April 22 is Earth Day, the day dedicated to the environmental movement and protecting our planet – the day when we all are meant to look over our habits and take action to make the Earth a better place. Fashion has been part of the Earth Day conversation for years since its impact on the environment was uncovered: as one of the most polluting industries on the planet, fashion has a lot to answer for when it comes to environmental protection.
By Sascha Camilli: writer, speaker, activist, and vegan fashion expert.
As it accounts for 5-10% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, the fashion industry is a large-scale contributor to the climate crisis, mainly due to production but also transportation. The current scale of overproduction also means that an enormous amount of clothing is sent to landfill every year.
Fashion is also responsible for approximately 20% of global water pollution, is highly water-intensive, and, if made from animals, can contribute to deforestation and biodiversity loss, not to mention emit even more greenhouse gases. So Earth Day is a time for the fashion industry to reflect on its impact and practices.
Here at Immaculate Vegan, many brands are doing just that. For many, the change starts with the materials they use. Where just a short decade ago, vegan fashion used to mean petroleum-derived textiles such as planet-destroying PVC, these days things have changed completely. Leathers made from plants such as cactus, corn, apples, and pineapples are commonplace among vegan brands such as FRIDA ROME and LUXTRA.
But some labels are taking it one step further by eliminating plastic from their processes. Fruit leather, a step forward as they may be, still contain some degree of petroleum-based plastics such as polyurethane (let's remember that so does animal leather, which is often coated in it). But material innovation is working to change that. Natural Fiber Welding's Mirum, made from plant waxes and oils welded together without any plastic, is a revolution that many vegan brands are exploring. Dutch entrepreneur Melina Bucher, who is pioneering the material with her eponymous handbag brand, says: “As designers, we have a huge responsibility to create products that are good for earth and all living beings. This is why we work with progressive, bio-based materials like Mirum, that are plastic-free. Using materials without synthetics ensures that they can go back to nature as nutrients, being save for water and soil.”
The use of cotton is another issue that many brands are examining. One of the most commonly used materials in fashion, and a mainstay of vegan fashion where it often replaces wool, cotton is responsible for a staggering amount of water use, with some estimates that it may be the largest user of water among all agricultural commodities. Cotton also uses a worryingly high quantity of pesticides and fertilisers, and its cultivation is detrimental to soil quality. To combat this, many fashion brands champion organic cotton. The differences between organic and conventional cotton are significant: as rainwater is often used for irrigation, organic isn't as water-intensive.
Signficantly fewer pesticides and insecticides are also used. Martin Parker, co-founder and creative director of eco-conscious menswear brand Cut & Pin, is enthusiastic about the use of organic cotton: “One of the biggest benefits of using organic is the reduced environmental impact cotton has on our planet. It uses far less water and relies more on rain water and is grown without the harmful chemicals and pesticides that can damage the soil and create air pollution." Sounds like this is one case where organic actually makes a difference.
While recycled materials will not solve fashion's pollution problems on their own, they are a step in the right direction, and companies like V.GAN are making good use of that. “Our slipper collection is made entirely from recycled plastic waste from the oceans,” says co-founder Derrick Hoyle, adding that the linings in their footwear collection are made from the same materials. Accessory and apparel brand Minuit Sur Terre also uses recycled textiles frequently, often using bio-based ingredients such as recycled grain.
Aside from choosing their materials wisely, brands can also make a difference by giving back. Charitable giving is close to the hearts of many Immaculate Vegan brands: V.GAN is pairing up with WWF and other charities for a donation initiative where consumers can choose a charity to support at the time of purchase. Shoe brand A Perfect Jane donates 1% of sales to Melief Animal Sanctuary in the Netherlands, which rescues and gives a home to farm animals once destined for the food industry.
Fashion may not be a friend of the planet (and let's be honest, it's not) but some brands are taking steps to minimise their impact – and by supporting them instead of fast fashion or “luxury” items made from animals, you are part of the change. By only shopping when needed, and choosing wisely, we can go a long way towards making a change.
By Sascha Camilli
Sascha Camilli is a vegan fashion writer, speaker and activist. Her book Vegan Style is out now on Murdoch Books. For more about Sascha, you can read our interview with her or listen to her podcast Catwalk Rebel. You can also follow her on Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.
Cover image by Lina Trochez via Unsplash. Second photo via LUXTRA. Third photo via A Perfect Jane.
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