When most people hear the word “vegan,” the first thing that comes to mind is a diet free from animal products. But veganism is about more than what’s on your plate. It’s a lifestyle dedicated to environmental and cruelty-free principles, and that includes fashion. The best way to spring-clean your closet? Make it vegan!
Vegan fashion? Um … what?
Simply put, vegan fashion is fashion sans animal exploitation. It means no leather, no wool, no fur or skins, no silk, and no cashmere or angora (which come from goats and rabbits, respectively). Even if the creation of a textile didn’t result in loss of animal life, there are concerns over suffering.
Saying no to that sort of exploitation does not mean saying no to “I feel cute today” vibes when you check your outfit in the mirror. Gone are the days of plastic-like pleather, as more designers are creating totally animal-free and style-forward lines of clothing and accessories.
That includes Joshua Katcher, founder of Brave GentleMan, a vegan menswear brand. For Katcher, the next wave of vegan fashion is about the expanding the terminology, not just the clothing options. He leans into terms like “future materials” instead of “faux leather.”
“I think the language that we use, like ‘fake’ and ‘faux,’ does a disservice,” says Katcher. Besides, he adds: The materials he uses instead of leather or wool often outperform their animal-derived counterparts. As for style, “Vegan fashion isn’t an aesthetic; it’s a method. It can be anything—it has to do with the materials you’re sourcing, not the actual design.”
Aren’t synthetic fabrics bad for the environment?
Okay, yes, vegan fashion hasn’t always been eco-friendly. Fur alternatives have typically been made with plastics, and manufacturing has often required harsh chemicals. In addition, research is showing that washing synthetic materials releases microplastic (tiny plastic particles) into the environment, polluting oceans, drinking water, and—ironically—animals.
But in the past few years, vegan fashion has been changing. Many leather alternatives that may once have called on petroleum—the kinds of vegan fabrics historically used for shoes, handbags, or belts—are using bio-oils from organic cereal crops instead. Primaloft is making a biodegradable and recyclable down alternative. Several companies are making a leather-like fabric out of pineapple leaves, orange peels, or grape skins—all byproducts of their respective farming industries.
Shoe soles manufactured from recycled tire rubber; cork purses; organic cotton, hemp, and linen: These materials are not only vegan, but also more environmentally friendly than older vegan alternatives.
Stella McCartney is making a fur alternative partly out of corn. Other companies are working toward protein-based silk made from bacteria—no worms or spiders required. There are even companies using mushrooms to create vegetable leather.
Many designers are also making strides toward life cycle management of their products, including repurposing materials after their initial use.
9 places to find vegan fashion right now
Want to shop locally or support American designers? Here are a few boutiques and brands that will make you feel good about splurging on a new outfit, dahhhling.
Herbivore Clothing – Portland, OR
A fully vegan shop offering house-designed clothing with a message, plus accessories and more. (We personally love the “I’m the vegan option” buttons and pins.) @herbivoreclothing; herbivoreclothing.com
Brave GentleMan – New York, NY
MooShoes – New York, NY, & Los Angeles, CA
The Vegan Outfitter – Troy, NY
Doshi – Southern California
Hiraeth – Los Angeles, CA
White Rhino Bags – Austin, TX
Mink Shoes – Los Angeles, CA
Tastemaker – El Monte, CA
Fabrics of the future
Want cruelty-free fabrics that are kinder to the earth too? Try these materials on for size:
- leather made from plants like pineapples, orange skins, mushrooms, and grains instead of petroleum-based products
- down alternatives made from materials like recycled ocean plastic
- fur alternatives crafted from natural materials like corn
- lab-synthesized silk instead of spider or silkworm silk
- natural and organic materials like cotton, hemp, and linen
I’m sold! How can I shop sustainably and vegan-ly?
“Consumers increasingly want to align their wardrobes with their values, and as more cruelty-free and sustainable alternatives hit the marketplace, that choice becomes easier,” says P.J. Smith, fashion policy director at the Humane Society of the United States. By purchasing from brands that offer these choices, you’ll show companies that they can do well by doing good, he adds.
These days, vegan fashion can be found just about anywhere.* The easiest way to get started? Check the label on any clothing you’re contemplating purchasing. Cashmere, angora, and wool are sometimes present in knit garments like sweaters, and down is a popular fill for winter coats.
Other things to look out for? Shoes may use glue made from animal bones. Non-leather bags or purses may have leather zipper pulls or tags. Jeans frequently have leather patches on the waistband, and watchbands and jewelry often contain leather too.
If you can’t tell right off the bat, check the company website. Many brands post info online that discloses which of their products are vegan and what materials they use. If they don’t, ask. You’ll get your answer and simultaneously encourage them to broaden their offerings.
Ask companies that make vegan products about the materials too. For example, are they biodegradable? What happens at the end of their life cycle? Do they contribute to microplastic pollution? Are they produced with harmful chemicals? After all, choosing vegan alternatives is about avoiding harm and suffering, and we need to examine the larger picture.
To make a positive impact and advocate for change in the fashion industry, “See yourself as a citizen investor; every purchase you make matters,” says Katcher. “Support brands whose missions you align with.”
The personal approach to climate change
The climate crisis is never far from front page news. But although we’re aware of it on a global scale, are we aware of our personal contribution to global warming, as well as the opportunities each of us has to reduce it?
Enter UC Berkeley’s CoolClimate Calculator for homes, schools, businesses, and governments. Although the tool is scalable, we love the easy-to-use version for individual households. You can swiftly calculate the greenhouse gas emissions of your home, transport, food, goods, and services, and then create a personalized list of ways to reduce your carbon footprint in each category.
Simple suggestions like changing your energy supplier or adjusting your eating habits may seem like small potatoes, but the CoolClimate Calculator determines exactly how much impact each action will have. You can make empowered, responsible choices for you and your family while knowing that even if you can’t see the change firsthand, it’s definitely happening.
– Laura Sugden
This article was originally published in the May/June 2020 issue of alive US, under the title “Detox Your Wardrobe.”