Does sustainable fashion need to be vegan?

Your Guide To Sustainability: Explore Fashion

10 october  '22

Reading time: 8 minutes

As we’re approaching sustainable fashion, there’s always a question unanswered: does sustainable fashion need to be vegan? Let’s find out what vegan fashion means and its link with sustainable practices.

Words by Shruti Gadkari

Be it shoes, accessories, bags or clothes, vegan fashion is made by adopting means that use materials that do not jeopardize the lives of the animals.

Picture by Designecologic

Fashion is an integral part of our lives, and we know why. It makes us see what we are thorough. While in today’s Instagram world, where we stand out based on our choices, many of us believe there is a better way to do this by making an environmentally healthy approach. There comes the thought of sustainable, fair and vegan fashion. 

People have integrated their perspectives into every aspect of their lives, food, clothes, shoes, bags, and now, vegan fashion. Who doesn’t want multiple pairs of eyes on them while walking on the streets on a typical day to work? Well, yes, why do fashion just to work when you can do it anytime! There has always been an unavoidable subject, “vegan”. Earlier, it was a matter of our diet, but now, it is also a matter of fashion ethics. 

So, what is vegan fashion?

It simply means fashion which is created without harming animals. Be it shoes, accessories, bags or clothes, vegan fashion is made by adopting means that use materials that do not jeopardize the lives of the animals. 

The fashion industry has always been cruel to animals, but times are changing, and we are evolving as better humans. Based on several explanations, clothing is primarily vegan if it is free of wool, leather and fur, but also horn, felt, down, mother-of-pearl and silk. It is essential to consider the little things, such as the brand patch on a pair of jeans, which is usually made of leather. 

To our benefit, veganism may not only save millions of animal lives but may also save a massive amount of freshwater, which could avert the emissions of greenhouse gasses. Not only that, but it could also reduce the spread of chemicals in our soils. Whether for the love of animals, environmental reasons or maybe for health reasons, it could be a fantastic way to make an impact by choosing vegan fashion and a sustainable lifestyle.

Be it shoes, accessories, bags or clothes, vegan fashion is made by adopting means that use materials that do not jeopardize the lives of the animals.

Picture by Jingwen Yang

Is vegan and sustainable the same?

Vegan-labeled items should provide an alternative to something traditionally made with animal products – but it doesn’t mean it is environmentally friendly. Fashion should, therefore, only be considered genuinely vegan when it excludes animal products and is pretty produced and holistically eco-friendly. To understand this better, let us look into the facts. Polyvinyl chloride, commonly known as PVC, is vegan but a toxic material that impacts the environment and fuels global warming, as 43% of PVC comes from petroleum feedback. On the other hand, rayon and polyester successfully gave up silk as a ‘cruelty-free’ alternative. Still, rayon production is so toxic that it can no longer be produced in some countries. 

Some vegan alternatives proclaiming to be ethical and sustainable have some side effects that are not good for the environment and the wild animals. Sustainable fashion wants to reduce the environmental impact of clothing by creating the smallest carbon footprint possible when making a garment, paying particular attention to the quality and the production system. Producing vegan fashion could be as harmful to the natural environment as traditional fashion and, therefore, may not be ethical. However, several bio-based materials and plant-based silk, wool and leather alternatives are sustainable in many ways. We hope that these truly vegan alternatives are massively successful.

Be it shoes, accessories, bags or clothes, vegan fashion is made by adopting means that use materials that do not jeopardize the lives of the animals.

Picture by Anete Lusina

Is the fashion industry “booming” or “boo” -ing?

Fashion production makes up 10% of humanity’s carbon emissions, dries up water sources, and pollutes rivers and streams. Moreover, according to UNICEF, 85% of all textiles go to the dump each year, and washing some types of clothes sends a significant amount of microplastics into the ocean. Fashion has been making a considerable contribution in terms of warming the planet. With a heavy heart to admit, we fashion lovers need to endure the bitter truth about it. The ever-controversial fashion industry was responsible for 2.1 billion metric tons of GreenHouse Gas (GHG) emissions in 2018, says McKinsey Fashion on Climate report. 

Not only that, the fashion industry’s annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions equal the annual emissions from the economies of France, Germany, and the UK combined. The Higg MSI index, developed by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, is a tool to compare different fabrics in terms of sustainability based on scientific and industry data. It measures other environmental impacts like GHG emissions, water scarcity, eutrophication, and chemicals and normalizes the values to a single score. According to this index, silk, wool, and leather are, on average, the three most polluting materials, all of animal origin. These measures are already high without even considering animal husbandry or farming. Again, this is an average score, and the environmental impact can differ depending on the production processes.

The leather controversy

Reaching zero GHG emissions will require far-reaching changes in human activity, which in fashion includes changing how we produce clothes and consume them. More than ever before, we need to sit up and acknowledge our accountability. A closer look at vegan leather is a much-discussed topic regarding its sustainability. However, based on scientific studies, synthetic leather has a much lower environmental impact than conventional leather. Depending on the study model, animal leather has 2 to 6 times the ecological impact of synthetic leather. According to the HIGG material index, both industry and academic data, leather has 5.5 times the environmental impact as polyurethane-based leather

An excellent example of a vegan product is pineapple leather. This could act as an alternative to animal leather. Its production is theoretically more ethical and environmentally friendly. Luckily, plant-based leather alternatives are improving by the day! You can now find vegan leather made from grapes, cacti, and mushrooms. Mushroom leather is proving to be an up-and-coming leather alternative and is even being used for shoes and handbags by brands like Hermés and Adidas.

Be it shoes, accessories, bags or clothes, vegan fashion is made by adopting means that use materials that do not jeopardize the lives of the animals.

Picture by SevenStorm JUHASZIMRUS

How to support vegan and sustainable fashion?

To look for the PETA-approved vegan certification on the label or website is a wise step toward contributing to ending animal cruelty. Being a Vegan, make sure to see if the material composition includes any animal-derived fabrics like wool, leather, fur, alpaca, silk, or down feathers on the label. Speaking of labels, shoes have a specific classification system in Germany. In contrast to many beliefs, animal leather coated with more than 1/3 of the total thickness is not declared leather but a synthetic material. 

Paying attention to the details is now a conscious effort because buttons could be made from horn, and, as discussed before, patches on jeans could be made of leather. By-products like glue and color dyes are usually skipped to look out for. To begin with, messaging the brand to get more information is a way to say hello to a great new shopping experience. People have contributed to society by making environmentally and ethically positive sustainable fashion. An example would be the use of spiders’ silk inspired fibers which are artificial and biodegradable. This revolutionary discovery supports sustainability and promotes the ethics of fashion. Doing so is acceptably beneficial, and the good part? Well, every effort counts and one step every day to a sincere approach is one step closer to a healthy lifestyle.

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