Is vegan fashion really bad for the planet?
It may seem that shopping for fashion nowadays has become a lot more complicated than in the past. Everywhere you look you’ll find articles on green fashion, fast fashion, sustainable fashion and the latest trends; vegan fashion.
While the majority of people would like to make informed, conscious decisions that are good for the planet, it can be difficult to know what is right and what is not. If something is labeled vegan, does that automatically mean it’s good?
It could be that while you try to spend your money wisely, you are actually doing more damage than you could possibly realize.
Here’s a look at vegan fashion and whether it’s good for people, animals, and the planet, or if it causes more damage than you might think.
What is vegan fashion?
The term vegan fashion was coined to describe clothing and accessories sourced from cruelty-free sources. Any clothing labeled vegan must be free of any animal products and the manufacturing process must not have harmed any animals.
In theory, vegan fashion is an admirable idea. Anything that is humane and avoids harming animals is to be praised. However, the word vegan can be applied to many things that harm the planet, humans, and other living creatures.
How could vegan fashion be harmful?
The term vegan can be applied to a range of materials that are harmful to the environment. An unscrupulous retailer can easily and legally put a vegan sticker on a partly plastic purse.
Plastic often contains animal products, but since it is not food, the materials and ingredients do not need to be listed. Someone could easily buy a product that trusted the vegan label and end up with an item that will likely end up with the remaining 79% plastic product in a landfill somewhere.
The main reason vegan fashion can be harmful is in the materials used. Understanding how certain materials are made and whether they are sustainable is key to buying vegan clothing properly.
Understanding the materials used in vegan fashion
A complete guide to leading a vegan lifestyle should contain a section on the materials used to create the fashion. Unfortunately, many vegan guides focus on letting the individual know what is vegan, but not what is good for the planet.
Take the following list of vegan materials:
- Bamboo viscose
- Fake fur
- Marine cell
- Soybean fabric
This list is not exhaustive, but it will give you a good idea of the materials in common use today. All of these products are suitable for vegans, but how many of them are harmful to humans, animal life and the planet? How many are durable?
Cotton, especially organic cotton, is a popular choice for vegans. It’s an easy choice to make because everyone knows cotton is vegan. Finding a brand that takes care of their cotton growers and doesn’t use pesticides should be a win-win situation. The problem is that cotton uses a lot of water. In fact, about 2,700 liters of water are used to make enough cotton for a single t-shirt, according to the World Conservation Foundation.
What are the worst materials used in vegan clothing, and why?
One of the main culprits is rayon or viscose. This synthetic material was originally developed to replace silk and is often labeled as being made from natural fibers. This is because rayon is made from cotton, wood or bamboo, but it is far from natural.
Rayon is typically made from wood pulp which must undergo a number of processes involving toxic chemicals, including sodium hydroxide, carbon disulphide, and sulfuric acid. The manufacturing process of the cellulose needed to make rayon leads to high levels of pollution. Carbon disulfide has been linked to birth defects, cancer, and heart disease. Workers in these factories are even known to go mad because of the effects of toxic chemicals.
Consumers should also be aware, as there is evidence that rayon clothing can cause vomiting, nausea, insomnia, and chest pain. Then there is the price to pay for the planet and the wildlife.
Rayon production often means cutting down old trees in tropical rainforests that are already receding at alarming rates. Buying vegan-friendly rayon or viscose products might kill more wildlife than you might imagine. Ecosystems are threatened by the manufacture of synthetic materials.
How to avoid the wrong materials and choose the right vegan fashion
When it comes to shopping, you need to know what the most sustainable vegan materials are. Both hemp and flax are good choices, with hemp being one of the better options.
When shopping, take the time to check the hang tags on an item to see if there is any additional information about how the garment was made. Companies such as The Dutch label shop make hang tags for many fashion lines and they can be invaluable to the consumer.
Organic linen is a better choice than cotton because less water is used to produce the material. Organic hemp is even better and incredibly sustainable compared to other choices. Tencel is a better alternative to rayon and although it is made from cellulose, all wood pulp comes from sustainable sources. The chemical process is less aggressive and a closed loop system is used to protect the environment.
Bamboo has become a buzzword when it comes to sustainability and its use in certain areas is to be recommended. However, when it comes to creating fabric, it’s about as bad as rayon. To transform bamboo into a soft fabric, it will have to undergo the same process as rayon or viscose and which causes damage to workers and the environment.
Choose the right retailer
Fortunately, there are many great vegan fashion brands out there and they can point you in the right direction. Hemp Tailor, Noize and Mashu are just three brands that provide 100% vegan clothing made in a sustainable manner.
Small vegan brands will use custom labels for clothing that show all the important information you need, so be sure to check them out. Research and educate yourself on the dyes used in any garment that interests you. It’s easy to overlook the little details and find that your new shirt isn’t as vegan as you might hope.
Tincture is the source of about 20% of all wastewater in the world, and some tinctures are made from animal products, so this is an area to be aware of. Small retailers and online stores should be able to advise you on their manufacturing processes and what has been used to create their fashion line.
Vegan fashion is certainly a force for good in the world, but it depends on the materials used. Nowadays, most people understand why they should move away from fast fashion. but they may not be as familiar with durable materials and the damage fabrics such as rayon do to the planet.
If factories stop producing rayon and switch to better materials, the lives of people working and living nearby will be safer and healthier. By choosing your vegan clothes wisely and learning more about the different materials, you will help improve the planet and production will turn to better and safer materials.