You might be using this time to make some positive life changes you've always dreamed about – and a vegan lifestyle is an increasingly popular choice for many. However, whilst it's pretty easy to go vegan when it comes to food, when it comes to fashion, beauty and homewares, it's not always that obvious. The great thing is that – with a bit of knowledge – it becomes relatively easy to make simple ethical swaps. Plus those tend to be the most sustainable options out there too, so bonus brownie points to you – you get to feel extra virtuous!
We have lots of Edits for further inspiration, which will help those looking for more ethical and eco-friendly products to make some easy switches.
By Annick Ireland, Founder of Immaculate Vegan
Vegans don't use or wear any animal products, which in fashion commonly include fur, leather, wool and silk.
Whilst fur is seen by most people as a no-go, and has been banned by many brands, unfortunately leather is still commonly used in bags, shoes and accessories.
The truth about animal leather
Leather often described as a 'by-product' of meat and dairy farming. However, it's more accurate to describe it as a co-product – a $400 billion industry, with over one billion animals killed every year for leather alone, and meat and dairy farming economically dependant on leather revenues, which often make the difference between a positive and negative trading margin.
Nearly half of the global leather trade is carried out in developing countries, including China, Brazil and India, where animal rights are almost non-existent, and leather-workers suffer daily exposure to a toxic stew of life-shortening chemicals. Our demand for leather is also a key contributor to the destruction of the Amazon.
In terms of environmental impact, leather has been shown to be the most damaging of all materials used in fashion. A massive study called Pulse of the Fashion Industry (published by Global Fashion Agenda and The Boston Consulting Group) looked at the environmental damage caused by a large range of materials commonly used in fashion, from cradle to grave, and found leather to have the worst environmental impact, more that twice that of PU / polyurethane-based (plastic) leather.
What's the alternative? I believe animal leather in fashion has had its day, and happily there are now many beautiful and high quality vegan leather options out there, including innovative new materials such as plant-based plastics, Apple Leather, Pinatex (made from pineapple leaf fibres) and Cactus Leather. When it comes to aesthetic, colour-absorption and durability, many even outperform animal leather. For more information, you can read our articles What is Vegan Leather Made From – and is it Sustainable? and Everything You've Always Wanted to Know About Vegan Leather.
The range of vegan bags, vegan shoes and vegan accessories on Immaculate Vegan is also testament to the choice now available. You can search by category, or take a look at our Edits for curated inspiration.
The truth about wool
The same Pulse of the Fashion Industry report showed that 3 of the 4 worst materials for the environment, per kilogram, are derived from animals – the top 4 were leather, silk, inorganic cotton and wool. Most of us are brought up to regard animal wool as a 'natural' and 'gentle' material, but the truth is it causes a lot of damage to the envionment, and a lot of suffering to the animals from whom it's taken.
Sheep, much like cows, emit large quantities of methane – a potent greenhouse gas with many times the global warming potential of CO2. Australia and New Zealand are the world's top wool producers, and the sheep present in those countries are among the top contributors to the territories' greenhouse-gas emissions. Wool production also contributes to desertification, deforestation, and topsoil loss.
When it comes to animal welfare, over 100 undercover investigations into 13 sheep-shearing facilities on four continents have shown that cruelty is systemic and pervasive in the trade. The investigative footage, be it from Australia or Argentina, the US or the UK, all show workers hitting, kicking and stomping on sheep – some of the footage was so violent that shearers have actually pled guilty to cruelty to animals in both Scotland and Australia.
Shearers in the wool industry are often underpaid, and are paid by the volume of wool they produce and not the hours they work, meaning that it's in their best interest to work as quickly as possible. When sheep are cut in the process, they are often left bleeding, or sewn up with a needle and thread. And of course, all sheep who are used for wool are sent to slaughter when no longer deemed useful for wool production. The same cruelty issues echo through every knitwear material made from animals, including angora rabbits, mohair goats and alpacas, which are often exploited for more premium fashion items.
What's the alternative? Happily there are lots of alternatives. Our favourite is organic cotton, as it's sustainable (using no pesticides and much less water than inorganic cotton), 100% cruelty free and really soft on the skin.
Animal testing for cosmetics and toiletry products – and their ingredients – is banned in the UK and across the European Union. However, in some countries – China, for example – it is compulsory for any company that sells cosmetics to pay for their products to be tested on animals. That means that a company selling cruelty-free in the UK or Europe may still be testing on animals in China. Also be aware that just because a product is listed as having vegan ingredients, that doesn't necesarily mean it's not been tested on animals.
It can be much harder to avoid animal ingredients in your beauty products, as they're often hidden in long ingredients lists, with names that don't clearly indicate what they are. Common ingredients (and there are many, many more) include: beeswax (used in balms, lotions and make-up); guanine (from fish-scales), found in 'shimmering' make-up; tallow (animal fat) and gelatin (boiled skin, tendons, ligaments and bones of animals), found in make-up; lanolin (the excretion from wool-bearing mammals), found in lipsticks and make-up removers; squaline (from shark livers), used in eye make-up and lipsticks; ambergris (derived from the waxy oil that lines a whale’s stomach), used to make the scent “set” in perfumes; and collagen (fibrous protein from animal tissue), found in moisturisers and lipsticks (which also has no proven effect on our own collagen reproduction). Good sources of information on these include One Green Planet, Public Goods and Ethical Elephant. PETA also has an exhaustive list.
What's the alternative?
- If you want to avoid buying products that have been tested on animals, look out for the Cruelty Free International Leaping Bunny symbol (you'll also see this on household products), PETA’s Cruelty-Free Bunny logo, or the Choose Cruelty-Free Bunny logo in Australia.
- If you want to also avoid supporting any parent companies who still test on animals, this list by PETA will help you know who to steer clear of.
- To additionally avoid products that contain animal ingredients, look for the Vegan symbols such as those from The Vegan Society or PETA.
And of course, all of the beauty products and brands on Immaculate Vegan are 100% cruelty-free, as well as containing only vegan ingredients. So you can shop from all of our Beauty categories, which cover face, body, hair and perfume, without having to check any ingredients, symbols or parent company names!
Vegan Candles & Fragrances
As with Beauty, animal ingredients can sneak their way into these products without you being any the wiser. For example, candles often contain stearic acid (which usually comes from animal fat) or beeswax (often used by high-end candle brands); whilst the fragrances used in perfumes, candles, home sprays and diffusers may contain extracts of milk, honey, leather, beeswax and animal secretions (such as Musk, Civet, Castoreum and Ambergris), which often entail great suffering to the animals involved.
What's the alternative?
- Opt for fragrances derived from natural essential oils, and use brands that tell you where they source their materials.
- Always check the ingredients!
- Be wary of the words “fragrance” or “parfum” in the ingredients list, as these can be used to hide hundreds of toxic chemicals.
- Latin names are good! Companies using natural plant-derived ingredients are required to use the Latin botanical name of the plant used.
If you're looking for 100% guaranteed vegan homewares products, our vegan candles and vegan home fragrances re handmade by skilled artisans, using amazing natural fragrances and essential oils, and housed in beautiful reusable glass bottles and jars.
Vegan Blankets & Throws
Great for snuggling up under while watching box sets – but many are made from wool, which as we've seen has not only has a very poor sustainability score, but a real dark side when it comes to animal welfare.
What's the alternative? Look for organic cotton, or other natural, sustainable textiles such as linen or bamboo. These are still soft and warm, non-irritant (many people suffer allergies to wool), much more sustainable, and delightfully animal-free. I love our Lüks Linen range of Turkish-made blankets and throws, which are made by small family ateliers and master weavers in Turkey, using gentle, centuries old craft to create hand loomed textiles. These are made using locally grown, spun and OEKO TEX certified cotton, and come with a 20 year repair or replace guarantee.
I hope this all makes it easier for you to shop more ethically, and try out some vegan products and brands you might not have come across before. And best of luck with your new lifestyle choices, enjoy it!
Cover image by Mireia Playa
For articles like this in your inbox, sign up to our newsletter, and get 10% off your next purchase too.