As vegan material innovation continues to take hold, new fabrics enter the market and show up in more designer collections than ever. What makes a material vegan is simply not containing any animal-derived ingredients – but innovative materials that are animal-free are becoming more frequently connected with vegan and sustainable fashion.
By Sascha Camilli: writer, speaker, activist, and vegan fashion expert.
As more consumers get curious about wearing vegan fashion, there is still confusion around some of these little-known textiles: what are they? What are they made from? How are they used? And what exactly about them makes them vegan? We put together a guide to some of the most common materials – but also some of the most exciting up-and-comers – that are often found in sustainable vegan wardrobes.
This is one case where organic actually does make a difference: organic cotton is much less water-intensive than conventional cotton, and also uses much fewer harmful substances such as toxic pesticides and fertilisers. It is also GMO-free. In a vegan wardrobe, organic cotton is a common staple: it is used in everything from denim to knitwear, substituting wool in sweaters, jackets and coats. It is also very frequently used in tops and t-shirts. Brands using organic cotton are numerous – some of our favourites include Cut & Pin, Mila.Vert and KOMODO.
There is a variety of materials in this category, each more exciting than the next: today, leather is no longer a matter of cow skin or petroleum-derived synthetics. Leather today can be made from apples, grapes, pineapples, corn and cactus – to name a few. These materials are kinder to the environment than animal skins, and of course, no animals had to die to make them. They offer a variety of textures and finishes, and really shine when used in accessories. For really good plant leather options, look to FRIDA ROME, Miomojo, and LUXTRA.
All the leather innovations mentioned above are relatively new on the market – but not cork. This material has been used for several decades, in countries like Portugal which have an abundance of cork trees. Cork is a naturally regenerative material – it is taken from the tree without cutting the tree down, and the cork regrows, meaning that it regenerates itself. Cork trees can also harvest CO2 from the atmosphere, meaning that cork production is actually beneficial to the environment. For great cork designs, shop Svala, Murmali, and NAE Vegan Shoes.
Made from wood-pulp cellulose, Tencel is another natural material that features in many eco-conscious wardrobes. Also known as Lyocell, this textile was developed by sustainable material company Lenzing. Tencel is produced with a closed-loop technology, meaning that the water and chemicals used in the process are re-utilised to minimise waste. Tencel is gentle on the skin while t the same time maintaining durability and versatility. Brands that love it include 1 People, Mila.Vert and KOMODO.
Recycled materials will not solve fashion's pollution problems on their own – but they are a step in the right direction. Often, these will include post-consumer plastic bottles, bags will feature linings made from recycled polyester. Brands using them include NAE and Minuit Sur Terre.
In response to the alarming plastic pollution crisis, plastic-free vegan leather is now also on the market in the form of Natural Fiber Welding's Mirum material. This material is made from plant waxes and oils welded together – without any petroleum-derived coatings or other plastic ingredients. Brands such as Melina Bucher and Modher use this miracle material.
Perhaps one of the most sustainable materials in the fashion industry, hemp is a true superhero: it grows without any need for chemical pesticides or fertilisers, meaning that it's a winner when it comes to organic farming. Its versatility means that it can be used in tops and dresses as well as slippers – and it offers maximum comfort as it's more breathable than animal-derived fibres like wool. Brands working with hemp include V.GAN and KOMODO.
Viscose isn't usually particularly planet-friendly, but Lenzing's ECOVERO material perfects the production process to make this originally plant-based textile kinder to the environment. It uses wood from controlled sources. The company is committed to traceability and the material is biodegradable. You can find it in collections by Baukjen.
Sustainably made bamboo, made with carefully considered processes, can be environmentally friendly. It can be grown with no pesticides or fertilisers, and the plant's roots protect steep banks from erosion. Not all bamboo is made equal – some of it is just plain viscose, which can use harsh chemicals in its production process. Look out for better made bamboo at Boody or accessories in bamboo at Stelar.
Made from a different part of the cotton plant, which is not used for cotton production, cupro is a natural material which provides a great vegan replacement for silk. Soft and breathable, cupro drapes well and can be used in summer-friendly garments like dresses and jumpsuits, as well as lighter jackets. Get yours at KOMODO.
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 KOMODO
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