Vegan clothing is, for some, not a moral choice but a moral imperative.
Most people today are familiar with vegan food – but veganism, when taken to its logical conclusion, is about what you put onto your body as well as what you put into it.
If your online searches have brought you here, then you are probably already aware of the horrendous problems in our agricultural industry.
You may have read about the unnecessary suffering of many farm animals and be familiar with the barbaric practices necessary to put much of the food on humanity’s plates and clothes on its backs.
You may not be aware, however, that even where more ethical animal welfare practices are maintained, animal-derived clothing often still costs our planet dear.
From land and water use to polluting chemicals used in preservation, to poor waste management, choosing to wear the carcasses of dead animals, or even their fleeces, means that you are contributing to perpetuating an environmentally unfriendly system.
It is important that we each know where our clothes come from.
We must all make conscious choices about not only what we eat but also what we wear. Each individual must take responsibility for his or her own decisions and understand the true cost of every element of his or her life.
Choosing vegan ethical clothing is a complex business, especially when considering the impact of your choices on the environment. Compassionate clothing is not only vegan, but should also be natural, sustainable, organic and fair trade.
WHAT IS COMPASSIONATE VEGAN CLOTHING?
Compassionate vegan clothing is clothing which does no harm – to the planet, to other people or to animals.
When thinking about whether the clothes you are thinking about buying do any harm, there are many different things to consider:
Note About Compassionate Vegan Clothing
- Consider the supply chain – trace your clothes right back to where they come from.
- Do not accept anything but full transparency from field to fashion statement.
- Ask yourself who made your clothes. (What cost to people or animals in the process?)
- What is the carbon cost of your vegan clothes? (NB: Not all non-animal derived clothing is truly compassionate clothing – some synthetic fibres come with a huge carbon toll.)
- What is the cost of your clothing in terms of land and water use? (We only have one Earth – are you using more than your fair share?)
- Will your clothing last? Durable, practical clothing will last longer and therefore have less impact. Also consider what will happen to your clothes at the end of their useful life. Can they be recycled? Or will they add to our global waste problem?
In order to answer, at least in part, the questions above, let’s take a look at different items of clothing and discuss each one individually to show how vegans can find their way towards the right choices and choose compassionate vegan clothing:
Veganism is often associated with sweater-wearing, sandal wearing, muesli-munching individuals. But those who are fully vegan will not wear the sweaters or jumpers that most others would wear.
Of course animals will not suffer simply from the act of being shorn – it is just like us having a hair cut. But the mass-agricultural industry often puts pressure on shearers, who work too quickly and are often less gentle with the sheep as a result.
In any case, some vegans recognize that buying items made from any animal derived products means being complicit in an industry that causes harm, both to animals and to our environment. Instead of choosing fossil-fuel derived man-made fabrics, consider going for sweater made from organic cotton, organic hemp or even stinging nettles!
- Avoid: Wool, angora, cashmere, mohair, alpaca, etc…
- Vegan, But Not Ideal: Polyester fleece, acrylic, Gore-tex, Thinsulate etc… regular cotton
- Choose: Organic cotton, organic hemp, organic stinging nettle
For blouses, or shirts if we are talking about vegan men’s clothing, you will want a fine material that is comfortable yet smart – perhaps for use in your workplace. Silk and other fine animal-derived materials are a no-go for vegans – but there are plenty of other options.
For truly compassionate, ethical and sustainable fashion, go for natural, organic fabrics rather than man made ‘plastics’ that are made using fossil fuels. Stinging nettles may not sound very appealing, but they make a very soft, fine fabric that is pleasant to wear.
- Avoid: Silk, pashmina, etc…
- Vegan, But Not Ideal: Polyester, rayon, nylon and other “plastic” materials, regular cotton
- Choose: Organic cotton, organic linen, organic stinging nettle
Whether we are talking about smart pants for work or going out, jeans for the weekend or casual joggers for the gym or for lounging at home, there are plenty of vegan choices, though not all were created equal. When choosing cotton pants, try to make sure they are non-GMO and organic.
Jeans are tricky and there are lots of hidden ethical problems, even when they are vegan. Beware a dodgy supply chain, polluting dyes and sandblasting when trying to find an ethical vegan pair of jeans and read into the various issues of vegan ethical clothing.
Try to find vegan fair trade clothing wherever possible, and remember that it is better to spend a little more, less frequently, on clothes that will last, rather than buying cheap pants that will last you no time at all.
- Avoid: Leather, silk, wool etc…
- Vegan, But Not Ideal: Polyester, regular cotton, some denim
- Choose: Ethical denim, organic cotton, organic linen
The best suits are usually made from wool, silk or cashmere and even cheap suits will usually contain low percentages of these animal-derived fabrics. However, shop around and you will be able to find good quality vegan suits.
The key is to go for the best vegan suit you can afford, made of organic, natural materials. While man-made fabrics can be vegan, they are not going to give you the same comfortable, quality feel. What is more, they are not as sustainable or eco friendly an option.
- Avoid: Wool, silk, cashmere
- Vegan, But Not Ideal: Polyester, rayon and other man-made fibres, regular cotton
- Choose: Organic cotton, organic linen
JACKETS & COATS
Outdoors jackets (and other outdoors gear) are among the trickiest things to suss out for compassionate consumers. If you like camping, hiking, biking or other outdoors activities then you will know that quality is key.
Some say natural down is best for insulation, while others say man-made systems are rapidly improving. It does seem that innovation in outdoors gear is making it easier to get top-quality vegan outdoors gear.
Vegans no longer have to compromise on comfort, warmth or dryness. Unfortunately, specialist “plastic” based fabrics are the only way to go for those not willing to use animal products.
The good news is that even for specialist outdoors gear, you can now choose sustainable options such as recycled and recyclable plastic jackets.
For other coats and jackets, where weatherproofing is not quite so important, you can go for a good thick organic cotton, hemp or nettle and other natural, vegan organic clothing materials.
- Avoid: Wool, silk, cashmere, fur, fleece, down, etc…
- Vegan, But Not Ideal: Most polyester and other specialist “plastic” fabrics.
- Choose: Organic cotton, hemp, nettle – for outdoors wear – recycled & recyclable plastic.
In the past, shoes were the most difficult thing for vegan consumers to find – that has now well and truly changed.
It is easy for everyone to avoid leather and to choose more ethical and compassionate options.
Most vegan shoes will have some “plastic” in them, though innovative new companies are constantly coming up with even better vegan shoe options, using recycled and recyclable materials as well as natural ones to come up with shoes that are comfortable and work well, as well as being ethical.
- Avoid: Leather, hide, exotic skins, suede, animal based glues, silk, animal dyes, down
- Vegan, But Not Ideal: Polyurethane, polyamide, regular cotton
- Choose: Organic cotton, microfibre cotton, organic hemp, sustainable cork, natural rubber, recycled natural rubber, recycled PET bottles.
PURSES AND WALLETS
Like shoes, purses and wallets are often made from durable materials such as leather or other animal skins.
While there are no end to the plastic options, again, the most compassionate fashion choice is to go with a purse or wallet made from recycled and recyclable materials, or from an organic natural fibre.
- Avoid: Leather, hide, skins, silk, animal based glues, animal dyes.
- Vegan, But Not Ideal: Plastic fabrics, regular cotton.
- Choose: Organic cotton, organic linen, recycled materials.
No one will know just by looking whether your tie is vegan or not – especially if you choose quality and are prepared to spend a little more initially for something that will last longer and serve you better over the years.
Beware man-made ties, as many will still contain a low proportion of silk.
- Avoid: Silk, wool, cashmere.
- Vegan, But Not Ideal: Nylon, polyester, rayon, viscose etc.
- Choose: Organic cotton, organic linen, natural microfibre.
Whether you want a touch of elegance for an evening soirée, or need to wrap up warm, you can find vegan clothing materials to suit the scarf you need.
Many man-made options will suit the purpose, but consider organic, natural options for more sustainable scarves.
- Avoid: Silk, cashmere, pashmina, wool, angora, mohair, alpaca.
- Vegan, But Not Ideal: Acrylic, polyester & other man-made fabrics.
- Choose: Organic cotton, organic hemp, nettle.
ARE ANIMAL-DERIVED FABRICS ALWAYS UNETHICAL?
An oft asked question, and one worth spending a little time on.
SMALL FARMING, CROFTING, HOMESTEADING
Animals suffer because of factory farming and the demands of the huge scale of modern day agriculture.
But what about animals that are treated well throughout their lives?
Killing animals for our own gain is, I think we can all agree, fundamentally wrong.
But what about using animal by-products when those animals are genuinely well cared for on a small farm,croft or homestead?
Many vegans may disagree, but living alongside animals need not always be “using” them so much as co-operating with them, giving them what they need and in return, taking what we can use and they cannot – such as their fleece.
Is it always wrong to keep animals? What about pets?
Of course, every vegan will have to make their own minds up about where they will draw their own ethical line in the sand.
As with everything else in life, vegan fashion comes with some moral grey areas.
RECYCLED / SECOND HAND CLOTHES
Another ethical conundrum for vegans is whether or not they are prepared to wear animal-derived clothing or shoes if they are second hand, from a charity shop or thrift store.
Again, it is an individual choice about where you ought to draw the line.
Some argue that wearing any animal-derived products at all is wrong, that it perpetuates the idea that using and abusing animals is socially acceptable and “normal”.
On the other hand, it could also be said that items already created should (to at least honour the sacrifice of the animals) be kept and used for as long as possible.
This is also true in terms of environmental responsibility and compassion for our planet.
TIPS FOR BUYING COMPASSIONATE VEGAN CLOTHING
Where it is possible, vegans will always try to choose compassionate vegan clothing and the good news is that it is getting easier than ever to find practical, good quality vegan items.
Here are some tips to help you buy well and end up with a wardrobe to be proud of:
Prioritize compassion over fast fashion.
LOOK FOR THE VEGAN TRADEMARK
A mark manufacturers can use to show that their clothes or shoes (or other products) are vegan.
Always read labels and follow up with research on any queries you have. Only buy clothes you can reliably confirm are a compassionate choice.
Try to reduce carbon cost by buying as local as possible, though consider ethical choices globally if local vegan options are not available where you live.
Be critical, analyse everything, buy well and buy infrequently.
Making good choices when it comes to vegan clothing and shoes may seem tricky, but it is getting easier every day and the more people turn on to this way of life and transition to a more ethical and sustainable future – the easier dressing yourself as a compassionate vegan will become.