By Sica Schmitz
Founder of Bead & Reel, frequent speaker, writer, and sustainable stylist.
Vegan fashion is on the rise as more and more designers make gorgeous, animal-free options so easily available and it seems that there’s never been a better time to grab faux leather boots and cork leather bags and silks made of bamboo and soy. Hurray!
But what exactly is vegan fashion?
Veganism is defined as a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.
SOME VEGAN FIBERS TO LOOK FOR
But first, what’s the difference between a fabric and a fiber? When you read a garment label it will include information on the fiber content. Fibers are the base material that a fabric is made from (like the options below), and a fabric is what the fibers can become through different weaves, knits, and blends (things like velvets, crepes, georgettes, fleece, etc.).
- Cotton: a soft, breathable fiber from the cotton plant, it is perhaps one of the most common vegan fabrics
- Hemp: a tough, coarse fiber from the cannabis plant that can be softened through chemical processing
- Linen: a breathable, absorbent (though easily wrinkled) fiber from the flax plant
- Viscose (also called Rayon): made from natural fibers which are chemically converted into a silky fabric
- Bamboo: a type of viscose made from the bamboo plant
- Soy: a type of viscose made from soy by-products
- Modal: a type of viscose made from beech trees
- Lyocell (also called by the brand name Tencel): a type of viscose made from eucalyptus in a closed loop process
- Spandex (also called Lycra or elastane): a stretchy material made from a polyurethane polymer
- Nylon: a versatile and common synthetic fiber made from plastic polymer (new or recycled)
- Polyester: a mixture of coal, petroleum, air and water (or recycled polyester)
COMMON VEGAN LEATHERS
- PVC (Polyvinylchloride): also commonly referred to as vinyl, it is a flexible and popular plastic used in vegan fashion
- PU (Polyurethane): considered the “greener” alternative to PVC since it requires less chemical plasticizers and will eventually degrade over time. While more expensive, it also tends to be more realistic and more breathable
- Pineapple Leather (also called Piñatex®): a semi-synthetic leather alternative made from pineapple leaves and resin
- Cork: soft to the touch and visually unique, this material is created with bark removed from the cork oak tree
OTHER VEGAN ALTERNATIVES
- Vegan down: usually made from synthetic materials
- Vegan fur: usually made from synthetic materials
- Vegan silk: can be made from a variety of synthetic and semi-synthetic materials
SOME ANIMAL FABRICS TO AVOID
- Skins: leather, suede, fur
- Furs & Feathers: angora, cashmere, fur, lambswool, mohair, wool, down, feathers
- Other Body Parts: bone, silk, lanolin
AN UNCOMMON TIP FOR TRULY VEGAN FASHION
For me, the humane treatment of people absolutely has to be included in how something was made for it to be defined as vegan fashion. By the definition of veganism, selling a faux leather jacket made by underpaid workers or forced labor is no more vegan than selling a jacket made from animal skins.
If we’re going to strive towards an ideal of veganism meaning it excludes exploitation then we must include consideration for animals, people, and our planet. Everything else is just animal-free fashion, and that’s a good start but I know we can do better.
Veganism is an aspiration. You may take small steps and end up with a few additional vegan pieces but never a vegan wardrobe – and that still makes a difference. You may decide to transition your whole wardrobe and that may take quite a long time – which is okay. You may accidentally buy something or be given a gift that isn’t vegan – don’t stress about it.
Life is complex and challenging enough, so you don’t need to make your closet a source of anxiety.
Just do your best. That’s what ultimately matters.
Also read: SO, WHAT IS THE MOST SUSTAINABLE FABRIC?