When we think about the term “vegan”, we think about making food choices around a plant-based diet, without meat, eggs or dairy. Or anything that comes from an animal.
Veganism is so much more than that. It is a lifestyle committed to avoiding the use of all animal products. So what, indeed, does it mean to lead a vegan lifestyle?
Veganism - A Brief History
Vegan comes from vegetarianism which began as early as 500 BCE, with Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras suggesting kindness towards all living beings. Followers of Hinduism and Buddhism also advocated vegetarianism, believing that humans should not inflict pain or suffering on other animals.
In 1944, a British woodworker named Donald Watson coined the term “vegan” to be an exclusive group of vegetarians that did not eat eggs or dairy. He formed the Vegan Society, a group of 25 subscribers. By the time he died in 2005, there were 250,000 members in the UK and over 2 million in the US.
November 1st is World Vegan Day. It began in 1994 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Vegan Society. As of 2021, there are about 79 million vegans in the world, with numbers rapidly growing.
What Is Vegan Fashion?
Vegan fashion is clothes, accessories and everything in between that contain no products from animals.
In comparison to that, “cruelty-free” products and clothing means that animals were not tested on in the manufacture of the products. However, it does not mean that the product contains no animals.
After food, clothing is one of the leading causes of animal exploitation and suffering.
There are many animal-based fabrics, with wool, fur, leather, down, and silk being the most popular. Others include cashmere, mohair, shearling, karakul and many others.
When it comes to animal exploitation and cruelty, the fur industry takes the cake. Animals are bred in captivity and live in cramped, filthy conditions their whole lives.
They are housed in unbearably small cages and live in constant fear and stress. Many exhibit behaviors like self-mutilation and constant pacing, both signs of extreme stress. They are then inhumanely slaughtered or worse, skinned alive.
The most commonly farmed animals for fur are minks and foxes. A recent PETA exposé of a Russian fur farm showed workers casually stating that they didn’t bother verifying if the animals were dead before starting the skinning process of breaking necks and severing heads and paws.
Fortunately, the world has started to stand against fur. Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren were some of the first designers to go fur-free. In addition, large retailers like Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, and Sak’s have all banned all fur products in their offerings.
Some countries have even banned fur farms and the import of fur. The first country to ban fur was the United Kingdom in 2000, with Austria following after in 2005. Since then, more than 20 countries have signed up to be fur-free.
We are well on the path to be globally fur-free and stop the unnecessary suffering and exploitation of these animals. However, what about leather? Or silk, or wool?
Many see leather as ethical, a by-product of the meat industry. But what about the environmental impact of the tanning process? The animals aren’t the only ones that suffer from the high demand for leather.
The tanning processes use highly toxic chemicals, many of which are carcinogens. Cyanide, lead, chromium and formaldehyde are released into water sources, often located in developing countries with no means to protect themselves from contamination.
The Centers For Disease Control (CDC) disturbingly uncovered that those living near tanneries were more likely to contract leukaemia, cancers and other serious illnesses.
The mistreatment of sheep in wool farms is widely documented. Most sheep undergo a process called mulesing to reduce flystrike. Flystrike is a parasitic infection that sheep often have because of their thick wool. The wool around the rump area collects faecal matter and urine, providing flies with a breeding ground for maggots.
The skin and flesh are cut from the lamb’s rear and tail without anaesthetic to prevent flystrike. This painful procedure is done when lambs are between 6 to 10 weeks old.
The three biggest wool producers are China, Australia and New Zealand. There are no nationwide animal protection laws in China.
Mulesing is banned in New Zealand, but not Australia. The RSPCA has been urging retailers that use Australian wool to only purchase non-mulesed wool from flystrike-resistant sheep.
Not only do 6,600 silkworms get boiled alive to make a single kilogram of silk, but the industry itself is also one of the biggest polluters.
With energy consumption surpassing cotton, silk uses more water, energy and emits more greenhouse gases. Silk farms need to be kept at a specific humidity and temperature. Most of these farms are located in Asia’s hot and humid climates, requiring a large amount of energy for air-conditioning and humidity control.
Harsh chemicals are used in the manufacture of silk. These chemicals seep into groundwater and pollute water sources.
In addition, some estimates suggest that one acre of mulberry trees is required to produce 35 lbs of silk.
Some Vegan Fabrics
Apple Leather - Almost indistinguishable from leather, apple leather is made from the cores and skins of apples discarded from the food industry. The waste is made into pulp and dried, creating a flexible sheet.
Bamboo - This fast-growing plant does not require pesticides, chemicals or fertilizers. Bamboo is thrice as strong as cotton and is a stretchy, soft fabric often used for bathrobes, towels and underwear.
Hemp - This fabric is made from the stalk of the hemp plant. These plants have deep roots, giving them the ability to use water and nutrients from deep underground. Most hemp can grow without being watered or fertilized. After bamboo, hemp is the fastest growing plant for fabrics.
Linen - This is a durable, breathable and biodegradable fabric made from flax plant fibers. It is considered to be one of the most sustainable fabrics and is remarkably comfortable to wear, especially in warmer climates.
Tencel - Tencel is a fabric made from the wood pulp of trees. The most common tree that Tencel comes from is the eucalyptus tree, followed by birch and beech. Tencel is manufactured in a closed-loop process, meaning all the water and solvents are reused to continue the manufacturing process, lowering waste and consumption drastically.