How to be a Vegan without eating vegan: The ultimate guide to Vegan Clothing

Veganism is not only about food. It’s about the way we dress and all products that we use that come from animal origins. Fashion designers are rethinking the way products are done, by creating innovative and sustainable solutions to old materials such as leather, suede, wool, shearling, silk and fur.

But… How can I be vegan without eating vegan? 

You can dress vegan. The individual carbon footprint is not only related to meat and animal-based diet, it’s also related to our clothes: and your wardrobe can be part of the change.

Every year, around 3.8 billion cows and other bovine animals, sheep and goats are used for leather production¹, that’s the same volume of 4.000 Empire State Buildings, and the same of 3800 cargo ships in mass!²

The production of leather also consumes high quantities of water and the wastewater can be a contaminant, often with heavy pollutant load.³ The use of animals for the production of textile manufacturing also accelerate other environmental impacts such as climate change and water scarcity.⁴

Our vegan wardrobes in this sense are the starting point of a revolution.

The vegan bloom

Innovation and empathy for animals are changing the fashion industry. The increasing number of vegan customers keeps increasing, so the textile industry is adapting and stepping up to cruelty-free options.

There are several incredible materials that can be used in the production of vegan fabric, pineapple fibers, for example, generates piñatex”, a resistant fabric similar to leather also known as “vegan leather”.

The pineapples leaves pass through an industrial process that transforms them into pineapple fabric, fertilizers are not needed and the material that was initially waste now can be used to generate income! A perfect example of a circular economy.

The Portuguese fashion brand NAE, use piñatex as material for shoes and offers a vegan alternative for customers seeking for high-quality shoes.

Example of “piñatex” or vegan leather made of pineapple.
Source: NAE Vegan Shoes.

The vegan brand DUUO also offers vegan options for shoes. The brand works with sustainable materials like organic cotton and recycled materials such as plastic bottles. It’s a great option for those committed to the environment and for those looking for stylish shoes.

Vegan shoes DUUO. Source: DUUO vegan shoes.

Another material that can be used to replace the leather, is the eco-friendly vegan leather made from wine industry leftovers. In Lombardia, Italy, the enterprise VEGEA created a solution to animal leather. The bio-material made from grapes can be used for fashion, furniture, packaging and even in automobiles interior.

Example of vegan leather made of wine industry leftovers. Source: VEGEA Company.

And what about clothing?

Hemp fibers. 

Yes, you did not read wrong. Hemp is one perfect example of sustainable and vegan material to produce textile fabric. The material was already used in the Neolithic and Bronze Ages as a prehistoric textile and it’s a sustainable option to produce clothes. 

Pure hemp has a texture similar to linen, which is also another vegan sustainable material used for clothing.

Photo by S O C I A L . C U T on Unsplash

Cork

The same used on wine bottles. It’s produced generally in Iberian Peninsula (Portugal and Spain) and can be used as flat material and fabric as well. Cork comes from vegetable sources, the skin of the Cork Oak is used to produce the fabric. Every 9 years you can harvest and collect cork and this process does not damage the trees.

Photo by Clem Around The Corner on Unsplash

Bamboo

Known for its low environmental impact, bamboo is a plant that grows fast and do not need pesticides. The bamboo fiber provides softness to fabrics and are a perfect example of vegan material.

Mushroom leather

The material is similar to animal leather in terms of texture and softness. It’s hypoallergenic and made of renewable sources.

Are those materials really sustainable? 

When materials come from renewable sources such as mushroom leather, or even when waste is used as material such as the “piñatex” and the wine leftover leather, the answer is yes

Those are examples of circular economy business models: the take-make-waste linear industrial model is no longer sustainable. Circular fashion is transforming the system of waste into a regenerative model where trash does not exist. 

Plant-based materials are one excellent choice when compared to petroleum-based vegan materials. It means that plant-based materials come from renewable sources and are biodegradable or even compostable. If you are aiming to reduce your plastic footprint, plant-based textiles might be for you. 

Look for the label

It is not because one material does not come from animal origins that it is perfect. When buying a vegan product, don’t forget to look at the labels of organic and sustainable agriculture. 

Today, less than 20% of cotton is grown in a way that actively protects people and the environment.⁶ According to the Circular Fibers Initiative of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, for the production of 1kg of cotton, 3 kg of chemicals are used. 

Many enterprises seek to be transparent with their customers providing information about the plantation methods. Eco-labels are a good way to inform consumers about the source of their products. Labels are informative and empower consumers to understand how goods are produced, labels promote waste reduction, recycling and energy efficiency for example.

Social change

The fashion industry has the opportunity to create social change for millions of people around the globe. It’s one opportunity to improve how we see waste and improve our vision of sustainable materials.

It is true that a vegan diet can help to fight climate change and can reduce your environmental footprint. But there are several ways to be sustainable and if a vegan diet isn’t for you yet, start with your wardrobe instead.

Better materials exist to prove that we can design fashion in a better way, even supporting new business models. 

For each fabric, there is a vegan alternative. 

For each alternative, there is a sustainable solution!

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Sources:

¹ http://www.fao.org/economic/est/est-commodities/hides-%20skins/en/

² Account: Assuming the cow’s width is 0.8 meters, length, 1.6 m and neck height of 0.9 m. The volume of the Empire State Building is 37.000000 cubic feet and the weight of a cargo ship is 56.4763 tons. 

³https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S027312239900390X

https://globalfashionagenda.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Pulse-of-the-Fashion-Industry_2017.pdf

https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/our-work/activities/make-fashion-circular/report

 ⁶ http://stories.bettercotton.com/2018-AnnualReport/index.html

Ana Vitória De Magalhães
Ana Vitoria is a Brazilian living in Lisbon, environmental activist and idealist of Ocean Immersion Program and Mais Planeta Blog. She is today writer for Uptous Magazine and advocates defending ocean protection, the transition to a circular economy and new business models that can ensure sustainable development, social equity and female empowerment.