For a lot of people the term ‘vegan’ is primarily associated with food, but living fully plant-based means removing animal products from all areas of your life, and this includes what we wear as well as what we eat. But whilst someone can stop eating meat in a day, emptying a wardrobe and starting all over again can take significant time and money. In this post we’ve listed all the vegan clothing materials we know, to make searching easier.
There are an expanding array of natural and man made materials and vegan fabrics out there, and they don’t necessitate the unfair utilisation of, or inhumanity to animals. As technology advances, demand increases and costs reduce, they should only become easier to find in store and online.
Here is our rundown our your new go-to materials to look out for.
All Cotton starts off as vegan, because it comes from plants. And garments that don’t use animal derived dyes are also vegan, but you’ll need to ensure they are clearly labelled. A word of caution though, not all Cotton is created equal. GM, or genetically modified cotton crop strains are patented and sold at inflated prices. 270,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide since 1995 (source), which is a shocking indictment for big business and fast fashion. Also, the harsh chemicals and dyes used in mass market cotton take a terrible toll on the environment and the animals that inhabit it.
On a positive note there are some great ethical brands using organic cotton. Check out Monkeegenes, Thought and Veegear.
Not one for those in a hurry, Cork takes nine years on average to produce, growing as bark on Oak trees in Southern Europe and North Africa. The wonderful thing about this material is that it is completely renewable, because the trees are not cut down or harmed. Portugal is famously the world’s largest producer, generating just over half of what we use. This brilliant natural material is lightweight and resistant to wear, but also impermeable to moisture and air.
In clothing it is a clear alternative for cow hide leather due to its durability and natural colouring, and is already extremely popular in shoes, handbags, and other accessories. Some exciting brands using Cork include Friluk and Nae.
Linen is derived from the fibres of the Flax plant, and is strong, light and dries easily. Linen is a really versatile vegan fabric that gets stronger and softer the more that it is used! It’s hypoallergenic, and requires much fewer chemicals than some crops; it’s also easily recycled and biodegradable.
Some lovely examples of Linen in current vegan brands can be found at Vegan Life Wear or check out Noumenon for simple Linen tees and tops.
Seaweed seems to be a growing trend in modern vegan diets so it’s perhaps not surprising that it’s found its way into clothing too. SeaCell™ has been produced for a number of years by German company Smartfiber AG. Dried seaweed is ground down and blended with cellulose fibre, to create a material that can be used in an array of garments. Seaweed offers far more than just a material though, its makers claim that it has physical benefits for the skin, derived from the minerals within.
“Seaweed contains more minerals, vitamins and trace elements than any other natural product and causes a positive stimulation of the entire organism. Seaweed stores and highly compresses the active ingredients of the sea, like amino acids, iodine and mineral salts.”
Lyocell, Viscose and Modal are all types of a material called Rayon. It sounds completely man made, and it is, but not necessarily in a bad way. Cellulose from wood pulp is spun into fibres and then set.
Rayon is derived from French for “rays of light” and was first sold as faux silk. First manufactured in France in 1884, commercial production began in the early twentieth century.
Each type of Rayon is made in slightly different ways and have different finishes, but they are all light and crease resistant. Modal is made from the beech tree fibre and is classed as a ‘natural synthetic’.
Chemicals used in the production of rayon mean that it needs to be manufactured carefully and responsibly. There is also a movement to ensure that the wood used is from a responsible source, to avoid contributing to the plight of deforestation.
When people think of Hemp they tend to think of Marijuana. But whilst they are the same plant, hemp contains <1% THC (the active ingredient), making it useless as a drug, but an incredible source for vegan fabric.
It grows without the need for pesticides and fertilisers, so it’s more easily made organically. There are an increasing number of brands making practical and stylish garments from Hemp, such as this shirt from Thought or this clutch bag from Wilby.
If you don’t like the taste or are allergic to Soybeans, then you probably face daily challenges as a vegan anyway. But with vast amounts of this super legume harvested each year, it’s perhaps not surprising that there is more fruit to this crop than the beans themselves.
‘Vegetable cashmere’ is made from the byproduct of the soybean process. It’s soft, but has the durability and drape of cotton, and the warmth of wool. Coming from a natural source means that it is preferable to oil-based materials, and so hopefully something we see flourish in the coming years.
Credit: Untouched World
Otherwise known as ‘post consumer recycled plastic’ or polyethylene terephthalate, rPET is simply the product of those clear plastic drinks and food containers we place in the recycling bin. Whilst wool can be scratchy on the skin, rPET is soft, and more importantly doesn’t involve unnecessary cruelty to sheep. With fast fashion adding more and more plastic to our environment each year, it’s important to buy quality clothing that lasts. And then ensure it is disposed on in the most appropriate way – clothes sent to landfill can end up in our oceans.
Left, is a pretty green tee from Underground Orchid, and a practical satchel from Johnny Urban.
Most synthetic vegan leather you’ll find is made with PU (Polyurethane) or PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride). But PU is favoured for it’s soft touch, smooth finish, and durability. What many people assume with with artificial vegan leather is that it’s not breathable, but high quality materials now being used in vegan fashion feature micropores that allow air to flow, which frankly is essential when it comes to footwear.
Check out these awesome platform sneakers from Vagabond, and motorcycle jacket with detachable hood from Foe Leather.
Natural Vegan Leather
Real leather matures with age and wear because it’s a product of nature, but it also belongs to the animals born with it. Regardless, many like the idea of wearing a natural material in place of leather, one that is not only durable but that will gain character over time.
There are now ‘leather’ materials available from mushrooms, apple and even pineapple. Piñatex® is made from pineapple leaves, which are the byproduct of agriculture. Their use creates an additional income stream for farming communities. We love the extensive range of footwear from Nemanti that use Apple leather.
Real suede is easily replaced with this versatile vegan fabric, which has an extremely suede-like finish, but is made from a combination of synthetics. Invented in the seventies in Japan, it is a material that has stood the test of time. It’s hard to distinguish with the real thing, which begs the question as to why animal suede is still used. Ultrasuede is everywhere though, in shoes, watch straps, and outerwear. Check out these gorgeous chestnut suede boots from vegan stalwart Beyond Skin.
Credit: Beyond Skin
Polyester and Nylon
Credit: Hey Honey
We might not like the idea of completely man made fabrics, but they are still arguably less harmful to the planet that animal based products, and they are certainly less cruel. The benefits of Polyester and Nylon are that they are both light vegan fabrics and economical. You’ll find them mainly used in sportswear and outerwear, because they can repel the elements and can be quick to dry.
This set is from Hey Honey, who produce a wide range of super stylish activewear for the gym and yoga studio.
If you’ve been surprised by just how many alternatives to animal products there are, then this is just the beginning. As demand increases for fully vegan clothing, material technology is likely to follow.