Style — Resource
The guide to vegan fashion
What is vegan fashion?
Vegan fashion means that a piece of clothing or accessory does not contain any animals products or by-products. A garment that is free of animal products may be considered vegan but it does not reflect the manufacturing of the item, unless part of the process involves animals.
Ethical vs vegan
A product that is labelled as ethical does not mean that it is vegan. As the demand for environmentally friendly and ethical products grows, more brands are changing their practices and labelling themselves as ethical.
There are no official requirements or accreditations linked to ethical labelling and so it is down to interpretation. For some brands this might be labour, fair wages, recycled fabrics, eco-fabrics, animal-free products and the list goes on. It could be a combination but it doesn’t mean that they’re always vegan.
Similarly, an item of clothing might be labelled as vegan but is made by underpaid factory workers using damaging synthetic fabrics in a factory that’s polluting the water.
Just like with make up, the ingredients list might read as vegan but those ingredients might have been tested on animals.
However, there are costs associated with more ethical practices, and while they can be completely justified, they are still not always accessible to everyone.
Remember that veganism is about doing the best you can.
Fabrics that aren’t vegan
To ensure that an item of clothing is vegan, you need to check the label for the composition. The materials you need to avoid are:
- Animal skins
- Animal hide
- Duck/goose feathers (including ‘down)
- Velvet (sometimes made from silk - check label for synthetic components)
- Animal glues
- Anything else with an animal name in it
Why do you need to avoid them?
Some of the fabrics, like leather and fur, are obvious as to why you should avoid them. However, some people aren’t aware of the cruelty behind fabrics like wool and silk.
Silk: Silk is produced by rearing silkworms in their cocoons and then boiling them alive to extract the fibres. It would take 5,000 silkworms to produce one silk kimono.
Wool: You can read more about the truth of wool production in our ‘Vegan questions answered’ article but sheep are subject to overheating, infections and have skin purposefully cut off without anaesthetic.
Taking anything from an animal is exploitative - particularly when it’s done on a large scale for unnecessary means. We don’t need these fabrics to survive or even to look good.
Labels & symbols
If you’re looking at clothing, you need to find the labels that are sewn into the garment with its composition. This is sewn into a seam - usually near the bottom of an item if its a top or dress.
The labels usually have a few ‘sheets’ to them with lots of different information and languages. You need to keep your eyes peeled for the percentage symbols. Almost all clothing uses a percentage system to label its clothes. E.g 70% polyester 30% wool
Here you can see whether it contains any animal products. You will need to look through a few ‘sheets’ of the tag as clothing will often be broken down by component. You might find that the majority of the item is made from a vegan-friendly fabric but it has one component made from an animal-derived fabric.
Shoes & accessories
Shoes and accessories, like belts, will often use symbols to denote their composition. These are used universally so you’ll be able to spot them no matter where you are. The symbols are usually found on packaging, labels, or imprinted on the underneath or inside of the product.
There are plenty of vegan fabrics available - and they’re not just hemp! Here are some of the vegan-friendly fabrics to look out for:
- Soysilk or Peacesilk
- Recyled Nylon and Polyester
In addition to these, there are lots of alternatives that work as direct replacements - most commonly vegan leathers:
- Pineapple leather - Pinatex
- Apple leather
The problem with synthetics
Firstly, synthetic fabrics aren't the product of veganism. One main argument we hear against veganism is that synthetic fabrics are terrible for the environment, however, weren’t invented recently for the production of vegan clothing, they’ve been in the supply chain for years. It’s just that vegans are going to choose synthetic clothing over the animal products when given the choice and shopping in more affordable high street shops.
The cheap leather that’s on offer next to a synthetic product isn’t inherently better, it’s still been dyed and treated with toxic chemicals and been produced in cruel ways.
So the problem isn’t that vegan clothing is bad for the environment, it’s that fast fashion is bad for the environment. Synthetic fabrics use plastics, which are polluting water systems and the environment and so it is definitely a concern - but one for everybody.
Many vegan brands look at every element of the industry, including the environmental implications of the fabrics and so it is down to us as consumers to try and make better choices when shopping until the industry catches up.
What do you do with non vegan fashion?
If you weren’t born and raised vegan, you’ll own non-vegan items. Maybe a woolen jumper, leather shoes, leather belts and a leather bag. The question is, what should you do with them? This is completely down to personal preference.
- You could donate the items to those in need
- You could sell the items
- You could continue to use the items until they need replacing
- You should not throw away the items
You don’t get banned from the ‘vegan club’ if you continue to wear your vegan boots. But you just might feel as though you want a fresh start.
Second-hand non vegan fashion
This is an interesting one. If you buy a leather bag from a charity shop, does it matter? Well, living vegan is about doing the best you can.
If you need a durable bag and can’t afford to buy from a vegan brand and don’t want to buy one from a fast fashion store, buying one from a charity shop might be a good option. It’s technically not doing any more damage.
It’s mostly about intentions. If you don’t have the option to buy a vegan item then second-hand non vegan is the best thing to do. If, however, you’re buying second hand designer bags then you’re not really doing it out of necessity and are still contributing to that industry. Even if it’s just taking away the opportunity from someone who will buy new leather products anyway if they don’t get the second hand deal.
It’s a grey area and one that is just to be decided by the person. Just remember what your intentions are with living the vegan lifestyle and that it’s about doing the best you can and let that guide you.
Vegan fashion brands
There are many vegan options available ‘accidentally’ by brands that you already know and love. We’ve pulled together a list who produce intentionally vegan products with great care and quality:
- Matt & Nat
- Susi Studio
- Beyond Skin
- Bourgeois Boheme
Vegan fashion bloggers
Now that you’ve got the information and have some brands to start from, here’s a little style inspiration from some of our favourite vegan fashion bloggers...