What's the deal with vegan fashion?
Shout out to our vegan followers!
Firstly, I want to thank all of those vegan and vegan-curious shoppers who have contacted us to ask about the vegan credentials of our lingerie, underwear and swimwear - and you are many! - because it's you who have inspired this blog post.
We receive *a lot* of emails and messages at ColieCo asking variously if we are a vegan brand, or which, if not all, of our products are suitable for vegans. We have somewhat complicated answers to those questions, which we'll get to later on.
But for the impatient amongst you, the short answer is that we don't and we won't ever use animal-derived fabrics anywhere in our collection, and we're as vegan as we can be given that we work with reclaimed fabrics. For us, that's a critical part of representing ourselves as an ethical fashion brand. (For the longer answer, skip to the bottom!)
But let's start at the beginning and, as promised, take a look first at the vegan lifestyle boom.
Ve-gan change the world! (Sorry, not sorry.)
Before Joaquin Phoenix, Albert Einstein, and Gautama Buddha came Pythagoras of Samos. Yep; when he wasn't mucking about with triangles or waxing lyrical on numerology, Pythagoras was busy espousing the virtues of a meat-free diet, and he was something of a pioneer in doing so, some 2,500 years back.
Although since that time history has seen significant vegetarian movements emerge in various places around the world, as well as some very famous proponents amongst philosophers, authors and leaders, the concept of veganism is relatively young, particularly in the West. In fact, it is only in the post-war period that veganism - the practice of avoiding the consumption of animals and animal-derived products - has been recognised as distinct from vegetarianism, and as a diet or a lifestyle choice in its own right.
In that short period of time, the movement has grown steadily across Europe and North America, before truly exploding in quite spectacular fashion over the last decade or so. To offer a prime example of this recent boom, the UK - the population currently most interested in veganism according to Google Trends - saw its number of vegans quadruple between 2014 and 2019 alone.
Driven by various factors, including moral and ethical concerns around animal cruelty and climate change, the same period has seen widespread interest and growth in flexitarianism - a partially-vegetarian diet in which often sustainability-concerned participants work to reduce or limit their consumption of animal and animal-derived products - as well as in various forms of cruelty-free consumerism, notably in the health and beauty product markets.
Beyond the diet... what exactly is vegan fashion?
Although some vegans focus primarily on dietary discipline, many adopt a wider perspective, looking to limit human cruelty to animals by excluding other forms of consumption reliant on animal-derived products. And given the historical nature of the industry, one obvious area of concern for vegans has been textile and clothing production.
The evident starting point for vegans shopping for clothing is to is to try to avoid garments either wholly made from, or with components made from, animal products. These can include, most obviously, leather and suede, furs, feathers, silk and wool, as well as (perhaps less immediately obvious in some cases) the likes of shell, bone or horn.
(Errrrr, aren't many of those either largely cruelty-free products or by-products?
Errrrr, nope, they aren't. But if you had thought so until now, don't beat yourself up about it, because that's a super-common misconception.
To this day, most wool production involves the quite brutal treatment of sheep; collecting down often sees geese and ducks' skin ripped open, leaving wounds requiring stitches; and obtaining most silk involves gassing silkworms in their cocoons. Even the use of by-product (in reality, co-product) leather has a material and unavoidable impact on animal welfare.
For those wanting to learn more, PETA's Shopping Guide to Compassionate Clothing is a recommended starting point.)
So really, it's all about avoiding clothes made from animal-derived fabrics and components?
Doesn't sound so tricky, does it?
There are scores of different synthetic and plant-based textiles being used to produce fashion-ready fabrics nowadays, with some of those fabrics designed and engineered specifically to either substitute for or actually mimic animal-derived textiles. And some of these are magical fabrics, not only in their quality and finishes, but also from an environmental perspective.
One such example is the vegan bamboo silk substitute we use in the bras, panties and french knickers in our ARAYA collection. This fabric is airy, lustrous and luxurious like traditional silk, and has many of the same textile properties, being lightweight, smooth and highly breathable, making it perfect for lingerie, loungewear and nightwear.
The fabric is also made from certified organically-grown bamboo, and processed in a water and chemical closed-loop process, preventing any contaminated waste water or solvents entering waterways or the water table. Not only does it provide a beautiful vegan alternative to silk, it's also a certifiably (and certified!) sustainable alternative.
But beyond the source of the fabric itself, there are a couple more things we need to think about before we declare our new fantasy wardrobes entirely cruelty-free. And it is now that we arrive at the point at which the lines start to blur a little, even for some truly dedicated vegans.
Other animal-derived inputs
Beyond raw textiles, and the likes of zippers, buttons and threads, the production of clothing often requires less obvious components and inputs, which may ultimately be animal-derived.
These can include some glues, waxes and, probably most notoriously, natural dyes. Still today the global fashion industry uses red (from the cochineal insect), yellow (lac insect), indigo (murex snail) and sepia brown (octopus/cuttlefish) dyes derived from animals.
Certainly, synthetic dyes are more widely used by the fashion industry than they were historically, largely due to the reduced costs associated with producing synthetics. Synthetics also don't require the use of the same heavy metal salts needed to fix natural dyes to fabrics.
They do, however, come with their own issues, particularly when it comes to the impact of their production on the environment, which leads us neatly on to...
(Did you really think we'd get through an entire blog post without mentioning it? Pah, you don't know us so well then!)
At the core of veganism is a desire to protect and respect the rights of animals, and to limit their suffering as a result of human activity. Evidence for this can be found in one of the movement's proudest claims: that beyond the immediate and obvious benefits of veganism for animals, the vegan diet also offers us excellent opportunities to shrink our environmental footprint, particularly in regard to climate change.
Beyond animal husbandry, climate change represents humanity's largest and most devastating impact on nature and the animal kingdom. And so, when considering *how* to substitute for animal-derived fabrics, shouldn't we also take the time to consider the environmental and carbon footprints that any potential alternatives might carry?
Factors to weigh up here might include the relative hard-wearing and longevity of the fabrics (largely dictating the longevity of the garments they'll be used to produce), the raw materials used to produce the fabrics, the footprints of their production processes, and what might happen to the fabrics at the end of garments' lives.
Is, say, opting for a virgin plastic-coated PVC jacket rather than a suede jacket really doing everything possible to limit all animal suffering?
Not only should ethical fashion be animal-friendly fashion. But animal-friendly fashion should be sustainable fashion.
Our commitments on animal welfare
More questions than answers? Maybe. But as we pointed out up top, this isn't a straightforward subject.
For us, what's important, as always, is that we take responsibility for our decisions; which means doing our best to educate ourselves, taking the time to consider our actions, and *trying* to do the right thing. There aren't always right and wrong decisions - but there are better reasoned ones.
At ColieCo, we are 100% committed to ensuring that we do not contribute to unnecessary animal suffering of any kind.
For this reason, we do not use any animal-derived fabrics anywhere in our collection; nor do we use any animal-derived products, such as glues or waxes, either in our collection or elsewhere in our processes, including in our packaging.
So does that mean that ColieCo is a vegan brand?
As some of the fabrics we use in our lingerie, underwear and swimwear are reclaimed off-cuts and line-ends which have been rescued for upcycling from fast fashion waste, we don't always (in fact, we rarely) have full technical specifications for them.
This means that we aren't able to guarantee that all of our fabrics have been dyed solely with vegan dyes, and for this reason we don't describe ColieCo as a vegan brand.
Unfortunately, it's impossible for us both to work with rescued fabrics in the way we do - which is incredibly important to us, because we believe that no fabric should end up in landfill before it sees life as a garment - and to ensure that all of our fabrics have been dyed with non-vegan dyes. (And having worked with reclaimed fabrics for more than a decade, we wouldn't trust any brand using reclaimed or deadstock fabrics in their collection claiming to be able to do so.)
It's also important to us that we're honest, open and as transparent as we're able to be about our products and processes with our customers.
For any of you who are still unsure about the vegan credentials of any of our collections or products, or feel that we could provide clearer messaging in this or other areas of ethical concern, we want you to reach out and let us know. ColieCo has always been a collaborative process, and your feedback has helped improve in so many ways over the years.
Our favourite blogs on vegan fashion
Want to learn more? Check out the links below to our favourite blogs covering vegan fashion, featuring reviews and recommendations, useful brand guides, and excellent thought pieces on vegan lifestyle topics and trends.
UK writer and fashion design graduate Sarah King's Grandermarnier blog focuses on vegan fashion, but also covers issues in ethical and sustainable fashion, as well as various other vegan lifestyle topics. Grandermarnier also offers a beautifully curated brand guide for vegan shoppers searching for new brands to follow.
Michelle Rothenburger's Harmfree Fashion blog offers a great balance of content, from articles on fashion-forward trends to tips on thrifting with style. Browse by trend, by style or by garment to find the advice and recommendations you need quickly.
Sophie Davies' A Considered Life blog is a veritable goldmine of information and advice on a wonderfully wide range of topics centered on simple living: minimalism and downsizing, zero waste, sustainable and vegan fashion, slow travel and more.
All are fully endorsed and recommended by Team ColieCo - go check them out!
Thanks again all for reading. We hope that you've enjoyed the post, and that we've offered some food (plant-based, obviously!) for thought.