The Vegan Society describes veganism as “a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.”
Most people will be familiar with the vegan diet, which has gone from strength the strength in recent years. This is due not only to the rise in veganism, but consumers' desire for more vegetables in their diet and healthier eating in general. The vegan diet is also known as a plant-based diet and avoids all foods which have an animal at its source, including meat, eggs and dairy.
Another aspect of veganism includes the clothes that you wear. Vegan fashion means that any clothes made of animal leather, fur, or wool aren’t worn.
More than this, many vegans look into how ethically produced their garments are, as animals can be treated cruelly to harvest the materials that our clothes are made from, even when the material itself is free of animal products. Ethical vegan clothing is more than just a fashion statement, it’s a way of living.
Clothes have been made from animal hides and fur for centuries, so what’s wrong with continuing with it? Many of these materials, such as wool, don’t even kill the animal, so where is the harm?
Well, just like egg production and milking doesn’t kill the animal, it still means that they have to endure a life full of misery and cruelty, exploited in ways that we would never subject a human being to. The same goes for wool and down. These animals inevitably live horrible lives because of people’s need to have the latest fashions – no matter how cruel that may be.
Leather is the material that is most clearly non-vegan – it is made from the skin of dead animals, after all. Yet many argue that it is a by-product of the meat industry, and that it’s just going to waste if the hide isn’t made into leather. However, this simply isn’t the case. Young animals are used to produce premium leather, and while some are killed for lamb or veal, in many cases they are killed solely for their hides. The production of leather is also a process which is full of dangerous dyes and chemicals, so is damaging to the environment as well.
Ever heard of a silk worm? Yes, they are a real thing. Silk isn’t made from a plant like cotton is, but from the caterpillars of the silk moth. It is the thread that they produce to make their cocoons. These caterpillars are usually killed while they are still inside, so that the silk isn’t damaged before being harvested.
There are many different types of wool, not just the sheep wool that you might automatically think of. Cashmere and mohair come from goats, whilst angora comes from rabbits. In the case of mohair, goats suffer from the removal of this fleece, having to withstand cold temperatures and making them more susceptible to parasites.
Cashmere goats have it even worse. They are shorn very early to acquire this premium wool and are then sold for meat, as only the first wool produced is considered cashmere. Angora rabbits are kept in wire cages their whole lives and are roughly shorn regularly for their soft wool.
You might think that sheep have it slightly better, but the thick coats that they grow are due to selective breeding, and it isn’t natural for a sheep to have so much wool. Treated roughly their whole lives, they, like all the other wool animals, are killed as soon as their wool lacks quality.
The cruelty of the fur industry has been well documented. All types of animals are kept in cages for their fur including lynxes and chinchillas. These animals are then killed in whatever way won’t damage their pelt - horrifically, sometimes they are even skinned alive. It is an impossibly cruel life to live just for the trim on a coat.
Recent beauty trends have also encouraged the fur industry. Many fake eyelashes are made from mink fur due to their fluffy texture. While the mink isn’t killed in these cases, their quality of life is no better.
Down is the soft feathers of ducks or geese. While many dream of being able to fall asleep on a feather pillow, the truth of the matter is that these feathers come from dead birds that have been bred for their down, or plucked from live animals which leaves them exposed and stressed.
There are a number of different alternatives to clothes made from animal products.
Materials such as hemp, organic cotton, linen and bamboo are all viable alternatives that are sustainable as well as vegan. There are many substitutes for leather currently available on the market, and fake leather, while traditionally not the most sustainable of materials, has garnered a lot of attention in recent years. Now, more ethically produced alternatives are being made, including leather made from vegetable waste and recycled plastic bottles.
While it can be hard to find sustainable alternatives to some of the other animal products such as wool, fur and down, they are out there. The reason that this can be such an issue is because so many of the alternatives involve polyester – and we don’t want there to be more plastic in our wardrobes. Alternatives are out there however, with seedpod fibres now commonly used as a faux-silk.
There are more and more vegan clothing stores popping up all over the country where you know that you are buying an ethical vegan clothing option. If you’re still unsure, or some of the fur and wool alternatives are too expensive for your budget, avoid them entirely and opt for a slow fashion option that is both cruelty free and long-lasting. Linen and cotton are wonderfully versatile materials, and many jeans can now be found without a leather back patch.
Unfortunately, even the most innocuous looking piece of clothing can be made from animal products.
Without close attention to the label, it can be easy to be caught out. One of the items that can be most difficult to buy is vegan shoes. Fashion favourite Uggs is definably a no-go, as they are made from sheep skin. Thankfully, vegan Uggs exist, such as those made by Neuaura. A lot of shoes that you may think are vegan have leather insoles, or may be lined in a type of leather, making finding vegan shoes a bit of a minefield.
Items such as clothing labels catch many unwary shoppers out. For some reason, brands continue to add leather patches with a brand label onto all sorts of clothing, including many jeans. Buttons are also commonly made from shell or bone in premium brands, and it’s really hard to tell if this is the case without a detailed look at the label or emailing the company directly.
Linings are another part of clothing that vegans need to be extra careful of. A lot of linings are made from silk, even faux-leather jackets. As well as this, the toggles on backpacks or jackets can be made from horn instead of plastic, which is just another item then makes shopping as a vegan even more difficult.