When we think of the term “vegan”, we are most familiar with the word describing a plant-based diet that avoids the consumption of any animal products. However, food is only one part of the vegan lifestyle, which excludes all animals used for clothing, cosmetics, accessories, household items, and many more products we use daily.
Most people adopt the vegan lifestyle because of a few factors. Animal cruelty is the primary driver for the movement, followed by environmental responsibility and personal health.
A Brief History of Veganism
Veganism has its early roots in vegetarianism as early as 500 BCE. Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras spoke out publicly about respecting all life and avoiding consuming the meat of animals. At about the same time, Siddhartha Gautama, also known as the Buddha, discussed excluding meat from the diet with his followers.
Fast forward a couple of centuries to the 20th century, when a 14-year old child named Donald Watson (1910 - 2005) spent a lot of time on his uncle’s farm in Yorkshire, UK. He witnessed the slaughter of a pig, and instantly, his life was changed. The peaceful, magical farm he played in became a “death row” for the animals he cared for and played with.
Together with his wife and some friends, he set up the Vegan Society, a group committed to avoiding the use of animal products and by-products in their daily lives. The term “vegan” was coined using the first and last few letters of “vegetarian”.
When he started writing the group’s humble newsletter, The Vegan News, it had 25 subscribers. Today, there are about 79 million people in the world that identify as being vegan.
The Growing Popularity of Veganism
Social media has played a considerable role in bringing veganism to the masses. It is no longer thought of as only a lifelong diet but can also be a lifestyle choice for a limited amount of time. Flexitarianism or part-time veganism is becoming more and more popular, with people pledging to go vegan for a meal every day or a few days a week.
Veganuary is a yearly campaign run by a non-profit organization started in 2014 by Jane Land and Matthew Glover. The campaign encourages people worldwide to try a vegan lifestyle for the month of January. When it was launched back in 2014, there were 3,000 signups.
In January 2019, 250,000 signed up. In 2020, the number was 400,000 and closer to 600,000 in 2021.
The Economist dubbed 2019 the “year of the vegan”. About 25% of Americans surveyed between the ages of 25 and 34 identify themselves as vegans or vegetarians.
Other countries with relatively large percentages of vegans and vegetarians include the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Austria.
The Popularity of Vegan Products
The rising demand for animal-free products has led to countless retailers, manufacturers, food suppliers, and businesses worldwide jumping on the bandwagon.
Giant supermarket chains have introduced a vegan section in their stores and fashion powerhouses have introduced vegan apparel, footwear, and accessories.
Looking for animal-friendly products has never been easier. Just look for one of the several stamps of approval such as:
Most commonly found in the US but available worldwide, this certification logo is a registered trademark by Vegan.org. This takes into account the entire manufacturing process and not only ensures that products do not contain any animal products but no animal GMOs have also been used.
To date, they have certified 1,069 companies and over 10,000 products.
This certification by the Vegan Society was introduced in 1990. As of 2021, they have certified over 54,000 products from more than 2,500 companies. It is currently used in 108 countries.
The European Vegetarian Union’s V-label is the EU’s answer to vegan.org. Its use started as early as the 1970s and today, it is the most widely recognized label in Europe and seeks to expand its use into Latin America and Asia.
Why Different Certifications?
Geography. Although internationally recognized, each label is more relevant to consumers based on geographical location, history, and ease of recognition.
No certification is better than the other and all certified products have to meet strict guidelines to attain certification.
What About 100% Cruelty-Free?
Products labeled 100% cruelty-free can erroneously be perceived as vegan. The beauty industry is one of the biggest culprits of this. Cosmetics products can be labeled “cruelty-free”, which means that no animals were tested on during each stage of the supply chain, yet these products still can contain ingredients derived from animals.
Cruelty-free does not guarantee that the finished product contains no animal ingredients.
So Why Go Vegan?
As mentioned earlier, the three main reasons that survey respondents gave were animal rights, environmental impact, and personal health. Let’s look at each one individually.
Every year, billions of animals are harmed or killed in providing us with food, clothes, and accessories. 99% of animals used for food are crammed into tiny, unbearable enclosures to maximize profitability. After all, more animals mean more profit.
These days, information is being more freely distributed, and footage of factory farms and slaughterhouses are widely available online, leading to an increasing number of vegetarians and vegans.
Humane slaughter laws in some countries dictate that the animal has to be rendered senseless before its throat is cut and the animal bled.
Not every cow or leather producing country have these laws in place. And even with these laws, mistakes are made, bolts misfire, and the animal ends up taking some time to die or gets its throat cut and bled while still conscious.
Devastating Environmental Impact
The cultivation of animals is the second-largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, after fossil fuels.
- Animal agriculture contributes to 14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions, roughly equalling all the fuel consumption of every single vehicle worldwide!
- Seventy billion animals are raised annually for consumption, housed in a third of our planet’s land surface.
- Animal agriculture consumes 16% of the global freshwater supply, while 785 million people in the world do not have access to fresh water.
- Factory farming also contributes to over 37 percent of the methane emissions, a gas that is 20 times worse than carbon dioxide when contributing to global warming.
- Ninety million tons of carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere each year from the fossil fuels used in energy, transport, pesticides, and fertilizers.
- Over 260 million acres of natural forests are cleared each year to make room for crop fields to feed livestock.
How are we feeding 760 million tonnes of food to animals in farms each year yet letting 690 million people go hungry?
Maintaining a plant-based diet has long been linked to lower rates of obesity, decreased risk of heart diseases, lowered cholesterol, and countless more health benefits.
Doctors, athletes, and sportspeople have started advocating the vegan lifestyle, attesting to higher energy levels, a sharper mental acumen, and numerous other advantages.
The vegan diet is usually higher in fiber, and lower in saturated fats, cholesterol, calcium, protein, and salt. However, because of the lack of all meats and dairy, vegans might experience some minor deficiencies in nutrients such as protein and vitamin B12. Here’s are some ways to deal with deficiencies:
Vitamin B12 - The most significant deficiency would be in vitamin B12, the nutrient that helps maintain the body’s nerve and blood cells. Vitamin B12 also helps prevent a condition called megaloblastic anemia, resulting in the feeling of being tired and weak.
Vitamin B12 cannot be found in plants and can only be found in animal products like fish, meat, poultry, dairy products, and eggs. Therefore, to get your recommended daily dose of 2.4 milligrams, you might want to take supplements or include fortified cereals or non-dairy milks that contain vitamin B12 in your daily diet.
Protein - Protein isn’t only found in meat. Soy products, beans, and vegetables can contain more protein per calorie than red meat!
Most beans, tofu, chickpeas, lentils, broccoli, spinach, quinoa, and most nuts are all protein powerhouses without the saturated fat that animal products contain.
Iron - The richest sources of iron are in red meat and egg yolks, both responsible for increasing cholesterol levels. Alternative sources of iron are tofu, fruits, vegetables, fortified cereals, and beans.
Essential Fatty Acids - Essential fatty acids such as Omega-3 and Omega-6, improve body composition and contribute to mental and physical well-being.
Commonly found in fish, these fatty acids are also found in nuts, vegetables, and seeds.
Why Vegan Fashion - The Problem With Animal-Derived Clothing
Being vegan is so much more than just food. It is embracing a lifestyle that excludes all animal products in our daily lives, including what we wear.
The most apparent animal products are fur, wool, and leather, but the more subtle items include:
Mohair - Not to be confused with angora wool that comes from rabbits, mohair comes from angora goats commonly bred in South Africa and the US. Workers at these farms are paid by the volume of wool they shear, leading to them working quickly and often carelessly.
A disturbing PETA investigation of a mohair goat farm in South Africa showed workers dragging, mutilating, and cutting throats of fully conscious goats.
Some large clothing brands like Gap, H&M, Zara, and Topshop have already banned mohair from their apparel lineups.
Cashmere - This soft wool comes from the undercoat of goats found in the Gobi Desert in northern China and Mongolia. Goats are usually shorn in winter to meet the global demand, resulting in them often dying from cold exposure.
Angora - This wool comes from angora rabbits farmed primarily in China that produces 90% of the world’s angora wool. Other producers include Argentina, Hungary, Chile, and the Czech Republic. Angora rabbits are kept in small, cramped cages built so low that their spines get deformed.
Angora wool is collected by shearing or live-plucking. Rabbits naturally fear being handled and pinned down and will struggle during the shearing process, often resulting in numerous cuts from shearing instruments and extreme stress.
Live-plucking is the practice of ripping the fur off without pain relief. In 2013, PETA released a horrifying video of an angora farm in China, showing a live rabbit being plucked. Since then, over 100 major retailers have banned angora wool.
Silk - It takes 6,600 silkworms to make one kilogram of silk. About 10 billion silkworms are used each year in the silk industry. In the production of silk, silkworms are dropped alive into boiling water.
While the insect central nervous system is different from that of mammals, the silkworms react to stimuli, and being boiled alive potentially causes suffering.
Down - Found in the soft layer of feathers from ducks and geese, down is primarily produced in China. These birds are kept in filthy, cramped cages with no access to the outdoors.
Although down is harvested after slaughter, live-plucking is still practiced in some farms. Feathers are pulled from live birds, resulting in bleeding, tearing the skin, pain, and extreme stress.
Horn - A substance that consists of keratin-rich cells, horn comes from hooves and bird beaks and is mainly used in the production of jewelry, combs, and buttons.
Nacre - Extracted from the shells of mussels, nacre is usually in decorative accessories, buttons, and jewelry.
Shearling - A shearling is a one-year-old sheep that has only been shorn once, and a shearling garment comes from the sheep or lamb shorn just before slaughter. Shearling isn’t sheared wool, but the sheep’s skin tanned with the wool still attached. It takes dozens of individual skins to make just one garment.
Karakul Lamb - Also called astrakhan or Persian wool, karakul lamb fur comes from lambs killed as newborns or cut out from their mothers.
This unique, valuable fur starts to straighten within three days after birth, so many lambs are slaughtered when they are one or two days old. Worse yet, some unborn lambs are extracted from their slaughtered mothers before birth.
Slink Leather - Also known as slunk leather, it is the softest, most supple leather available. This leather is made from the skin of an unborn calf that comes from pregnant mother cows.
Wool, Fur, and Leather
Let’s take a look at the three largest offenders of animal rights.
Most people think wool is an ethical product, as sheep are shorn, not slaughtered for their wool. However, the mistreatment of sheep from wool farms is well-known.
Sheep are bred for their thick, wooly coats. Unfortunately, these wooly coats make them vulnerable to a parasitic infection called flystrike. The thick wool, mainly around the rump area, collects fecal matter and urine, resulting in parasitic flies infecting the area with maggots.
To prevent this infection, a process called mulesing is practiced on most sheep farms. The sheep’s legs are restrained by metal bars, and sheep lie on their backs as farmers carve chunks of skin and flesh from the animal’s rump without the use of painkillers or anesthetic.
Sometimes, clamps are applied to the flesh around the rump until it dies and rots off. Both procedures cause intense pain and suffering to the sheep.
Mulesing is usually conducted on lambs between six to ten weeks of age during “lamb marking”. Lamb marking also includes tail docking, castration for males, ear tagging, and vaccinating.
The wounds sustained from mulesing take five to seven weeks to completely heal. Mulesed lambs often socialize less, lose weight, and exhibit signs of pain and stress. Lambs newly-mulesed will avoid humans for weeks, indicating trauma and fear.
The biggest wool producer is Australia, producing roughly 25% of the world’s wool, followed by China, Russia, and New Zealand.
New Zealand began avoiding mulesing in 2007, and became the first country to ban the practice on 1 October 2018. (Yay!)
Despite New Zealand’s success in this historic move, mulesing continues to be practiced worldwide.
From belts and upholstery to bags and wallets, leather is found everywhere.
Some might have the misconception that leather is a by-product of the meat industry. After all, over 200 million animals are slaughtered each year for our food. A significant portion of the income comes from the sale of their skins, supporting the economic profit of the industry.
Unfortunately, this makes leather a “co-product” of the meat industry, contributing to more exploitation of animals.
In addition to cows which contribute to 65% of the world’s leather, other animals like pigs, goats, sheep, crocodiles, snakes, seals, and even cats and dogs are also used to make leather.
PETA released a behind-the-scenes video of a dog leather farm, showing workers bludgeoning dogs, cutting their throats, and skinning hundreds a day. The resulting leather was intended for the US market.
The US Dog and Cat Protection Act signed in 2000 prohibits the import of dog and cat fur skins, but distinguishing leather from dogs and cats from that of cows, pigs or sheep is almost impossible.
Most of the world’s leather comes from China (25%), Brazil (9.5%), Russia (7%), and India (6.4%), countries with little to no animal protection laws. The world’s biggest producer, China, has no national laws against animal cruelty and abuse.
In addition to contributing to animal abuse, the environmental impact of the leather industry is dismal. The tanning process necessary to preserve leather and prevent rot uses carcinogenic chemicals such as formaldehyde, chromium, and cyanide.
The toxic chemicals used in the production process eventually seep into the water and air, causing a severe ecological problem where waste produced cause plant life to grow excessively in waterways, depleting the water’s oxygen levels and killing marine eco-systems.
The chemicals then pollute water sources, often in developing countries that have no means of protecting themselves from contamination.
The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that those living near tanneries were more likely to contract cancers, leukemia, and other serious illnesses.
Not only does the leather industry inflict animal cruelty and suffering, but it can also harm humans and destroys our environment. That’s not very cool.
The most prominent culprit of animal abuse is the fur industry. Around 100 million animals are bred and killed in fur farms to meet the demand for fur. About half of these animals are made into the fur trim found on coats, gloves, and hats.
Animals in fur farms are housed in tiny cages and live in constant fear and stress, exhibiting destructive behaviors such as self-mutilation and continuous pacing. Then, after a thankfully short life, they are inhumanely slaughtered or worse, skinned alive.
Countless videos exposing fur farms are available online. But be warned, the videos are extremely graphic and not for the faint of heart.
About ten million animals in the wild are trapped for fur each year. Often caught in leg-hold traps, it can be days before the trap gets checked. As a result, trapped animals are left dying from thirst, starvation, and exposure for several days before the trapper arrives and beats them to death.
Thankfully, the world has started to stand together against fur. Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, and Tommy Hilfiger were some of the first designers to go fur-free. Since then, countless others have taken up the pledge to eliminate the use of fur in their products.
Large retailers such as Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s have taken fur off their product offerings. Here’s a complete list of fur-free brands.
The United Kingdom was the first country to ban the import of fur in 2000, followed by Austria in 2005. Other countries like Belgium, Croatia, Czech Republic, Luxembourg, the Netherlands following. Ireland, Poland, Lithuania, and Ukraine are currently considering banning fur.
We humans are the dominant species on the planet. And even though we have started to wake up and take notice of our exploitation of animals, we have a long way to go.
Embracing fashionable vegan clothing is just one of the ways we can protect the vulnerable. Vegan fashion is growing in popularity and we hope that it will be the future of fashion in the years to come.