But, what about vegan fashion? And more importantly, if you don't eat a vegan diet, why would you possibly care about vegan fashion?
Good question. Once you learn more about vegan fashion, you might feel a little differently about carrying around that leather purse—no matter how amazing it looks with your angora sweater and suede shoes.
Vegan fashion is clothing that's 100% “cruelty-free.” In other words, no fur, leather, feathers, wool, or any other animal-based fibers are used.
But, vegan fashion is also incredibly important when considering, not only animal welfare but the negative environmental impact of animal agriculture and the fur trade.
In fact, animal agriculture is a leading cause of global warming and the single leading cause of deforestation worldwide. It has become so unstable that the beef (and leather) industry is predicted to fully collapse by 2030.
So, whether you believe in vegan fashion for the love of animals, or want to reduce your environmental impact, it's a lifestyle choice that will change your relationship with what you wear.
The Problem with WoolYou may imagine that wool is sourced from happy sheep grazing in a lush open field, underneath the shadow of picturesque mountains. In reality, most sheep raised for wool are subjected to shockingly cruel treatments.
You may also believe that shearing sheep is no different than getting a haircut. But undercover investigations have revealed systematic cruelty. Shearers are paid by volume, not hourly, so they often rush the shearing process, scraping and cutting the sheep’s skin. If the sheep struggles—and of course they will—shearers have been known to beat them, sometimes even breaking their necks.
Many Australian sheep undergo a painful and largely ineffective procedure called mulesing in which flesh is cut from the animal’s buttocks, often without anesthetic. This procedure is used to prevent flystrike, which is a common problem in the hot Australian climate.
In addition, lambs are often sheared during the colder months, and without their fleece, millions die yearly of exposure.
The Problem with Leather
Let’s talk leather.
Animal leather that is marketed as “sustainable” is hypocritical at best, dangerously misinformed at worst.
Brands label leather as “eco” when it is sourced as a by-product of the meat industry. The truth is, any farm-raised leather holds countless environmental problems including the water used to feed the cows and the land destroyed to raise them.
Even if the leather is a by-product of the meat industry, it was likely sourced from a factory farm. According to the EPA, factory farms account for 70% of the current water pollution in the U.S. and emit 130 metric tons of carbon dioxide globally every year.
To put that number in perspective, that's the amount of pollution emitted from 30 million vehicles per year.
It's also good to know that leather is a profitable resource, not simply a by-product of the meat industry.
Animal hides are marketed as a way to lessen waste but in reality, they are a great way to boost slaughterhouse profits. Leather accounts for approximately 10% of the animal’s total value, making it the most valuable part, pound for pound.
The Problem with Silk
Silk has been touted as a luxury fabric for thousands of years.
To create a pound of silk, roughly 2,500 - 3,000 silkworms are boiled alive. If you believe all animals, large or small, should not suffer or die for fashion, it's worth factoring into your purchasing decisions.
In addition, silk is not a local resource and the vast majority of it comes from India and China where the processing and transporting leads to significant carbon emissions. The major environmental concerns in silk production are the chemical pesticides used for the cultivation of mulberry trees and the pollution generated by the wastewater released in the degumming process.
The Problem with Down
Although down has a low carbon footprint, if you love our feathered friends, there are some troublesome facts about the down industry.
Since farmers have to meet large demands, and because, like fur or hair, feathers grow back, most down is obtained by live-plucking. This is a very painful process that sometimes causes the birds to accidentally break their limbs as they struggle to escape.
PETA estimates that a single farm can undertake close to 250,000 live pluckings a year. They also found that some suppliers certified by the Responsible Down Standard (RDS) are still sourcing live-plucked down. More concerning is that up to 80% of the world’s down is produced in China, a country that currently has no animal welfare laws in place.
The Problem with Fur and Exotic Animal Skins
Animals including rabbits, minks, goats, foxes, crocodiles, alpacas, llamas, and even dogs and cats are in high demand in the fashion industry.
Their fur and skins are used to make a variety of what’s marketed as ‘luxurious’ clothing.
Although fur become taboo for a short time in the '90s, it has recently experienced a comeback on catwalks and red carpets.
Animals Australia found that 85% of the fur industry’s skins come from animals raised in battery cages in fur farms, where animals are deprived of any sort of quality of life.
In fur farms, animals are often killed through beating, gassing, and electrocution. It is even common practice in China to skin animals alive.
The World Society for the Protection of Animals revealed that up to 80% of fur is produced in China, a country that has no animal welfare legislation and protection laws. Fur that is not produced in fur farms is obtained either by trapping or killing wild animals.
Although often considered a more ‘natural’ and ‘humane’ method of acquiring fur, trapping is highly distressing and painful for animals.
What Can We Do?
The good news is that there are plenty of vegan options in the fashion world.
The better news is that many of these options are just as stylish and often better quality than fabrics made from animals.
Environmentally-friendly alternatives for animal fibers include Tencel, organic cotton, bamboo, hemp, soybeans, linen, and recycled fibers.
What we buy will continue to shape the fashion world for the better. In all the commotion of a changing industry, the more informed we are, the more likely it is that we will stand together to help end the exploitation of humans and non-humans while protecting our planet.
This is better for us because it shows the compassion in our humanity, better for the animals that no longer have to suffer for greenwashed vanity, and better for the world as we work to protect our precious environment.