Oh, Autumn! I don’t know about you guys, but from where I’m a-bloggin’ (Chicago!), the leaves are turning fiery, gorgeous colors and the weather’s getting chilly. The air smells like campfires and leaves crunch underfoot – It’s a magical time. Like many people, fall is my favorite season, and it’s also a time that begs some wardrobe reevaluation. Gone are the culottes (who am I kidding? I don’t wear those.), the slinky tanks, and the toe-exposing sandals, as I welcome back my pals from the bottom of the storage bag: Cozy coats, opaque tights, cuddly sweaters, and leg-hugging boots. However, this fashion transition can present challenges for a newbie vegan who is considering eschewing leather, wool, silk, angora, fur, hair, feathers, and all that other material sourced via animal exploitation and yuckiness.
Fear not! We have compiled a little guide to help educate you on what materials to avoid, and provide you with the resources and fabulous looks (both for ladies and gents) to show you that you don’t need those animal hides, skins, feathers, and pelts to be toasty, stylish, and well within your budget. Grab a mug of cider and stay awhile, won’t you?
Materials to Swap: Now, I’m not saying that if you have any items made of these materials, you have to race out and find vegan replacements. Like everything, this is a gradual process and you make the rules based on your ethical, fiscal, and situational preferences. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that animals don’t willingly shed their skins or feathers and then live our their happy lives so that we may have a coat. Leather, Wool, Shearling, Exotic Skins, Silk, Angora, Hair, Feathers, and Fur are all taken – stolen, really – brutally and forcefully from animals who wanted to live – and that doesn’t give me a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. I won’t go into the gory details (but gory, they are), but you can read up at the links above and decide for yourself. Now, let’s talk about ethical, gorgeous clothing to lighten the mood!
Materials to Love: The world of vegan fashion has come a loooooong way since even a few years ago. Pleather, PVC, Polyester, Satin, Modal, Faux Ultra Suede, Spandex, all the materials we used to scoff at people in the 70’s and 80’s for wearing, have gotten a serious makeover as the foundation of so-realistic-it-almost-freaks-me-out faux leather goods, luxe and slinky silk-like garments, and easy-care, swishy dresses and tops. And then there are the incredible innovations in natural fabrics, like cotton, bamboo, hemp, jute that feel amazing against the skin and make your favorite t-shirt or jeans feel broken-in before they’ve ever been worn. And we can’t ignore the high-tech fabrics that wick sweat away, keep us warm, and let our skin breathe, such as Polarfleece, Coolmax, Supplex, and Tencel, to name a few. Many of these “alternative” materials are also made by recycling similar materials, or completely foreign items like plastic bottles, to lessen environmental impact.
A word of caution about “Faux Fur” – Most fur, hair, and shearling marked as “faux” isn’t faux at all, especially adornments on garments made in China, where the fur of street dogs and cats is regularly labeled as faux for overseas sales. Be sure to do your research, or opt to leave the fur look to the animals who wear it best.
First, Reduce & Reuse:
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the incredible toll clothing production takes on the environment. And while fantastic vegan companies are usually ecologically conscious, as well, nothing is gentler on the planet (or your wallet) than recycling or reusing clothes and accessories. Hand-me-downs are cool these days because they are often more unique than what you see on the streets, and, more magically, they have a story.
1. Consignment, Thrift, Resale, & Vintage Stores: We women have had the luxury of perusing these shops for awhile, but now men’s resale shops are popping up all over, with a special attention to selling good quality, wear-to-work items on the cheap. Check out your local offerings, including garage and estate sales, charity shops, thrift stores, vintage shops, consignment and resale places, and good old Craigslist and Freecycle to see if someone in your area is offloading just what you’re looking for.
2. Hold a Clothing Swap: There are few things that get me more pumped than a well-attended clothing swap. I’ve been hosting and participating in ’em for years and I always feel excited, even if I just walk away with a scarf. Round up some pals, ask them to round up their pals, and so on. Ask people to bring gently-used items that they’d otherwise donate or consign, lay everything out, ply said friends with wine and vegan munchies, and then swap away! You never know what attendee might be your exact shoe or dress size, and hey, a cool handbag is one-size-fits-all. Whatever’s left over gets donated. Win/Win/Win.
Then, Know What to Look For:
Be sure to always check the labels to ensure none of “Materials to Swap” are in your item. For instance, many shoes will be a PVC/Pleather upper, but may have a suede backing (inside, on the heel). Be sure to read the labels (hey, you already do it with your food and personal care products; why stop now?).
1. Leather-Like Accessories: For most, leather goods are so mainstream that it’s almost impossible to think about giving it the boot (pun intended). However, leather alternatives are prevalent, often cheaper, hold up well, clean easily, and boast the durability and style we have all become accustomed to. From Stella McCartney’s designer duds, to Payless Shoe Source’s and Target’s affordable veg offerings, there’s a leather alternative for every taste and budget. And for the gents, there are elegant belts, wallets, shoes, and bags from Novacas, Matt & Nat, Vegetarian Shoes, and Converse to suit every occasion. There are even vegan versions of Doc Martens (if you want to relive your grunge years, or as I call them, “the good old days”), those UGG boots all the kids are wearing, and TOMS Shoes. If you’re having a major hankering to look cool like The Fonz, there are also leather-like jackets that will make you a rebel with a cause.
2. Functional & Fashionable Coats: The days of wearing feathers and fur to stay warm are long gone. When scientists and explorers go to the coldest reaches of the planet, what do they wear? Tech fabrics! And you too can wear these, even if your biggest daily adventure is your commute on the 66 bus. Vaute Couture has revolutionized the way animal lovin’ men and women buy coats, boasting tech fabrics that can actually withstand a brutal winter fashioned in to wearable, runway styles. Patagonia and The North Face also have non-wool and non-down options that are light, breathable, and sporty.
3. Suits & Ties: For those of you who have flashy jobs that require equally flashy attire, finding a non-wool suit or non-silk ties can be more challenging than navigating the stock market. Check out Topman and Express Men for well-tailored polyester options, and The Ethical Man boasts ties that are clean and stylish, while also being kind to those squishy, sweet silkworms.
4. Cozy Knits: Sweaters and knits are the hallmark of wintry weather, but they’re also garments fraught with itchy sheep’s wool and allergy-inducing bunny fur. Look for blends of acrylic, polyester, and cotton to keep your tootsies, head, hands, neck, torso, and teapots toasty. Forever 21, ModCloth, Lands End, H&M, Gap, Old Navy, and Zara have lovely options at any price. Or, go a step further and support an independent artist by commissioning or purchasing something totally unique and handmade via Etsy.
Then, Research & Shop!
So many fantastic cruelty-free options, so little time! Let these blogs and online stores do the legwork and light the way:
- PETA’s Compassionate Consumer Guide: Steers you toward stores that offer formidable vegan options in a variety of apparel categories.
- Alternative Outfitters: An online vegan boutique for men and women.
- Ecouterre: Glamorous blog about vegan and eco trend-spotting and news.
- Ecolissa: An easy-to-navigate site that has beautiful vegan ladies clothes made from sustainable materials.
- Girlie Girl Army: Fantastic site with great articles and specials for the vegan glamazon (or mamazon) in you.
- VeganFashionBlog: Sales, events, and news for the vegan fashionista.
- ChicVegan: A comprehensive blog about sales, styles, and news in vegan fashion.
- MooShoes: If you live in NYC, then by all means, visit the store. For the rest of us, there’s always online where you can find fantastic vegan shoes, bags, and accessories for men and women.
- Cow Jones Industrials: This eco-minded storefront has closed, but the online boutique boasts beautiful boots, bags, and more.
- The Ethical Man: Blog and shop dedicated to well-curated vegan men’s fashion.
- The Discerning Brute: Articles and trend-spotting for the vegan gentleman.
- Vegan Kicks: Men’s vegan shoe blog.
- Plantmade: Women’s vegan style blog.
Ashlee Piper is the Community Manager at Get Vegucated. She is also a social worker, AADP-certified Holistic Health Counselor, and owner of All Is Wellness, a boutique yoga and holistic health consultancy, where she shepherds people toward a more compassionate, cruelty-free, and joyful lifestyle. Her no-nonsense tips and insights for a happy veg life can also be found via her blog, The Little Foxes.