What Vegan Fashion Is, and What to Look for When Shopping for Vegan Brands
Over the last couple of years, you may have seen a surge of interest in vegan fashion, and veganism in general. Big brands are coming out with vegan lines, many small businesses are now fully vegan, and there’s an increasing amount of support for cruelty-free and animal-free fashion.
Vegan fashion, in essence, is the practice of not using any animal or animal by-products in your clothing and accessory choices. It means not using any leather, wool, cashmere, silk, beeswax, and even animal glues and dyes.
But that’s not all vegan fashion is about (there are plenty of guides about vegan fashion like this one, that explains it even further). While a large portion is caring for animals and their welfare, we also shouldn’t forget that many people are vegan because it helps reduce their environmental footprint and impact.
Here, we’re simply providing some insight and perspective that could be the beginning of positive change. That said, let’s get into it.
Why Is Vegan Fashion Important?
First, let’s talk a bit about what makes vegan fashion relevant. Why should we care?
The reasons why people go vegan are rarely if ever, a black and white thing. Each individual is free to choose, and their reasons are largely up to them and their personal circumstances.
But there are two major reasons why vegan fashion is increasingly relevant today: animal welfare and environmental consciousness.
It comes as no shock that the fashion industry is notorious for how it treats animals. From well-loved textiles like leather and wool to exotic skins from snakes and alligators, animals are used in a variety of ways to make our clothes. There are even some dyes that come from insects.
Let’s take cows, for example. They’re the largest provider of leather, and in 2019 alone, more than 32 million cows were slaughtered for their skins . And while these skins are the by-product of the meat industry, it’s still part of what keeps that well-oiled machine running.
The other aspect of choosing vegan fashion is that the fashion industry is incredibly polluting. Animal husbandry contributes significantly to emissions, contributing at least 14.5% of the total global greenhouse emissions .
More than that, though, animal fabrics can also be environmentally disastrous during processing. Leather is the perfect example of this. Leather tanning takes up copious amounts of chemicals that can seep into waterways and negatively affect worker health.
If you take all of that into consideration, you’re left with a huge environmental mess.
The core of vegan fashion is animal-free clothing choices, and that’s always going to be true. But there also other factors you must take into account when you’re shopping from vegan brands. Let’s take a look at some of the most important ones.
Not all vegan textiles and fabrics are made equally. There are some vegan fabrics that are just as environmentally disastrous as nonvegan options, and there are also ones that take way too many resources to produce to be justifiably called sustainable.
When buying vegan clothes, never forget to check if the material is sustainable. In vegan fashion, most materials are either plant-based or synthetic, with varying degrees of sustainability.
Generally, plant-based and biodegradable materials tend to be the most sustainable, but that’s not a hard rule.
Cotton, for example, is a highly resource-intensive crop and takes a lot of materials to process. Cotton isn’t bad per se; it’s just the conventional farming and production methods that pose a problem. Organic cotton uses far fewer resources and is a much better option.
So, although cotton is derived from a plant, that doesn’t automatically make it sustainable.
Synthetics, on the other hand, are mostly polymers or plastic. Generally, these are not very sustainable but are viable alternatives, especially when you need clothing to perform a particular function, such as in swimwear or athletic wear.
Some brands also choose to use recycled plastic, and that’s a bit better than using virgin plastic, although still not the most sustainable option. However, it is good if the brand takes additional responsibility for its products and has a recycling initiative.
There are certain synthetics that you should avoid at all costs, like PVC. PVC is a cheap plastic that’s often used in low-quality faux leather items. This material off-gasses throughout its lifetime and is not good for your long-term health.
A very common business model for fashion retailers today is fast fashion. They try to pump out collections as fast as possible, cutting costs at every corner they can. These result in pieces that are cheap as well as poorly, and often unethically, made.
The fast-fashion model relies on the idea that we should keep replacing our clothes with the latest styles and trends since they’re so cheap and accessible. And if you want to follow a path of sustainable vegan fashion, that simply isn’t the way to go. There are even some 100% vegan companies that do this.
Transparency & Ethics
Transparency and ethics are both incredibly important in buying vegan. A product will never truly be cruelty-free if, along the supply chain, laborers are exploited and underpaid.
In choosing which vegan brands to buy from, always choose those that are transparent about their supply chain and how they treat their workers. Outsourcing labor is very common, and you should always watch out for companies that manufacture in high-risk areas like China, Bangladesh, and many other countries.
There are some certifications that give insight into how ethical a product is. Fair Trade certifications and B Corporation certifications are some examples.
Brands that have a code of conduct or sustainability and ethics statements are a good start too.
Greenwashing is the practice of leading customers to think that a particular brand or product is more environmentally friendly than it really is.
Try to look for brands that are upfront about the materials that they use and how sustainable they are. Good brands will indicate the areas they can still improve on and will not give you exaggerated claims of how sustainable their product is.
If you’re new in the vegan fashion world, there’s a bit of a learning curve. You won’t immediately be familiar with what’s vegan and what isn’t.
Of course, there are obvious ones like leather and fur. But certain minor materials like dyes, glues, or sealants can be nonvegan, and you wouldn’t know since they’re not always indicated.
Some brands indicate if their products are vegan, so you can also use those as a guide. But, we would still recommend that you do a quick run-through of the materials used. Generally, the lesser materials and the shorter the supply chain is, the easier it will be to determine if a particular clothing item is vegan.
Vegan fashion is rarely just about the absence of animals in clothing. Although that is the main point, there is so much more to the discussion than what’s on the surface.
Going vegan and making changes to accommodate a new lifestyle can be daunting—we know. But take it slow, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.