Vegan Fashion and Beauty: Myth vs Meaning
On World Vegan Day, even tokenism should alert us to question what we accept as ‘vegan’. Here’s a short guide to make smart choices outside marketing myths
Veganism is essentially about zero tolerance for cruelty towards animals. It may be an oversimplified definition but it is the first parameter to check if the brand selling a product on the basis of a vegan argument has done its due diligence. Due diligence, simplistically again, may mean an ethically sound supply chain with a responsible sourcing executive (new, new officers of fashion) monitoring what’s going on. Then cap it with credible certification.
However, several brands sell vegan virtues by claiming this category even if they may have mixed up many processes and materials. Or may just be vegan washing consumers. So unless policy regulation becomes a part of this ecosystem, agency lies with the consumer.
That’s why this article.
Being on the side of veganism in fashion is far more complicated in the consumer matrix than in food. It amounts to many more choices than just eschewing high alert materials like exotic furs and leathers. Or just tick off labels on potions and lotions that claim they have not been tested on animals.
Veganism in food is well defined through plant-based diets, rejecting even animal milk, and likewise in fashion and beauty, any material, yarn or produce that has been made by killing, using or testing on animals is in the red. So milk, honey and beeswax extracts in beauty products are some examples that go against veganism, while cashmere, spider silk, mulberry silk, wool in garments have to be crossed out too.
That’s only the starting point of highly nuanced lifestyle choices if you must be a devoted vegan. Here are some reasons to fuel convictions instead of making choices driven by clever brand marketing that rides on sentiment instead of surety.
*The Cult of Veganism: According to fashion technology company Lyst, there was a 178 per cent increase in Internet searches for vegan leather options in fashion in 2021. Sneakers were the most searched for category. If you want to be led by numbers, active research will tell you about most sought products, categories, fibres.
*Certification: Besides PETA which offers vegan certification, CDG is an independent, international certification body that offers it too. The certificate is a trademark with a logo available to companies that meet the standards. In India, according to the CDG website, the logo is currently used on more than 1,000 products—but none in the list is a fashion product according to our research. ‘Certified Vegan’ is another logo with details on Vegan.org—also a globally accepted trademark. Its exhaustive data base lists all kinds of products (food and drink especially) and includes many personal care products, serums and wellness oils, foundations, toners. However, only 15 clothing brands and 7 accessory brands are listed. Fashion is clearly just playing catch up.
*One Stop Shop for all Environmental Solutions? Beware: Many platforms, digital and physical, sell vegan products, while also being a marketplace for sustainably produced clothing, accessories, jewellery. They offer eco-friendly options in beauty and makeup (but not necessarily vegan) alongside shelves for pre-loved fashion, pushing Thrift and Recycled into the same argument. Zero-Waste, Low Carbon Footprint, Plant-based, Cruelty-Free overlap but are not synonyms.
*Science and Technology Are the World’s Top Fashion Designers: A big part of vegan fashion and beauty is the miracle of science and their products are created in laboratories that themselves have been certified as places which also do not allow manufacture of animal produce or testing. Among many companies that rely on technology and science to meet these goals, a good example is Pangaia. It offers a down-like material made with wildflowers. Other products include fabric made of eucalyptus pulp and seaweed powder. All Pangaia products are treated with peppermint oil so that they don’t have to be repeatedly washed.
*Material Library: While the use of mushroom leather by top league fashion brands like Hermès and Stella McCartney has been extensively noted, Salvatore Ferragamo’s orange fibre merits attention. Other smaller brands use it too. Similarly, besides hemp, flax fibre, Tencel (made from wood pulp), cork, bamboo, soyabean and coconut yarns, Piñatex (pineapple leather), those that have made a foray into fashion are Seacell made from seaweed with the Lyocell (a term used for materials made from wood) process, Vegea (made from grapes) and Desserto made from cactus.
*Old is Green Gold: The most ancient textile listed since 2008 by the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage is tree bark fleece from Uganda. According to information available on the Internet, this bark cloth was deemed fit only for the kings until the end of the 19th century. UNESCO declared its making process as artisanal and a “Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Cultural Heritage” in 2005. Permanently renewable, the East African fig tree yields this bark without being felled. Distributed under BARKTEX®, it is the core material of a range of textiles and other materials, manufactured in low-energy, partly CO2-emission-free processes.
*Awards: Last year, actor, model, marathoner Milind Soman won the PETA India award for the Best Vegan Style Icon. “No silk, no wool, no leather. No pain to animals,” he posted on Instagram. Indian brand Plum won the Best Vegan Cosmetics Award. Other global awards by PETA included noting Kering as the Biggest Fur Free Moment for banning fur, marking Valentino and Armani for banning Angora. The Best Innovation Award went to Gucci’s Demetra (an in-house vegan leather from 77 per cent plant-based materials), while Stella McCartney’s Frayme Mylo got the Best Vegan Bag award. The 2022 edition of the awards should be around the corner.
*Beauty and the Vegan: Dozens of beauty brands around the world today enlist themselves as vegan as the market is booming. It is a smart commercial choice to be on the right side of the planet. Earlier this year, Forbes ran an article quoting ReportLinker projecting the rise of the vegan beauty market to $21.4 billion by 2027. Vegan beauty products have been around a while but they are becoming mainstream with outlets like Sephora and Target selling them too. The article quoted 1010data, saying that online sales of vegan beauty products had exceeded $342 million in 2020 growing 83 per cent from the previous year.
*Top Consumer Trends and Where You Stand: The affluent, globally well-travelled, the Gen Z as well as parents of young children form the biggest market for vegan fashion and beauty. Ask yourself where you stand in the new tide and why. Plus, address important questions if you are willing to pay more for vegan than for routine brands and if your decision to switch over to vegan fashion is not momentary or trend-based, but driven by commitment and conviction.