Blog: Michelle RussellVegan fabric a fad or a future phenomenon?

Michelle Russell | 10 November 2015

Veganism is often thought of in food terms, and not clothing, so the idea of purchasing a vegan wool jumper or a vegan handbag could seem alien to many. The movement is gradually gaining momentum, albeit slowly. But whether the industry has the desire to really push it in the right direction is questionable.

Occasionally over the years, just-style has reported on apparel companies launching a line of vegan fabrics, or a vegan accessory or item of clothing. And the definition of vegan yarn: any kind of yarn that doesn't require the use of animal products of by-products for its production. It can be plant-based, synthetic, or a combination of both. They also tend to use only natural and plant-based dyes.

Most recently, Turkey's Orta Anadolu developed a vegan line of denim fabrics using natural dyestuffs and dyeing techniques, employing a tan colour obtained from acorn shells and vegetal indigo dyes.

Last year, fashion brand Esprit introduced vegan hangtags in a bid to increase transparency in textile labelling and better inform conscious consumers. And Urban Outfitters also recently started stocking a few vegan leather products including a reversible tote bag.

Beyond that, there haven't been many other vegan clothing innovations. Of course, we may not have covered all launches, but they appear to be few and far between.

What seems to be the most extensive to date is by New York designer Vaute. Founder Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart's new vegan collection includes durable parkas, long weather-proof coats, and sweaters for men and women.

Hilgart developed a line of eco-conscious fabrics made from organic and recycled fibres that she says are comparable to wool, enabling her to create “super-warm, water-resistant, and windproof” garments that are sustainable and “spares sheep from painful mutilations on farms”.

Vegan wool, she says, means “high-tech, eco-friendly, cruelty-free construction” - a model Hilgart believes will take over the fashion industry.

A blog today by Times Union pointed out that, in some cases, sheep can be subjected to mutilation without anaesthesia, which can result in death, as well as being shorn too early, causing many to die from exposure to the cold. A PETA investigation in Australia also found found shearers beating, kicking, and throwing sheep.

Of course, the desire for complete transparency in the supply chain is increasingly highlighting issues such as this, which brands appear conscious of stamping out. But instead of just switching to a more ethical supplier, should brands be considering alternative fibres?

Vaute suggests its vegan line is more than capable of guarding against the winter chill, but fashion blog Ecouterre says the line lacks the “bulk” that many winter clothing pieces can have. And the price of a coat reaches around US$500-$600.

The question will be whether faux-wool can really take the place of real wool in terms of feel, warmth, durability, renewability and structure. And of course, vegan leather, while offering a cruelty-free fabric void of any animal-derived ingredients, can instead be made using petroleum-derived materials, which can include the harmful polyvinyl chloride (PVC). So while kinder to animals, the fabric can ultimately be incredibly unkind to humans and the planet.

Veganism certainly has the potential to become a more fashionable movement, particularly given consumers are becoming more conscious of the food and clothing they are consuming. Indeed, it has become harder to ignore the moral issues that surround what we buy. But it seems the jury is still out as to whether brands and consumers believe vegan wool and leather is fashion’s next big thing.

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