with the plastic. One thing for sure, the shoes, like all Melissa shoes, are made from PVC (polyvinyl chloride). Now, I am no expert on PVC, that’s for sure, but I seem to recall the material being associated with some pretty serious safety and environmental risks. What’s changed? Apparently, at least one PVC manufacturer (Grendene), has been producing sustainable PVC since 1996?

Vancouver based Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) takes a clear stand against the use of PVC in its products. According to MEC,

“Polyvinyl chloride, known as “PVC” or simply as “vinyl”, is a common compound used in thousands of products. But for us and the planet, it’s bad stuff. During manufacture it produces potent carcinogens and toxins including dioxins, chlorine residue, and heavy-metal pollutants. Over their lifespan, PVC products can off-gas and leak some of their dangerous additives. PVC is difficult to recycle; most of it ends up in landfills. When burned, it releases further dioxins and gases such as hydrogen chloride.”


According to Melissa,


“Plastic is the chosen medium to communicate technology and renewal”

“Because our products are created from mono-materials they can be easily disassembled and recycled. Solid, liquid and gas residues, left over from our production process, are recycled and dealt with in-house. Nothing leaves the factory without being treated, resulting in practically zero waste.”


The company sources its PVC from Grendene, whose site offers no real information on the material. You can read the company’s Code of Conduct here, and a statement on PVC here


I have sent in an email to the people at Melissa, Vivienne Westwood, and Grendene requesting more information on PVC and will hopefully hear back and write more on the subject at a later date.


You can find “The Fashion Audit: 02/02/09” by Harriet Walker here

You can read more on Melissa’s sustainable plastic dreams, and the designers working with the company here


Mary has a PhD in Sociology from University of Edinburgh, researching responsible fashion and transnational labour rights activism in the wake of the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh.

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2 thoughts on “Vivienne Westwood: PVC Debate

  1. John Robertson (

    From memory, PVC manufacturers claim that associated poisons have reduced in the atmosphere since first measured and since the PVC industry began. I’m no expert and realise the smoke is dangerous if it burns, but here’s a real reason for tolerating PVC….

    …She firms in countries with human rights and welfare rights are at a disadvantage. Most of them have closed. There is no money for new moulds, and most of them are re-hashing the designs they had in 1980 rather than buying new machinery.

    So if you want to get a shoe made in the UK for example, you have a choice between new world factory conditions – often in China – and old world tools. My choice is to go with the PVC if that’s what can be made. I can point readers to some childrens welly moulds available in the UK, moulds called “jellies” like the one above, a mould for plastic golf shoes, and of course the DM style ones used by ex-Doc Marten factories.

    I’ve asked about using recycled PVC in the same machinary but without any luck; famous designers probably get the same answer.

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