What is vegan fashion?

Clothing made of 100% animal cruelty-free fabrics, such as linen and cotton, is considered vegan-friendly. Picture: Pexels Ava Alexandra

Clothing made of 100% animal cruelty-free fabrics, such as linen and cotton, is considered vegan-friendly. Picture: Pexels Ava Alexandra

Published Nov 14, 2022


Over the last decade, veganism has rapidly become a popular lifestyle choice.

While it’s widely recognised as a dietary preference, it’s filtering into other aspects of life, including the fashion scene.

November is World Vegan Month. A month dedicated to shining a spotlight on the movement and everything it stands for.

Today we turn our focus on veganism in fashion.

What does vegan fashion entail?

Garments and accessories that are 100% animal cruelty-free and do not use any animal-based fibres are considered vegan-friendly.

“Vegan fashion is the future of fashion and sustainable design as it involves an ethical, conscious approach to material innovation,” said South African fashion designer Lara Klawikowski.

South African designer Lara Klawikowski. Picture: Thomas Holder

“Far too often, progress in design is to the detriment of nature. Ethical material innovation is the way forward. I’m fascinated by alternative cruelty-free fabric developments and the creativity of biomimicry,” she added.

“Killing animals for the sake of fashion is unnecessary,” said a lifelong vegetarian and supporter of vegan, fashion designer Stella McCartney.

“We have captured a luxury and richness with our fur-free fur, which is proof to the fashion industry that killing animals for the sake of fashion is unnecessary. We have worked hard to find the perfect alternative, and we have had a really positive reaction. Everyone has been very supportive and encouraging, and it has driven changes in the way that it still looks and feels great – and, even better, is cruelty-free,” the British designer told “Luxury Magazine”.

Stella McCartney. Picture: Luca Bruno AP

In 2021 McCartney released the first-ever wearable garments, a bustier and trousers, made with Mylo, a mycelium-based mushroom leather which she co-developed with biotechnology company Bolt Threads. Both the bustier and trousers are made with recycled scuba nylon and panels of Mylo.

Hermès, the luxury brand best known for its sought-after Birkin bags, has ventured into vegan territory with its Victoria bag. The travel bag will now come in the mushroom-derived leather alternative, Sylvania.

Hermès artistic director Pierre-Alexis Dumas released a statement saying: “With Sylvania, Hermès is at the heart of what it has always been: innovation in the making.”

Chanel has experimented with leather alternatives as well, namely, Piñatex, made from pineapple plant fibres in the fruit’s leaves and stalks. After banning fur and exotic skins in 2018, the French couture house unveiled a gold boater hat made of Piñatex.

The Kering group, owner of brands like Gucci, Balenciaga, Yves Saint Laurent and Alexander McQueen, has partnered with Bolt Threads as well, which means we can expect a line of vegan leather products from these luxury brands in the near future.

As a consumer looking to go vegan with your fashion choices, here is what you need to know about vegan-friendly textiles.

Cotton is basically a vegan’s best friend, as most clothing items can be made using cotton, and many items already are.

Cotton is basically a vegan’s best friend. Picture: Pexels Vie Studio

Beyond cotton, other vegan fibres include linen, polyester, spandex, Lycra, ramie, bamboo, hemp, denim, nylon, rayon, Tyvek, PVC, microfibre, cork, acrylic, viscose and modal.

Materials that always involve animal products are wool, alpaca, cashmere, silk, leather, suede, down, marabou, angora, mohair, stingray, alligator, kangaroo, pashmina, and shearling, and anything with the animal’s name in it (such as lambskin).

Always read clothing labels and inspect products carefully.

Many animal materials need to be dry-cleaned and don’t do well wet or in the dryer, whereas modern synthetics and most plant materials are created for machine washing.

A shirt might be linen or cotton, but the buttons could be of mother-of-pearl.

When thrift shopping, which is considered sustainable, one has to be particularly careful.

Using animal trims and details was more common in the past, so the older it is, the more likely it is to be made from animals.

Even something as small as a leather label on jeans would render that item not vegan-friendly.

On the topic of sustainable fashion, one would assume that vegan fashion is sustainable, but is it really?

While vegan fashion is 100% cruelty-free, sustainable fashion mainly aims to reduce the environmental impact of clothing products.

“The one drawback with vegan materials, although animal-friendly in production, is that they are often made from man-made fibres or synthetic blends. When old vegan clothes eventually find their way to a landfill, the synthetic fibres may be harmful to nature. Designers and consumers need to be conscious of the total impact the clothes they create and/or wear will have on nature,” warned Klawikowski.

Plant-based alternatives, such as Piñatex and Mylo, contain some synthetics, leading to questions about what happens to these materials at the end of their life, considering they’re not biodegradable.

PVC is vegan, but it is a toxic material that affects the environment and fuels global warming as 43% of PVC comes from petroleum feedback.

“If you replace leather with plastic fabrics that come from petroleum, can you claim you are more ecological? If you follow the path of plastic, you end up drilling petroleum,” Sébastien Kopp, co-founder of Veja’s, an eco-conscious sneaker brand, founder told “Vogue”.

Also, rayon and polyester have largely replaced silk as a “cruelty-free” alternative, but rayon production is so toxic that it can no longer occur, for example, in some countries.

Therefore vegan fashion is not always sustainable.

There are, however, fibres that are both vegan- as well as eco-friendly. According to Panaprium, these are fabrics that tick both boxes.

Organic cotton fabric protects the planet, people and animals. It's so much better than conventional cotton because it’s grown organically, without the use of hazardous herbicides, pesticides or fertilisers.

Linen is considered a luxurious fabric and a premium choice for high-end garments. It’s a natural and vegan fabric, bio-based, biodegradable and recyclable.

Hemp is a natural and renewable resource. Hemp plants grow quicker and easier than most trees, with less water and fewer herbicides, pesticides or chemical fertilisers.

Jute is an eco-friendly and cruelty-free fibre used for textile manufacturing and clothing weaving. It's also one of the cheapest natural fabrics and the most widely used globally after cotton.