May 25, 2020
Vegan Fashion: Choosing Alternatives to Animal Materials in Clothing
Ever since the textile and fashion industry has been around, it has seen the widespread use of animal-derived materials such as wool, silk and leather in its products. However, using these materials has led to cruel and wasteful exploitation of these animals and the destruction of their habitats.
It also plays a major role in climate change and in polluting our atmosphere and water bodies. Thankfully, a growing number of brands and consumers are adopting cruelty-free alternative materials that are natural, versatile and long-lasting. Let’s take a closer look at the use of animal materials in fashion and their vegan and eco-friendly alternatives.
Animal Use in the Fashion Industry: A Closer Look.
The demand for animal materials in fashion has led to inhumane practices in the animal husbandry industry. Large farms have sprung up over the years where the animals are raised in deplorable conditions and subjected to cruel, unethical methods of extraction. A lot of the fabrics people use in their everyday lives come from animals:
Silk is derived from silkworms that usually are boiled alive in their cocoons to produce the long strands suitable for weaving scarves, shirts, and dresses.
The Wool industry uses genetically altered sheep with loose skin, which generates more wool but leaves the animal in an extremely unhygienic state and unprotected from cold conditions. Other animals like rabbits have wool ripped straight from them when alive and restrained for making fabrics like angora, mohair, and cashmere.
Down (or feathers, used in inner linings jackets or pillows) is plucked out straight from live birds like geese, as they can be de-feathered multiple times during their lifetime, but the birds suffer immense pain, and often bleed from their injuries.
Fur is extracted from small animals like the Fox, Rabbits, Cats, and Chinchillas. They are raised in small wire cages and subjected to extreme forms of slaughter to protect their pelts. Electrocution and gas poisoning are common. Wild animals are also captured using inhumane methods like leghold traps and often left abandoned for days before trappers return to shoot or bludgeon these dehydrated, famished animals. The UK has banned the use of fur since 2000.
The Leather industry is one of the highest polluters on Earth. Huge livestock farms are sources of toxic greenhouse gases like Methane and Carbon Dioxide that are generated by the over-fed cows, sheep and goats and the process of making the leather itself. Young animals, like calves, and lambs are killed for so-called higher quality leather products. Lots of wild animals like elephants, alligators, seals and zebras are raised in captivity and slaughtered for their skins.
Clothing dyes like carmine(red) are made from Carminic Acid, extracted from the bodies and eggs of insects called Cochineal (beetles). Industrial-level abuse of this practice has led to major destruction of their habitats in places like Peru.
Cruelty-Free Fashion: What Clothing Materials are Vegan?
You’ll be glad to know that there are several cruelty-free alternatives available to animal-derived fibers. Some of them are already widely used and a lot of innovation is being done to come up with newer, more versatile materials. Here are some options that are currently available:
Organic blended cotton has a carbon footprint 3 times lower than that of cow leather and it uses a lot less water for processing. The seaweed-blended Seacell, already in use by major brands, is breathable, and ideal for humid weather. It can remineralise skin and has none of the itchiness caused by wool.
Bamboo fabric, made from the pulp of bamboo grass, is one of the most eco-friendly fibres known to man. It is anti-bacterial and hypo-allergenic and naturally protects your skin from UV rays (making it literally cool).
Linen, made from flax plants, is one of the oldest fabrics used since ancient times. It has recently been re-popularised as a viable, sustainable and vegan alternative to wool.
Rayon, Nylon, Polyester are popular man-made fibres that are blended with natural fabrics like cotton to enhance their strength and longevity. Clothes and accessories made from recycled polyester are also becoming increasingly common.
How You Can Support Vegan-Friendly Fashion
The British Retail Consortium (BRC), UK’s leading trade association, has recently laid down guidelines for what products can be labelled vegan. Businesses are instructed to examine all their ingredients including minor additives like dyes, waxes and glues for animal sources. While such associations do their bit to enforce standards against animal-cruelty, we as a consumer have to do our bit by:
Rejecting brands that make animal-derived clothing. A good indicator is if the product isn’t machine washable, then it’s probably an animal product as they can’t withstand machine washes, unlike modern materials which are designed for it.
Support vegan materials. When buying something like faux fur, make note that real fur often feels like hair, whereas faux fur might feel more even and dense, like a carpet.
Inspect blended materials properly. Often, most blended fabrics have some element of wool or silk (up to 25%) making them non-vegan. It is also a good idea to check small additions on the clothes like zippers, patches or buttons, that may be made from leather or mother of pearl.
Buy from local, vegan shops. Local businesses are mostly able to cater to vegan preferences as they source their fabrics from nearby, reliable suppliers. While this option may not be fit for everyone’s budget, it always pays to support your local businesses.