From Hippy to Hip: How Vegan Fashion Hit Its Stride
Veganism isn’t just about watching what you eat. The ‘cruelty free’ lifestyle, which has grown enormously with the arrival of the 21st century, goes far beyond merely what we put in our bellies. It’s about avoiding the consumption of anything that involves the use and abuse of animals, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and protecting the environment and while there are a growing number of eateries specializing in vegan fare, the world of fashion - and of high quality fashion in particular - is only just starting to catch up.
Escaping its Roots
What do we visualize when we think of vegan fashion? For some people, the image that comes to mind is far from flattering. After all, the label ‘vegan’ still has a tendency to drag its crusty, hippy roots close to its heels, laden with baggy pants made from woven hemp and tote bags emblazoned with the latest anti-establishment catchphrase. However, a quick look around at the wealth and quality of the very latest flush of vegan fashion items - from jackets to bags and all things in between - reveals that vegan fashion has now grown up, moved forward, and found its voice and style in a way few might have expected just a decade ago.
It’s not just the hippy stereotype that’s outdated when it comes to misjudging vegan clothing and accessories. While the majority of people might shudder at the idea of stepping out in attire that belongs solely within the confines of Burning Man, the other issue which holds many people back is the memory of ‘pleather’ - that cheap looking, plasticky faux leather that was seemingly everywhere in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Of course, it goes without saying that many of the fashion choices we made in those decades - during which man was forsaken by style - should be kept well in the past. As veganism has hit mainstream, vegan clothing and accessories are now ready for their renaissance. Here's how that has come about.
Driven by Knowledge, Lifted by Conscience, Brought Full-circle by Technology
Changing trends and fashions are always driven by changing minds, developing perspectives, and leaps in technology and the production of materials. However, the growth in vegan fashion has another driving force behind it: a new wave of social and environmental awareness that looks to science for answers, and personal lifestyle choices for solutions.
The 21st century is a fascinating time to be alive; this is an age of information, of global thinking, and of waking up to the reality of our impact upon the world. As we recognize the toll that man-made climate change, which we now understand is in large part caused by industrial / factory farming of livestock - is having on our environment and eco-systems, we are presented with a whole series of choices. Do we continue to be part of the problem, or do we strive to play a role in the solution? It is exactly these sorts of choices which a considerable proportion of society has begun to make, and thanks to our access to information, statistical research and cold, hard facts, we can choose our paths based on a wealth of information which then can be added to, built upon and shared. For example, once we understand that the consequences of meat consumption go far beyond issues of animal welfare, and result in poisoned rivers, the loss of habitats, wasting vast quantities of water (in California, it takes almost 2,500 gallons of water to produce each pound of beef), and a plethora of other environmental issues, switching to a vegan lifestyle begins to feel less like a lifestyle choice, and more like a civic duty. After all, there's nothing fashionable about animal abuse, or funding the destruction of our planet.
Of course, as more and more people awaken to the concept of living a cruelty-free lifestyle, other sectors of society will gradually catch up. As technology has developed, it has emboldened designers to push the possibilities of vegan leather even further, allowing them to explore more styles, more textures, more colors and cuts. Of course, it isn’t just about leather replacements - the same rush of interest and growth in technology has also led to the creation of vegan sheepskin, higher quality fake fur, and synthetically made wools. All of these materials allow designers and manufacturers a broad and exciting palette to work with, safe in the knowledge that no animal has been harmed in their production, their impact to the environment has been reduced, and ready to be released to a growing market of people who are as eco-conscious as they are fashion-conscious.
A New Dawn for Vegan Fashion
Right now, the demand for and interest in vegan fashion is booming. Leather replacements and advanced materials are hitting catwalks worldwide, and high-profile celebrity endorsements for cruelty-free options are seeing vegan items gather steam. So what’s changed? First and foremost, the sheer quality of the products themselves. Long gone are the dodgy, hippified garments that look like they’ve been made round the back of a Moroccan medina. Gone also is the garish pleather of yesteryear, resigned to the early days of MTV.
Today’s high fashion vegan items, made with state-of-the-art replacement leather which truly replaces the finest of leather, have proven to be enough to convince even the most skeptical of fashionistas. Indeed, when serious fashion designers started focusing on producing vegan garments for the 21st century, their aim was to start creating something which had quality at its heart. The materials are supple, elegantly structured from carefully designed and milled fibers, and durable - at times even more durable than the ‘real’ thing. Results have been impressive to say the least, with many claiming to have been genuinely shocked to discover the vegan credentials of certain superior quality and luxury products.
A Note to Consumers of Vegan Fashion
Seeing monikers of high quality vegan leather are not sufficient. The educated customer will look for microfiber PU (polyurethane) as the leather replacement material of choice. A large number of products made from cheap leather replacements have jumped onto the “vegan leather” bandwagon and offer their customers inferior material and workmanship. Ironically, the best vegan leather products are often made in factories that specialize in leather products. Factories specializing in leather products use higher skilled workers and churn out smaller numbers of products. They also source higher quality metal components, zippers and finishing products. Consumers should inquire into vegan brands that claim to provide quality products and learn about their materials and factories.
An Ever-Growing Demand
More people than ever before are calling out for fashion choices which reflect their worldview, their conscience and their lifestyle… and the vegan scene is (and maybe never was) restricted to the hippies, so why should clothes and accessories be similarly held back? Make no mistake, veganism, vegetarianism and other lifestyle choices based on conscious consumption of goods is very much on the rise. The increased access to information we have today, especially with the mainstreaming of green issues, has allowed millions worldwide to make the choice to eschew products which involve the maltreatment of animals.
Recent studies have found that 3.3% of the US population is vegetarian or vegan.. Further, some estimates peg 10% of millennials having adopted a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle and 10% of Americans now follow a vegetarian-inclined diet. That’s a significant section of society, whose choices deserve to be catered to in a non-food products and especially on the more professional and affordable luxury ends of the fashion marketplace. All of this has pushed to fashion industry (and several high profile designers) to explore new avenues and possibilities. The result? A new wave of high quality, well-made and beautifully designed clothes, bags and accessories which are attractive to a wide variety of consumers… not to leave out our hippy friends.