Simply curious, or considering the switch to veganism? Here are a few things to know about vegan fashion.
Being vegan for many, is about more than just dietary choices. Sure a plant based diet forms the foundation, but it can also be a lifestyle choice that encompasses many aspects of ones life.
Therefore, individual decisions and experiences regarding veganism can differ greatly. One may choose to adopt a plant based diet, but still wear leather. There is noting wrong with this.
My journey to veganism (which is still ongoing) certainly wouldn't be considered typical. I tend to adopt a vegan diet at home, but stick to vegetarian when I am out and about. I stopped buying leather clothing a while ago, but recently purchased a wool blend cardigan (albeit ethically produced).
When it come to veganism, the majority of the focus tends to be on food. But, what about vegan wardrobes?
What is vegan fashion?
Vegan fashion is typically considered free of materials and notions that are animal derived, and that are produced in a manner that doesn't cause harm or exploit animals.
When it comes to our wardrobes, some of the most common non-vegan pieces we may have include leather jackets and footwear, woollen knitwear, silk shirts, and fur.
Here I unpack some of the most common non-vegan materials in clothing, and offer some tips if you're considering the switch.
Fur: The downside to fur is pretty well known. Clothing, accessories and footwear made from animals' skin or fur not only contribute to huge environmental issues (e.g. climate change, water contamination - sadly the list goes on), but can, and do, cause great suffering and death to animals.
Many brands have made the call to remove this controversial material from their collections, and more and more individuals are choosing not to wear it. Which is great!
What about faux fur? If it is the look and feel of real fur that you are after, then I get that faux fur might be a good alternative. However, faux fur tends to be made of polyester, or other synthetics, meaning it still isn't great for the environment. So maybe keep that in mind. There is also the idea that donning fake fur is actually sending the message that fur is OK. What are your thoughts?
Leather: Leather is ubiquitous within the footwear and accessories industries, but also in clothing (e.g. pants, jackets, skirts).
Leather is typically the skin of cows, with the more exotic lizards, crocodiles, alligators, and snakes being reserved for more luxury products. Like fur, the use of leather and skins for clothing and accessories is problematic or the environment (e.g. deforestation, GHG emissions, polluting), not to mention cruel. There is also the human impacts to consider, stemming from labour abuse, and the health risks that can come with working in tanneries and handling toxic chemicals.
For more on the leather industry's interconnected relationship wth deforestation, in particular that of the Amazon rainforest, and a review of vegan leather alternatives, check out my Weekly Wrap 18.
Wool: Your first instinct is to associate wool with sheep, and you aren't wrong, but it can also come from goats (cashmere), alpacas, and rabbits (angora). While these animals aren't being killed in order to obtain their wool, the industry isn't without its faults.
Firstly, the production of wool contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. Secondly, sheep are particularly susceptible to a condition known as flystrike. In order rot combat this condition, the process of 'mulesing’ is often used. This can be extremely painful for the sheep, and if done incorrectly is extremely cruel and can cause the animal to suffer. There is also no guarantee that the process will prevent future flystrike. Furthermore, inhumane practices have also been shown to extend to the handling, shearing and the general behaviour shown towards sheep.
To find out more about wool check out my post A 'woolly' debate, where I describe both the pros and cons of this fibre.
Down and feathers: Think puffy winter jackets, and the innards of a quilt. While both are usually from a duck or goose, down refers to the small, soft layer of feathers that grow closest to birds’ skin, while feathers are the actual plumage.
The removal of these feathers is not always done in the most of humane of ways. Live plucking is common, and causes the animals considerable pain and distress. However, nowadays there are alternatives out there, including PET bottles, discarded fishing nest, keeping plastic out of the ocean too.
Silk: Silk is essentially the cocoon of the silkworm. The issue with this fibre stems from the fact that harvesting the silk essentially involves boiling the worms alive in their cocoons.
The alternative, peace silk (or cruelty free silk), allows the moth to leave its cocoon prior to harvesting. however, in doing so, the fibre can be of lesser quality.
If you are curious, and considering the switch to vegan fashion, here are a few things I recommend keeping in mind:
Vegan doesn't equal ethical. Words like sustainable, ethical an vegan, aren’t interchangeable. Sustainable doesn’t mean ethical, and vice versa, and ethical isn’t always vegan. A product can be one and not the other.
Don’t discard anything you already own that is derived from animals. The best thing you can do is continue to wear and look after what you already own. One of my most lived in pieces is a Ted Baker leather insert jacket that I bought at a sample sale when I worked in the industry. I will wear this until I can no longer!
Alternatively, if we no longer want a non-vegan piece, pass it on by selling or swapping.
If and when we do go shopping, we must consider what’s on the inside. Look at the label and check the composition.
Transparency and traceability remain a big issue. We don’t always know what conditions animals are being exposed to when it comes to the production of our clothing and footwear. Therefore, do your brand research, ask questions, and look out for trusted vegan trademarks, or PETA approved. Apps such as Good on You can also be very helpful.
If there is an animal derived product that you can't live without, why not try finding it secondhand. In doing so, you won’t be supporting the production of new pieces.
Keep an eye out for those innovative plant based alternatives. These can look and feel like the real thing, but as they come from plants they tend to be more eco friendly also.
Check out some of my favourite vegan brands
Wills Vegan Store (footwear)
Please get in touch or leave me a comment. I would love to hear about your experiences with vegan fashion, or veganism in general.
Thanks for reading.
‘Fashion + Psychology’ is a personal blog. Any views or opinions contained on this site are my own. I am not affiliated with any brands, products, or organisations mentioned, and do not receive any sponsorship, payment, or other compensation for any of the content on this site.