About: The Sustainability of Vegan Clothes

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Tijs Blom

Veganism and vegetarianism are often linked to sustainability and an environmentally friendly lifestyle. The meat industry has some of the highest rates in for example water use and the emissions of greenhouse gas. Cutting out meat from your diet therefore seems, and often is, a sustainable idea. The same goes for vegan clothing, it can surely favor sustainability and a healthy natural environment.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case, meat substitutes can be less sustainable than meat itself and vegan pieces can be less sustainable than non-vegan pieces. This can be caused by several factors, the shipping or the water usage for cultivating certain plants for example. We simply can’t take for granted that every kind of vegan clothing aids those causes.

What is vegan clothing?

Vegan clothing is clothing that contains no components that are received from animals. Similarly, no animal components can be used during the production of this clothing. Examples of non-vegan clothing are obviously clothes made of fur or leather, but also clothing that are made of different kinds of wool or clothes made of silk. Vegan clothing can be made from for example synthetic fibers, or organic materials like hemp or bamboo.

How can vegan clothing be sustainable?

Vegan clothing can be sustainable in different ways. The fact that it does not use any materials from animals can be a sustainable matter as it doesn’t support the non-eco-friendly industry of holding animals. Vegan fibers used for making clothing can be plant-based and be produced in a sustainable way. Organic produced cotton, for example, needs a relatively low amount of water to be produced, and has a low need of energy. The producers of organic cotton also do not use any toxic chemicals. Unfortunately, only a very small part of the global cotton production is organic.

Another sustainable vegan fiber is hemp. The production of hemp also requires a relatively low amount of water and energy. Hemp is a fast-growing plant, that produces a lot of fiber in a relatively small amount of time and space. This makes hemp another good example of a sustainable vegan fiber that can be used to produce clothing. These fibers use less water and energy to produce than their alternatives. Besides, they are less harmful to the environment than other fibers.

What are the downsides of vegan clothing?

Avoiding animal products in (the production of) clothing does unfortunately not always make your clothing more sustainable. This can be caused by the alternatives being non-eco-friendly. An example can be synthetic vegan alternatives such as polyester. Polyester is the most used fiber in clothing. The production of this fiber is not sustainable by any means, and this is caused by various reasons. Synthetic fibers such as polyester need a lot of energy to be produced. Secondly, dangerous toxins are released during the production of these fibers. A third and major factor that makes synthetic fibers not sustainable is the fact that they are not biodegradable. Synthetic fibers are also used in so-called “vegan leather”. Although this is of course an animal friendly option, it is not eco-friendly.

Another commonly used vegan fiber is rayon. Rayon is produced from wood pulp, that can be obtained from various types of plants and trees. Rayon has, although being plant based, various downsides.  The production of rayon causes massive deforestation. Plants that are planted to produce rayon are rarely planted in a sustainable way. Next to that, during the production of rayon a lot of water, energy and harmful chemicals are used. Rayon and polyester are both used to manufacture vegan clothing, but both fabrics have their downsides. These examples show that not all vegan clothes are necessary usable in a sustainable and eco-friendly lifestyle.

What does this information mean?

Vegan clothing can be sustainable, but it isn’t sustainable by definition. There are numerous vegan friendly firers that are used in the clothing industry, that have various downsides that make them unsustainable. Paying attention to the materials that your clothes are made of can help you to maintain a sustainable lifestyle. This is of course not only the case for vegan clothing. Choosing certain fibers to wear can help you to express both your animal friendly, and your sustainable and eco-friendly beliefs.