My first shopping trip as a vegan was to replace some much loved brown boots, which I’d been wearing on and off for a few years. They were super comfortable and went with nearly anything, but were also leather and I’d decided now was the time to let go. (Obviously they were donated to a local charity shop rather that being thrown away).
It turns out that there are very few high street shops offering shoes marketed as ‘vegan’, and this isn’t just because most styles are either made from leather or suede. It’s because the glues and dyes used in their production can be animal derived, and the fact is that most brands dont trace what is and what isn’t. To label shoes as vegan, the manufacturer needs to ensure that the adhesives used are synthetic, or that the materials are instead stitched together, that’s in addition to using only natural or synthetic non-animal uppers.
I didn’t manage to find the perfect shoes on that shopping trip, but it revealed that there are many less than obvious uses of animal products in the clothes that we wear. It’s also made me even more determined to buy only vegan clothes in future. Here is our list of animal materials found in fashion on the high street you may not have thought of.
1. Animal derived glue
What most consumers don’t realise (or prefer not to think about) is that animal derived glues are still used in shoes, bags and other fashion items. It’s made by boiling down animal connective tissue and bones to extract collagen, which is converted to adhesive through hydrolysis.
Vegan shoemakers ensure that no animal products are used for the upper materials, but also that the glue that hold them together are synthetic. You should be able to see quite quickly from the labelling of shoes whether they contain leather or suede in the upper.
A lot of modern brands do use synthetic adhesives, but unless a shoe is marketed as being vegan then you can’t be sure. The materials sourced or production won’t be monitored closely enough to ensure no animals have been harmed or exploited in their production. There are so many great vegan footwear brands around that have been making shoes for years. And styles are now in step with the latest trends, so why not make vegan shoes your first investment?
2. Animal derived dye
Most modern fabric dyes are synthetic, but some colours are still cheaper and easier to create using animals. The source of dyes are not usually specified on labels, so if you want to be sure then you’ll need to establish that a garment is vegan, or buy from a brand that you know exclude animal-derived dyes.
The female Cochineal insect is used to create red dyes, and has been used for a long time because of its resistance to light degradation. These insects are killed inhumanely during processing either from being shaken on a wooden board, through contact with hot water, or in an oven. Whichever process is used it takes a whopping 70,000 cochineal insects to make just 450g of dye. Several hundred tons are produced every year out of South America and the Canary islands, which means that literally billions of Cochineal insects are killed just for colour.
Other non-vegan animal colourings include:
- Lac insect (red, violet)
- Murex snail (purple)
- Octopus/Cuttlefish (sepia brown)
3. Silk linings
Silk as a lining is on our list because a lot of the time it’s simply hidden on the inside of a garment. Out of sight, out of mind!
Most people know that silk is animal derived, but as a material it seems somewhat less obvious than say wool or leather. This ‘luxury’ fabric is harvested from the cocoons of Bombyx mori moths in caterpillar stage. The caterpillars are cruelly boiled alive in water to separate the two silk glands that are then woven in to thread.
Presumably used in order to add a ‘premium feel’ to a piece of clothing, it is often used as a soft inner lining that can be dyed to create bold contrast linings or with daring patterns. The use of silk however is now unneccessary as there are a host of vegan alternatives available including lyocell, viscose and modal, which are renewable materials made by spinning the cellulose from wood pulp into fibres.
4. Leather patches on your jeans
Organic cotton is your friend as a vegan, but even denim jeans that are made predominantly from cotton, can be let down by an unnecessary leather patch on the waistband. Using animal products in clothes for cultural reasons or their durability is one thing, but branding your logo on a small patch of animal skin is odd, and gets even more weird the longer you think about it.
5. Leather details and pullers on zips
Small leather tags are widely used as pullers on zips, which can be hard to spot. Similarly, it’s also regularly found in details on hats and other accessories.
6. Feather and down padding
We talk about some great vegan outerwear brands in our blog here, but what they all have in common is synthetic padding materials in place of duck or goose down. Like many non vegan animal derived materials in fashion, down is something that has been used traditionally for centuries. Culture and tradition however don’t excuse cruel practices like plucking down from live birds. Changing to a cruelty free insulation though doesn’t impact your style, and is proven to be just as warm. Always check the label.
7. Buttons and decoration made from bone, sheel or horn
Many high end clothes, in particular coats, feature buttons made from horn or shell. Horn buttons tend to have a marbled appearance, usually dark browns or black, but also light in colour. They can easily be overlooked and are very unlikely to be mentioned on any label, so the only way to be safe is to ask the manufacturer or buy vegan! Pearl and sheel are beautiful visually, but sustain the idea that harvesting living creatures for our benefit is okay.
8. Faux fur that’s actually real
Our apparent obsession with fur means that it is still found in clothes everywhere you look. It must be one of the oldest uses of animal product (I’m thinking cavemen), but in modern times fur can be the most cruelest, causing dogs to be skinned alive in Asia. If you’ve not seen Earthlings yet then you can watch it here. WARNING! Not suitable for younger viewers.
Fur farms in the UK were banned surprisingly recently in 2003, but in recent years we’ve seen an increase in actual fur on the high street, caused primarily by the economics of producing faux vs real. Pom poms have been a significant culprit in recent times. This issue is now under much more scrutiny, given all of the news coverage the issue received in 2016, but to be sure then buy vegan, or at least seek out high quality, well labelled goods.
9. Beeswax in waxed jackets
As far as hidden animal products go, beeswax is darned near invisible. It’s also one of those animal products seen to be on the periphery of veganism, as the bees aren’t purposefully killed for their produce. There is however plenty of cruelty involved with our use of bees farming their honey. For example, did you know that the queen will often have their wings removed so that they can never relocate their colony?
Waxed cotton jackets have been around for a long time, and are popular for their near impenetrable defence against the elements. They’ve also seen a resurgence in recent years, with one well known name forging an iconic high street label from what once was a staple of farmers’ workwear. Many outerwear brands use paraffin based wax on their jackets, so do your research to ensure what you’re looking at doesn’t use beeswax.
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about these 9 hidden animal products in clothes. Read more about about where to start when shopping for vegan clothes in our vegan knowledge section.