‘Veganism’ is a notion which has taken the world by storm, not only in the much talked about food sector, but also in the realms of fashion, indicating the rise of the conscious consumer. Although popular media has made vegan food habits a mockery of sorts, translating that concept into the fashion world is more than just a superficial fad meant to gain acceptance among peers.
Vegan fashion is basically clothing and accessories made from cruelty-free sources, i.e., neither are animals harmed in the making process or testing nor are any animal parts used for the development of the product. It is worthy to note that this market, whilst pandering to a niche audience, is being embraced with open arms in the developed nations where the market’s growth is off the charts.
Countries like the US, UK, Germany and France are investing a lot in the vegan market. According to the London-based retail technology company Edited, by the end of January 2019, there was a 5 per cent increase in products described as ‘vegan’ in the UK year over year. While the US may have fallen behind in showing such significant growth with only 11 per cent increase year-on-year, it already harbours a significantly larger assortment of vegan products compared to other markets.
France showed a 12 per cent growth, but the fashion capital Paris’ commitment to become the capital of sustainable fashion by 2024 is bound to increase the offering of vegan products in markets. Another country keeping an eye on this booming segment is Denmark, which has seen a 320 per cent increase in products described as vegan, according to Edited.
Brands toiling for a vegan world
A testament to the rising popularity of vegan fashion, are a number of top brands that have vowed to stay committed to eradicating animal cruelty from their manifestos.
According to Edited, one of the most popular trends is that of vegan shoes which accounted for 32 per cent of the footwear market in the US in 2018, up from 16 per cent in 2017. The UK shoe brands have been a bit sluggish in catching up with the trend, however, vegan footwear accounted for 16 per cent of the total UK market in 2018, up from 15 per cent in 2017.
The luxury sector still has a long way to go when it comes to catering to the vegan market. However, 2018 saw a number of fashion houses pledging to ban fur and exotic skins from their collections, which is a start. Gucci, Chanel, Burberry and Versace are just a few of the major luxury brands which promised to no longer use fur. Whatever trends the luxury market follows, has a way of trickling down to the entire fashion industry, which explains why there was a 41 per cent decline in women’s fur arrivals in 2018 in the UK market alone.
However, luxury is not the only market that has been looking to ring in the change. New Look launched a range of 500 shoes, bags and accessories and is one of the first high street retailers to register products with The Vegan Society’s Vegan Trademark. New Look’s registered products are free of animal-derived components, including any that might be found in fabrics, threads, glues, dyes and treatments. Additionally, they have ensured that the manufacturing process for the products and their materials are free of animal testing. The company has also reportedly committed to register as many of their non-leather goods as possible by changing components and reducing their reliance on animal-derived ingredients.
Another exemplary fashion retailer is Topshop that has joined the trend with its inaugural vegan shoe collection. The PETA-approved vegan footwear range comprises of six styles and features a neutral palette of snakes, croc, nude, toffee, orange, black and white across 12 options. In addition to the vegan footwear, items are packaged in boxes assembled using 100 per cent non-animal and non-fish glue.
PETA has recognised Marks & Spencer for its vegan efforts by awarding the British brand with the ‘Vegan-Friendly High Street Retailer’ title. M&S has broadened its product offerings across both fashion and food to allow vegan-friendly options for customers who follow the lifestyle. The retailer’s Plant Kitchen range offers over 50 vegan food dishes, and in early March 2020, M&S introduced an affordable line of vegan footwear with 350 different styles.
Apart from these well-known names in the fashion sphere, many new labels such as HFS Collective, Delicious California, Beyond Skin and high-end menswear brand Brave GentleMan are striving to increase the credibility of the cause.
Transitioning to the alternatives
It might seem arduous overhauling the entire procedure of manufacturing and procurement that has been around for quite some time, but the conscientious millennial and Gen Z population are the catalysts for facilitating the acceptance of previously marginalised ideas, like veganism. Besides, there is a plethora of options available that are ready to send material that are not animal-friendly into oblivion.
Today, using animal-derived products is harmful not only to animals but also to the wearer. Leather is one of the worst materials for environment as animal skin is turned into finished leather with a variety of much more dangerous substances including mineral salts, formaldehyde, coal-tar derivatives, and various oils, dyes, and finishes—some of them being cyanide-based. Many brands like Zara, Stella McCartney and bebe have turned to high-quality animal-free leather made from many different materials including non-animal microfibres, recycled nylon, polyurethane (PU), and even plants, including mushrooms and fruit, as a healthier alternative.
Instead of wool that is taken from sheep and lamb, vegan shearling and cozy cruelty-free sweaters are the talk of the town lately. Major brands, such as H&M, Nasty Gal, and Zara offer wool-free coats and other animal-friendly clothing, while high-fashion designers including Joshua Katcher of Brave GentleMan and Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart of VAUTE are teaming up with manufacturers to create innovative, high-quality cruelty-free materials. Vegan fabrics made from twill, cotton and recycled polyester (rPET) are just a few of the efficient materials that wick away water, dry faster and are better for the environment than wool.
Faux fur fashion has become the norm for most brands and is widely accepted but there is still a lot of admiration around silk as a rich fabric. However, one does not have to search far and wide for alternatives when it comes to plush material. Nylon, milkweed-pod fibres, silk-cotton tree and ceiba tree filaments, polyester and rayon are animal-free, easy to find, and usually less expensive than silk.
The road ahead
Although a lot has been said and done, for brands to accurately follow the path to veganism, certain rules have to be in place. The British Retail Consortium, the trade body for stores and online sellers in the UK, has laid down new guidelines to ensure that vegan fashions are really 100 per cent free of animal products in response to soaring demand for ethical products.
This is an imperative step as the process of making animal-friendly products is more complex than just eliminating popular materials such as leather, suede and wool. Businesses must examine every material used in a product including ingredients like glues, dyes and waxes.
For the benefit of consumers and companies striving for a wholesome approach to vegan fashion, such guidelines are important. Other countries looking to integrate veganism in retail should focus on guidelines and measures to keep the process transparent and free of uncertainty.
With Los Angeles hosting a successful edition of the Vegan Fashion Week in October 2019 and gearing up for another one in October this year (it was earlier planned for April 2020, but has been postponed owing to the COVID-19 pandemic), it is evident that the acceptance of vegan fashion has transcended stores and closets of customers. Vegan Fashion Week invited industry professionals and fashion enthusiasts to come in and experience this idea in-person at the California Market Center. There, designers from around the world came together to share how they continue to disrupt the industry and push for vegan fashion to become the industry standard.
Similarly, Copenhagen Fashion Week is looking to reduce its overall impact on the environment and has launched a sustainability action plan that will require brands to meet a range of targets or face exclusion from the official show schedule. Brands will have three years to meet the 17 sustainability standards, which include bringing in zero-waste set designs for their shows, pledging not to destroy unsold clothes and using at least 50 per cent organic or recycled textiles in their collections.
While eating ethically has gained widespread acceptance, the clothing market has been a laggard despite current efforts. Ethical fashion spending is only UK £ 50 million, which is a fraction of the US £ 35 billion fashion market (although sales of vintage and second-hand clothing have rocketed).
However, growing concern about the climate crisis and the role played by fast fashion means attitude to consumption is changing fast, particularly among young people. Two-third of 16 to 24 year olds said that they were trying to make more ethical fashion choices than a year ago, according to a poll by the research firm Mintel. This presents a burgeoning opportunity for retailers to tap this vein fast with the changing outlook of the consumer.