Vegan Apparel: what it is and where to get it

Photosource: Natalie Portman’s Te Casan

By Erin Dale

To some, vegan fashion may sound like an oxymoron. One living the vegan lifestyle makes a point to avoid any animal products, whether for food or clothing; so for clothes to be truly vegan, materials like wool, leather, and even silk are strictly forbidden. Yes, your American Eagle jeans or canvas Keds may technically be considered vegan, but there’s more to it than that… True vegans are also environmentalists—one of the most effective ways to reduce your personal carbon emissions is to simply not eat meat. Compassion for animals extends to the ethical choices vegans make, including what to wear.

So what is vegan clothing exactly? Technically, its anything that doesn’t involve the use of animal products or by-products. By definition, synthetic fibers and conventional fabrics such as conventional cotton are OK and considered ‘vegan,’ However, if we also consider the fact that veganism also embraces environmentalism (as a philosophy and way of life), then synthetics and conventional fabrics would be excluded, or at least frowned upon.

Where can I find vegan clothing? When it comes to clothing, the term “vegan” may conjure up images of burlap slacks or jelly sandals, but there are plenty of fashion lines and enterprising celebrities attempting to bridge the gap between fashion and veganism. Of course, celebrity designers like Stella McCartney have been offering chic vegan wares for years. But vegan fashion has even been in the headlines lately, since Natalie Portman teamed up with specialty retailer Té Casan to design her own line of vegan shoes. Singer Leona Lewis, a hardcore vegan, is rumored to be starting an ethical, budget-friendly clothing line.

You don’t have to be a hippie or scour secondhand clothing racks to score cute vegan finds (though shopping vintage never hurts!). For the animal-loving fashionista, ethically-responsible threads are just a browser click away. Greenpeople.org lists umpteen links for eco-friendly fashion, with plenty of vegan sites in the mix. However, many of the vegan options look more “hippie chick” than “green chic.” I’ve narrowed the search to my favorite sites for clothes, shoes and accessories.

Alternativeoutfitters.com is a vegan’s haven for cute, cruelty-free fashions. Not all of the products listed are strictly vegan (there are Madden Girl shoes featured, for instance which are technically vegan but not necessarily eco-friendly), but many are eco-friendly. This is a great resource for vegan bags, wallets, and graphic tees, but fashion-forward vegans may crave something a little more high-end. NYArtificial offers trendy handbags made with high-tec, non-toxic materials, priced from $69 to $300 or more. Their wares include shopping totes, evening bags and briefcases. I like Bossa’s handbag collection even more: try shopbossa.com for everything from hobos to clutches.

Panda Snack sells luxury bamboo knits, and the fashions (for men and women) could not be cuter. Visit pandasnack.com to view the collection and find a list of retailers near you (I plan to look at them up close at Envi in Boston). I especially love their short pink dress with pleats and rouched sleeves.

While the vegan concept sounds great on paper, one must caution against jumping on the band wagon too quickly and trading ‘cruelty-free’ for carbon-heavy processing. Since vegan clothing does not require ‘organic processing’, its relatively easy to label a synthetic blouse made from petroleum by-products, blended with conventional cotton and made in a sweatshop, as ‘vegan’ since technically it is. However, is it actually good for the environment, good for you and good for humanity? That’s where your savvy shopping skills step in and hopefully the above resources may come in handy.

What does vegan clothing mean to you? Should we have a certification process to help identify items that are truly vegan? Tell us what you think greencottonblog@gmail.com

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6 Comments

  1. shoji said,

    May 15, 2008 at 2:13 pm

    I thought bamboo clothing was of questionable environmental-friendliness due to its chemical processing?

    By the definition of “vegan” which encompasses environmentalism, I think the jury’s still out on bamboo…

  2. syansen said,

    May 15, 2008 at 3:43 pm

    I think others would have to agree as well. Someone should do a carbon calculation comparing the two fibers form beginning to end as well – that would be interesting…

  3. Erin said,

    May 16, 2008 at 6:35 pm

    It’s funny, but just after writing this blog, I found a piece in the April 2007 Glamour about bamboo clothing. Apparently bamboo is a great material for floors and such, but once it’s processed for clothing, harmful chemicals are involved… Hmmm. Last month’s Glamour brought it up again, and said to simply look for bamboo clothes with a sustainable label on them. Who knows whether or not it’s really sustainable? It’s definitely something I’m still learning about. I think a carbon calculation would be interesting!

  4. Kristen Elliott said,

    May 17, 2008 at 12:52 am

    Interesting…I have a lot to learn on this topic. Thanks for the insight!

  5. Leslie Saunders said,

    May 26, 2008 at 6:48 pm

    Speaking on vegan clothing, my husband informed me about vegan ties on Jaan J. – The Home of Non Silk Cotton Ties. Just spreading the love.

  6. May 12, 2011 at 6:07 am

    [...] vegan footwear and clothing.  And or those of you not familiar with vegan clothing, a blog called Vegan Apparel breaks it down, So what is vegan clothing exactly? Technically, its anything that doesn’t [...]


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