Note: Sustainable living is something we want to explore more as it’s integral to living a minimalist, vegan lifestyle. That said, finding sustainable vegan-friendly clothing has been a huge pain point for us, and we’re sure it’s been challenging for you as well. That’s why we’ve partnered with Summer Edwards, sustainable fashion writer and consultant, who is going to give us some great tips on what sustainable vegan textiles to look out for when shopping. You can find more of her work over on her blog at tortoise & lady grey as well as her Guide to Sustainable Textiles. Take it away Summer!
Committing to a vegan lifestyle eliminates a number of common textiles to your wardrobe. Thankfully there are many viable alternatives with which to create your cruelty-free wardrobe. However, many of the most commonly used vegan textiles- such as pleather, conventional cotton and synthetic textiles—are extremely harmful to the environment and the people that produce them. Unfortunately, many conventional vegan fashion brands promote themselves as sustainable and cruelty-free, when the materials that they use actually do a significant amount of harm.
A genuinely cruelty-free wardrobe is one that avoids adverse impacts on animals, people and the environment. The good news is that there is a wonderful array of vegan textiles that are genuinely sustainable. Here are my recommendations for the textiles to build your sustainable vegan wardrobe with:
1. Organic cotton
Conventional cotton is the world’s dirtiest crop, and poor protections mean that farmers and the environment are exposed to these harmful chemicals in huge numbers, with significant health implications. There is also a large degree of forced and child labour involved in the global conventional cotton supply. The high costs GM cotton, and the requirement to purchase the patented seeds each year are the direct cause of high rates of farmer suicide due to crippling agricultural debt. To avoid these impacts, make sure your cotton clothing is organic.
2. Lyocell and Modal
Lyocell and modal are fibres manufactured from wood pulp. These use chemicals in the production but are free from harmful solvents, and the processes are closed-loop (meaning that the chemicals are captured and reused over and over again). However, it is important that the wood pulp came from a sustainable source. To ensure this, look for modal that is manufactured in North America or Europe. Chinese and Indonesian modal are driving rainforest destruction in Indonesia. Tencel is a certified form of lyocell that is guaranteed to be made from sustainable wood pulp. Bamboo lycoell is also a wonderful sustainable option because bamboo is a very sustainable crop. However, most bamboo fabric on the market is bamboo viscose. Viscose is another way of converting woodpulp into textile, but it uses harmful solvents and the chemicals are not captured and reused. Viscose (bamboo or rayon) is not sustainable and is best avoided.
3. Linen (Flax)
As a vegan, you are probably very familiar with flaxseeds. Linen is a textile that is made from the reed of the flaxplant. It has been manufactured traditionally in Europe and Japan for several thousand years and is a very sustainable option. However Chinese linen uses conventional fertilisers and has increased impact, so look for good quality European or Japanese linens for your most sustainable options. These options are also much higher quality, which is essential when you are creating your sustainable wardrobe.
Hemp is another wonderful plant-based fibre with significant environmental benefits. It can be grown on marginal land, so it does not take productive land away from food crops. Hemp is beautifully soft and is growing in popularity.
5. Soysilk and Peace Silk
Soysilk is a silk-like fabric that is manufactured with the soy residue left over from producing tofu. However, it does use formaldehyde in the production process, which is a known carcinogen. If you are specifically looking for a silk alternative, this is a reasonable option. But I personally wouldn’t go out of my way to seek it out. Some vegans may also be comfortable wearing Peace Silk. This silk is made from the silkworm cocoon once the fully grown moth has abandoned it. No worms or moths are harmed or exploited in the process, and Peace Silk is wild harvested rather than farmed.
6. Pineapple Leather and Other Sustainable Vegan Leathers
Conventional vegan leather is PVC, an extremely toxic textile that leaches harmful chemicals as it degrades. PVC can never be considered sustainable, but unfortunately, many vegan brands portray it this way. Luckily, you needn’t turn to PVC to meet your vegan leather needs. Pineapple leather is manufactured from the leaves left over after farming the fruit and is completely biodegradable. It has been adopted by quite a few vegan shoe brands already and is worth seeking out. Kombucha leather is a new development and may increase in availability, so it is worth looking out for. Cork leather, a leather-like material made from cork bark- is another vegan option in footwear and handbags.
7. Recycled Nylon and Polyester
Conventional synthetics fabrics are very harmful to the environment, but you can increasingly find recycled options which take the fabric waste from factories or old garments from consumers and recycled them into new textiles. Choosing recycled options, particularly for garments like swimwear and pantyhose, is worthwhile. However, fibres from washing our clothing are the one of biggest source of microplastic pollution in the oceans. I would avoid even recycled nylon and polyester as much as possible, except for those garments where the performance of a synthetic is necessary. I’ve purchased organic cotton swimwear before, and these degrade far too quickly in a swimming pool. So I would argue that recycled synthetics are necessary for some uses such as swimwear.
Of course, you can also choose to buy your clothing second hand to build your sustainable wardrobe. But I also think it is important to buy some of your sustainable garments new. Doing so helps build our genuinely sustainable alternatives to the conventional fashion industry. Hopefully, this list shows you that is is possible to make vegan choices for your wardrobe that are also sustainable ones.