“A philosophy and 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; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”
– The Vegan Society
Someday soon, it will no longer be acceptable to wear clothes made using animal products. But for now at least, most people (vegan or not) still like to wear clothes that have the look of animal derived materials such as leather and wool, whether that’s for reasons of comfort, familiarity, or simply the pace of fashion.
Start with what you know
So you probably already know that tshirts are usually made from cotton right, and suits are generally wool? Well use that knowledge when starting to shop vegan. If you’re looking for a replacement to that favourite old wool jumper, then make sure wool isn’t on the label, and look for an alternative like polyester or cotton instead.
Hidden animal products
Understanding everything that is and isn’t vegan can take some getting used to, especially if you’ve spent many years buying regular clothes from the high street. That being said, once you get up and running it’s a breeze. Some things that aren’t that obvious but you might want to start thinking about include:
- Animal derived glues are used in shoes and bags
- Animal derived dyes
- Linings on jackets are often made from silk
- Leather tags and leather pullers on zips
- Padding materials like goose down
- Buttons and decoration made from bone, shell or horn
- Faux fur that’s actually real
- Beeswax in waxed cotton jackets
Always check twice
Knowing whether a garment is vegan friendly and cruelty free can be difficult, even when it’s in your hands, so always be sure to start by carefully checking the label. As with food, manufacturers are required by law to state what materials have been used in a piece of clothing. And thanks to EU legislation from 2011, there is now also a specific requirement to clearly label ‘non-textile parts of animal origin.’ If you can’t see the materials clearly on the most obvious label, sometimes they’ll be found alongside the care instructions in a pocket or tucked under a lapel.
Use your nose
Leather has a very distinct smell, as you probably know. Which means that a quick sniff is normally the simplest and most reliable method to find out whether that awesome jacket on the rail is a ‘yay’ or a ‘nay’. Although, don’t assume that just because you can’t see a hide logo or a ‘genuine leather’ tag, that a product is not.
Don’t go on price alone
When it comes to leather and fur, don’t be led by price. Just a couple of years ago it was widely reported that real fur had been found in several high street chains, who ‘accidentally’ used it on garments labelled as ‘faux’. It appears that cost of faux fur isn’t necessarily cheaper than the real thing, thanks in part to the terrible conditions these animals endure.
Be careful with vintage
I love a good rummage through a rail in charity and vintage stores, you only need to find one gem to make it worth your while. However, older clothes are far more likely to feature animal products, as it was just more common place in the past. So be vigilant when perusing garments in vintage stores, especially hats and coats, which you might find to be adorned with leather, fur or wool. Pearl, bone and horn are also more likely to be found as decoration in vintage clothing.
According to our recent survey, 71% of vegans now do most of their clothes shopping online, compared with consumers on average spending most of their money in physical stores, according to the ONS (source). Reasons for this disparity might include more limited choices on the high street, a lack of availability, or even poor labelling.
It’s also likely that there is also a correlation between an increase in vegan lifestyles and a rejection of ‘fast fashion’ on ethical grounds. We’ve all heard the news that independent retailers on Britain’s high street are being drowned out by big business, thanks in part to fast fashion.
Know your brands
When you know a brand is vegan-only it’s easier to shop, but it’s much more common especially with the larger brands to have a mix of vegan and non-vegan garments. Man made products are an easy route for vegans, and are much more available on the high street, but may not always be the prefered choice from an environmental perspective.
If you’re buying vintage then it’s easier to shop local. We all know where our high street charity shops are located, and they really are a goldmine for classic well made clothes, that have not only stood the test of time, but bypassed changing fashions to make them deserving of a second outing. Some vegans are enthusiastic about the idea of buying non vegan clothes like wool and leather second hand, because the damage has effectively already been done, but we’ll leave that debate for another day!
When some people make the decision to dress vegan, it seems easier to list the things you can’t wear than those you can. However, we’re entering a great time for fashion conscious vegans, with a plethora of new and retro materials being used in stylish contemporary garments for all ages and trends. We’ve come a long way from scratchy hemp cloth or sweaty plastic shoes, and vegan clothing materials are now so comparable in cost and comfort to the alternatives, that it makes dressing vegan as easy as eating vegan.
Vegan clothes are often greener too. Animals have to be bred, reared and fed in order to use the hides and skins when they’re fully grown. And beyond the emissions generated by all these additional living creatures, the food and water they needs adds to our already stretched resources globally. Natural fibres are biodegradable and man made fibres are mostly recyclable. Here is our rundown of vegan friendly materials to look out for:
- Polyurethane vegan leather
- Natural vegan leather
- Lycra, spandex
Clothing from nature
Nature provides us with a wealth of materials that can be used for clothing. Some are more environmentally friendly than others, but all are greener and certainly less cruel than animal products. Cotton, linen and hemp all come from plants and so are by their very nature vegan friendly.
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. 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.
Hemp is also making a come back, and it grows without the need for pesticides and fertilisers, so it’s more easily made organically.
Looking for leather
People 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 loads of ‘leather’ alternatives made from mushrooms, apple and even pineapple. Cork is another great alternative to cow hide leather due to its durability and natural colouring, and is already extremely popular in shoes and handbags.
Most synthetic vegan leather you’ll find is made with PU (Polyurethane) and 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 porous, but high quality materials now being used in vegan fashion feature micropores that allow your feet to breath.
Man made vegan materials
Lyocell, viscose, modal and rPET are all types of a material called Rayon. It sounds completely man made, and it is, but not in a bad way. Cellulose from wood pulp is spun into fibres and then set.
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.
Non Vegan Materials
Leather and suede are so ubiquitous in footwear and so far removed from their original source, that you’d forgive a child for not knowing they are animal derived. Used mainly for their durability, humans have been making shoes from these materials for most of our history. So much so that the newly vegan can find replacing footwear seemingly one of the hardest things overcome, but this is rapidly changing thanks to vegan leather, organic cotton and a growing number of vegan, ethical and environmentally friendly alternative materials.
Like leather, wool is widely used in clothing across the world. Renowned for the warmth it can provide, most people tend to have positive connotations of picture postcard farms when they think of wool. Unfortunately that isn’t the reality of the wool industry, as sheep are regularly nicked and cut during the shearing process. Wool is easily replaced by both man made and natural fibres that can offer equal insulation. And unless you’ve never bought a tie or pocket square then you probably own some silk.
Out of sight out of mind. Some major outerwear brands now claim to source cruelty-free down in their products, but that doesn’t really exist.
Other materials to avoid include: cashmere, angora, shahtoosh, pashmina, snakeskin, mohair, but you can find our extensive rundown of non vegan materials here.
So what is vegan clothing?
Veganism is a belief system, which involves as far as practical, removing all animal products from one’s life. Clothes have been made using animal derived materials for millennia, because animals offered ancient humans freely available and durable materials from which to dress ourselves and keep warm. However we are heading towards a human population of 8 billion, with nearly 10 billion projected before 2050. Any responsible person has to ask themselves whether it’s okay to sustain this dependence, if it also means exponential growth in the volume of cruelty and the number of lives needlessly cut short.