Is Vegan-Friendly Fashion Actually Bad For The Planet?

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It can seem that buying fashion these days has become far more complicated than in the past. Everywhere you look there are articles about eco-friendly fashion, fast fashion, sustainable fashion, and the newest trend; 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 wrong. If something is labeled vegan does it automatically mean that it is good?

It could be that while you are trying to spend your money wisely, you are actually doing more damage than you could realize.

Here is a look at vegan fashion and whether it is good for people, animals, and the planet, or whether it is causing more damage than you know. 

What is vegan fashion?

The term vegan fashion was coined to describe clothing and accessories that have come from cruelty-free sources. Any garment labeled vegan must be free from any animal products and the manufacturing process should not have harmed any animals. 

In theory, vegan fashion is an admirable idea. Anything that is cruelty-free and avoids harming animals should be lauded. However, the word vegan can be applied to many things that hurt 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 bad for the environment. An unscrupulous retailer can happily, and legally, put a vegan-friendly sticker onto a handbag that is partly made from plastic.

Plastic often contains animal products but because it is not food, the materials and ingredients do not need to be listed. Someone could easily buy a product trusting the vegan label and end up with an item that will probably end up with the other 79% of plastic products in a landfill somewhere.

The main reason that vegan fashion can be harmful is the materials used. Understanding how certain materials are manufactured and if they are sustainable is the key to buying vegan clothing correctly. 

Understanding the materials used in vegan fashion

A comprehensive guide to leading a vegan lifestyle should have a section in it about the materials used in creating fashion. Unfortunately, many vegan guides concentrate on letting the individual know what is vegan, but not what is good for the planet.

Take the following list of vegan materials:

  • Cotton
  • Hemp
  • Bamboo viscose
  • Rayon
  • Polyester
  • Lycra
  • Linen
  • Tencel
  • Faux fur
  • Microfiber
  • Seacell
  • Soya fabric
  • Nylon
  • Acrylic

 This list is not exhaustive but it will give you a good idea of common materials used today. All of these are vegan friendly, but how many of them are harmful to humans, animal life, and the planet? How many are sustainable? 

Cotton, especially organic cotton, is a common choice for vegans. It is an easy choice to make as everyone knows cotton is vegan. Finding a brand that looks after their cotton farmers and uses no pesticides should be a win-win situation. The problem though is cotton uses a lot of water. In fact, around 2,700 liters of water are used to make enough cotton for just one t-shirt, according to the World Wildlife Foundation. 

What are the worst materials used in vegan clothing, and why?

One of the biggest culprits is rayon or viscose. This synthetic material was originally developed to replace silk and is often labeled as made from natural fibers. Indeed, rayon is made from cotton, wood, or bamboo, but it is far from natural.

Rayon is typically made from wood pulp that has to go through a number of processes involving toxic chemicals including sodium hydroxide, carbon disulfide, and sulphuric acid. The process of manufacturing cellulose which is 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 have even been known to go insane due to the effects of the toxic chemicals.

Consumers should also be aware as there is evidence that rayon clothing can cause vomiting, nausea, insomnia, and chest pains. Then there is the price to the planet and wildlife.

Rayon production often means old-growth trees being cut down in rainforests that are already receding at an alarming rate. Buying vegan-friendly rayon or viscose products could be killing more wildlife than you can imagine. Eco-systems are being threatened by the manufacture of synthetic materials. 

How to avoid the bad materials and choose good vegan fashion

When it comes to making purchases you will need to be aware of what the most sustainable vegan materials are. Hemp and linen are both good choices, with hemp being one of the best options there is.

When you are shopping, take time to check the hang tags on an item to see if there is any extra information about how the garment was made. Companies such as The Dutch Label Shop manufacture hang tags for many fashion ranges and they can be invaluable to the consumer. 

Organic linen is a better choice than cotton as less water is used to produce the material. Organic hemp is even better and is incredibly sustainable compared to other choices. Tencel is a better alternative than rayon and although it is made from cellulose, all the wood pulp comes from sustainable sources. The chemical process is less harsh and a closed-loop system is used to protect the environment.

Bamboo has become a buzzword when talking about sustainability and its use in certain areas is to be recommended. However, when it comes to creating fabric it is about as bad as rayon. To turn bamboo into a soft fabric it will have to go through the same process as rayon or viscose does and that causes harm to the workers and the environment. 

Choosing the right retailer

Fortunately, there are many great vegan fashion brands on the market and they can steer you in the right direction. Hemp Tailor, Noize, and Mashu are just three brands that are supplying 100% vegan clothing that is made sustainably.

 Small vegan brands will use customized labels for clothing that show all the important information that you need so be sure to check these out. Look for and ask about the dyes used in any garment you are interested in. It is easy to overlook small details and find out that your new shirt isn’t as vegan as you hoped.

Dyeing causes around 20% of all waste water in the world, and some dyes are made from animal products so it is an area to be aware of. Small retailers and online stores should be able to advise you on their manufacturing processes and what was used to create their fashion range. 

Summary

Vegan fashion is definitely a force for good in the world but it depends on what materials are used. Most people these days understand why they should be moving away from fast fashion but they perhaps not as clued-up on what materials are sustainable and what damage fabrics such as rayon are doing to the planet. 

If factories stop producing rayon and turn to better materials then the lives of people working and living near them will be safer and healthier. By choosing your vegan clothing wisely and learning more about the different materials you will be helping to improve the planet and production will turn towards better and safer materials.