In the age of Whole Foods, over nine non-dairy milk alternatives, vegan meats, and cashew cheese, it’s about time the movement of veganism merged with that of the fashion world.
What is vegan fashion?
Vegan fashion revolves around textiles and clothing made without the use of animal products. That includes no fur, leather (made from animal skin; commonly cow), suede (the underside of animal skin; usually lamb, goat, calf, or deer), wool (derived from sheep or goat), cashmere (a version of wool derived from goats or alpaca), silk (made from insect larvae), snakeskin, down (created from the feathers of fowls), or any other material acquired by an animal.
Plant-based textiles such as linen, cotton, and hemp, are the more safe and sustainable fabrics to stick to. Recycled materials are also often used.
Emmanuelle Rienda, creator of Vegan Fashion Week—which is set to commence on October 10th-15th 2019 in Los Angeles, California with the theme “Fashion is Activism”—truthfully explains the stance on vegan fashion:
“The relationship between fashion, factory farming, and climate change cannot be ignored. Vegan sustainable fashion is the ultimate answer to climate change and waste pollution. I created an inclusive and collaborative movement dedicated to redesigning the industry and the consumers’ daily habits.”
Despite this, it’s of importance to note that even if clothing is man-made rather than derived from animal, it still may not be sustainable. Yes, vegan fashion is meant to protect the mistreatment of animals, but this term does not guarantee using collective eco-friendly resources in its replacement. For this reason, I would like to alter this definition to that of clothing materials made sustainably as well as ethically.
What are your clothes made out of?
Often times we do not pay close attention to what our clothing is made of.
Take a moment right now to look at the label of the piece of clothing you’re wearing. What does it say? Maybe it’s 20% one thing, 50% something else, and 30% an entirely different material, or in the same vein. You may even be thinking, what the heck is polyester anyway?
There are countless man-made fabrics that put our health, the health of employees, and the health of the planet at risk. These synthetic materials, which are made through chemical processes, include, but are not limited to, Acrylic, Nylon, Polyester, and Rayon.
Rayon: attained from plant fibres, in other words ‘cellulosic material’—oftentimes coming from bamboo—and treated with a highly toxic chemical called carbon disulfide. Yes, such material is able to decompose, but meanwhile will disperse these synthetic, chemical substances in the surrounding area.
Polyester: created during a process with coal, air, water, and petroleum. Long story short, without getting into the boring details of long complicated chemical terms, it’s basically melted plastic spun into fibres.
Nylon & Acrylic: also plastic.
Most of these synthetic products take from 20 to 200 years to decompose. When they do, the fabrics release the chemicals they were made with in the process, and thus polluting our beloved Earth. And I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather where natural materials rather than plastic (unless it’s recycled, of course).
When a consumer buys into a product, they are buying into the company, supporting them and what they represent. The process in which clothes are made, and the conditions in which the employees work, are principal components in the fashion industry.
Fast Fashion V. Slow Fashion
Our society is very materialistic, that is the ugly truth. We always want the new best thing on the market, the next best version or the next best thing, hardly ever stopping to think, what is the story behind this product?
Fast fashion is the quick development of designing the clothing, getting it made, to putting it in stores in front of the consumer as soon as possible. Fast fashion is a way for the average consumer to afford cheaply made, inexpensive products that mimic those on-trend. Examples include Forever 21, H&M, Zara, ASOS, and Topshop.
Though, some of these big companies, such as H&M and Reformation, are taking slow steps into reducing their waste, such as implementing recycling programs.
Slow fashion is quite literally the opposite of fast fashion. They focus on the quality of the products they create so that they last longer for the consumer buying them. Slow fashion implements fair trade elements, which includes appropriate working conditions, fair wages, benefits, and overall less of a carbon footprint impact as a company. They strive for an eco-friendly impact. Quality over quantity, am I right?
Patagonia, although a fair-trade company, still uses animal products in their clothing. However, the have ethical standards, and even encourage those to return any Patagonia clothing, promising to recycle the materials into their new products. Their clothes are known to last longer.
Slow fashion, including the use of safe textiles, is a sustainable, ethical alternative to the non-biodegradable and non-renewable textiles dominating the fashion industry.
When you go to buy a product, ask yourself, what process did it undergo to get here in my hands at this boutique or mall in this particular town? When we are conscious of these mechanics, of what kind of companies we are buying into, we are showing them what we think our money is worth, what we are worth, and what our planet is worth.
There are people starting to take notice that this stylish, sustainable, and ethical fashion is in demand. There will even be a vegan fashion week set to commence on October 10th in Los Angeles, California.
Is wool sustainable?
The process of gathering animal materials for textile manufacturing is more complicated than we realize. Although wool is a sustainable material, as it is able to decompose naturally by causing no harm to the Earth, there is still somewhat of a double-edged sword with how it’s obtained.
Shearing is a process of removing the wool coat from the sheep, a practice that has been going on for decades—so much so that people claim sheep have built up a reliance on humans, otherwise their coats will overgrow, causing mobility and hygiene issues. Sheep have been purposefully bred to produce this unnatural abundance of wool. When sheep start producing less wool, they are likely sold to be slaughtered, and factory farms are the number one cause of greenhouse gas emissions into our atmosphere.
The treatment of these animals in this industry is a factor that plays into whether this is an ethical practice. Shearing, if done, should always be done carefully and by experienced individuals so that no harm comes to the animals involved.
With all this in mind, when you are making a decision on what to put your money towards, being informed of both sides of the story is a key factor.
Vegan/Sustainable Brands (just to name a few):
- Stella McCartney is a designer brand promoting vegan silk made from yeast.
- Matt & Natt produces chic vegan leather bags from recycled plastic.
- Girlfriend Collective takes your plastic water bottle and transforms it into beautiful, ethical activewear for all sizes.
- Dazey LA aims to promote zero-waste while empowering women through conversations sparked by their one-of-a-kind clothing. Each of their pieces—ranging from graphic tees to overalls to phone cases—are handmade to order from their Los Angeles location.
- MUD Jeans also focuses on zero waste through ethically and sustainably sourced denim. They recycle, upcycle, and even lease their products for a more environmentally friendly impact.
- WAWWA is yet another ethical, fair trade clothing brand pushing forth the importance of an affirmative influence on the planet.
The more ethically conscious the brand is, the better quality your products will be, and the longer they will last. It’s a win-win-win! For both the brand, the environment, and YOU!
What we consume impacts our planet. When we are conscious of this, we are giving back.
Vegan fashion is activism. You are buying into what you believe in. When brands give us the opportunity to make a difference, as a collective we are advocating positive change for a better future.
Last-minute tips for the Sustainable Fashionista novice:
- Check the label. You might as well know what material you’re wearing.
- Ask the employees or company if they are fair trade certified. Even if their products are made in a different country than yours, they could still be fair trade—it is all a matter of conditions, wages, and benefits.
- Shop local! Support small businesses and independent entrepreneurs.
- Purchase second-hand clothing through your local thrift stores.
- Recycle your own clothing! Pass them down, donate them, or see if the brand has its own upcycling program.
- Double-check your denim, not all are made with 100% cotton. Be wary of the term “blue jeans,” for this may not be directed towards authentic denim.
- Stick to fabrics such as cotton, linen, canvas, bamboo, hemp, or recycled material.
- Lastly, strut your stuff, because the planet (and the vegans) with thank you for it.