Alongside the growing popularity of vegan clothing and footwear there are a number of issues manufacturers must consider

Alongside the growing popularity of vegan clothing and footwear there are a number of issues manufacturers must consider

With fashion retailers from Topshop to New Look and Asos launching new vegan clothing and footwear lines, firms are also being advised to be aware of the difficulties in entering this complex market.

Veganism is increasingly becoming a lifestyle choice for many people, and alongside non-animal derived food products, consumers are also looking for vegan-friendly clothing and footwear.

Indeed, surveys by the Vegan Society suggest the number of vegans in the UK have risen from around half a million in 2016 to around 3.5m in 2018 – driven by consumer concerns over animal welfare, personal health and the environment.

Veganism also plays well in social media's popular healthy or 'clean eating' movements, with 'influencers' and celebrities promoting their particular lifestyle choices helping to encourage consumers to try vegan options.

But while this presents a considerable opportunity for manufacturers and suppliers, the materials they use must be robust and maintain the qualities of the animal-based materials they are replacing, according to testing, inspection and certification specialist SGS Softlines Services.

Manufacturers can use synthetic materials or those derived from plants. For example, cotton, canvas, linen, cork, natural latex rubber and innovative alternative leathers made from plant fibres such as pineapple leaves.

Most commonly, synthetic materials are used. Polyurethane is often seen as the most suitable alternative to natural leather, and can be used as an upper or liner and is often combined with a textile backing. In addition, manufacturers can also use polyvinyl chloride (PVC), thermoplastic rubber (TPR), nylon, polyester and acrylic.

Polyurethane does, however, have its drawbacks, SGS says. Its environmental impact has been raised as a cause for concern, not least because it is far less biodegradable than leather. Recycling is also a problem and, of course, it is derived from fossil fuels. There are also questions about durability and the release of microplastics during laundering. 

Consideration also needs to be given to all the materials used in clothing and footwear – not just the main structural elements. When making vegan shoes, for example, it is no use replacing a leather upper if an animal-based glue is used. When using synthetic glues, manufacturers also need to remember they need a comprehensive Safety Data Sheet for each adhesive.

Endorsement of vegan products is currently done by non-governmental organisations such as The Vegan Society or PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). Indeed, UK fashion retailer New Look has just become the first high-street fashion retailer to register ranges with The Vegan Society's Vegan Trademark

They scrutinise documentation on materials and adhesives and enquire about manufacturing processes. They also require declarations stating there is no cross-contamination between vegan and non-vegan manufacturing and that no animal testing has been carried out during the production of the item.