Every year, millions of animals suffer and die just to clothe us. The fashion industry is one of the biggest polluters on the planet, and only 38% of fashion brands consider animal welfare and rights in their supply chain and purchasing decisions.
What Is Vegan Clothing?
The term ‘vegan’ was first coined in 1944 by Donald Watson, co-founder of the Vegan Society.
It is not a diet or a phase, but rather, a lifestyle choice that avoids all animal products. It is a way of living that avoids the use and exploitation of animals for food, clothing, cosmetics or any other things that contain animal products.
The vegan lifestyle has been increasingly adopted as consumers start to make more responsible purchasing choices.
According to the Economist, vegans accounted for only 0.4% in 2015 in the US. Today, this number is at 3.5%.
Similarly, the number of vegans in the UK has quadrupled in the last five years. According to the Food Standards Agency (FSA), there were 150,000 vegans in 2014 and 720,000 today, accounting for 1.2% of the country’s population.
Vegan clothing is any garment or textile made without animal products. Most animal products like fur, wool and leather are obviously an animal product, but some less obvious items include:
- Cashmere wool
- Down feathers
In addition to obvious material, additional components like adhesives may contain animal products. There is no obligation to label these substances and the only way to determine traces of any animal products is to clarify with manufacturers.
How Can You Find Vegan Clothing?
Currently, only a few clothing brands carry a vegan label on the product itself. The only way to check is through the label. If the product includes components of animal origin, then the product is not vegan.
The V-label is an international trademark for the labeling of vegetarian and vegan products. Products must adhere to a set of standards and undergo regular inspections. Companies can use the V-label to provide a guarantee that a product is vegan or vegetarian.
Globally, more than 10,000 products and services from more than 1,000 license holders now carry the V-label which is registered in 27 countries.
Footwear labels are mandatory in the EU. According to the EU rules, the term “footwear” refers to articles with soles designed to protect or cover the foot. For example:
- Flat or high-heeled shoes
- Sports shoes and sneakers
The label must describe the materials of 3 main parts of the footwear - the upper, lining and insole, and outer sole.
The label must state whether the material is made out of:
- Coated leather
- Other materials
According to a recent survey, 71% of vegans now shop for their clothes online compared to non-vegans that spend most of their time in physical stores. This might be due to the still-limited range of vegan clothing stores, a lack of availability and poor product labeling.
Know Your Vegan Clothing Brands
When you get to know and trust your vegan clothing brand, it gets much easier to shop. It is more common however, for major retailers to have a mix of vegan and non-vegan products.
Vegan Clothing and the Environment
From an environmental impact perspective, three out of the four worst culprits in the textiles industry are animal-derived - leather, silk, conventional cotton and wool.
Livestock take up a third of the planet’s land and consume 16% of the global freshwater supply. A third of grain production worldwide is used to feed livestock, an industry that emits 14.5% of the global greenhouse gases. This is roughly equivalent to the emissions of all the transport vehicles worldwide!
A large amount of methane is produced by farming sheep. Methane is a strong greenhouse gas and contributes heavily to the earth’s global warming. In addition to the actual animals, these emissions also come from the waste and fertilizer from wool farms.
Silk is one of the worst textiles for the environment, taking as much if not more resources as cotton. According to the Higg Index, silk uses more water, causes more water pollution and leaves a higher carbon footprint.
Most of this comes from the high energy consumption of silk production. Silk farms have to be kept at a certain humidity and temperature and because most silk production is found in the hot and humid climates of Asia, a large amount of energy is needed for air-conditioning and humidity control.
There are numerous vegan-friendly fabrics that are natural and biodegradable. Here are some to watch out for:
Organic Cotton - Traditional cotton farming uses high levels of pesticides and toxic chemicals that seep into the soil and contaminate the water. Developing countries in which these farms are located have little to no access to safety equipment and protection against the contamination.
The eco-friendlier of the world’s most popular fabric, organic cotton uses less water and is grown without the use of pesticides, chemical fertilizers, genetic modifiers and insecticides. This protects the local community, livestock and surrounding ecosystems.
Linen - A durable fabric made from flax fibres that require few pesticides or fertilizers, linen becomes softer and stronger after use.
Tencel - Made from wood pulp harvested sustainably in monitored forests, Tencel is incredibly soft and most reputable Tencel brands have carbon neutral products.
Seaweed - A cellulose fibre, brown algae used in this material supposedly aids cell regeneration, fights inflammation and soothes itchiness.
Hemp - A hardy, durable plant, hemp is dirt-repellent, durable, more absorbent and warmer than cotton.
Soy - A by-product of soybean processing, soy fabric has the softness and luster of silk, the durability of cotton and the warmth of cashmere.
Viscose - Produced by a chemical process based on natural cellulose, viscose usually comes from bamboo, eucalyptus or beech.
Bamboo - One of the fastest growing plants in the world, bamboo does not require any chemicals, pesticides or fertilizers. The fibre is completely biodegradable and is about 3 times stronger than cotton.