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A quick guide to vegan fashion

We unpack some of the issues around vegan fashion. 

We take a look at the world’s leading vegan standards, and a selection of fashion brands selling vegan clothing.

When we think of ‘vegan’, we usually think first of bean burgers and plant-based milks. But with animal products used in a wide range of clothing, finding vegan fashion brands can be just as important.

What is vegan clothing?

Vegan clothes are made without the use of any animal products. It means avoiding fabrics taken by killing an animal, like animal leather and hides, but also those which are usually harvested from the animal while it is still alive, like wool and down. It also means looking at what buttons are made of as some brands use shells like mother of pearl or bone, and trimmings or decorations like feathers.

In our clothing guides, Ethical Consumer looks for brands that are avoiding animal products – and marks down those that aren’t.

Consumers may have different reasons for avoiding animals in their clothing. For some, it is inherently unethical to use an animal’s body for our fashion. For others, it is more to do with the notoriously poor conditions in which these animals are kept.

Our article on animal rights in the clothing industry outlines conditions from life-long confinement of foxes, rabbits and other animals for fur, to the live plucking of ducks and geese for down.

What are non-vegan fabrics?

Those wanting to avoid animal products in their clothing should look out for the following fabrics (unless marked as synthetic):

  • Leather
  • Suede
  • Wool
  • Cashmere (from goats)
  • Angora (rabbits) 
  • Mohair (goats)
  • Merino wool (sheep)
  • Silk
  • Peace silk
  • Down
  • Fur (many animals)
  • Animal felt

We have a separate article on the main issues with several of these animal fibres.

Vegan clothing brands

More and more companies are making commitments to avoid certain animal products, like fur, or source others more ethically, like down. All will probably offer some vegan clothing items. Very few companies, however, are truly vegan across their whole range.

According to our Ethical Clothing Guide, “Monkee Genes and MUD Clothing offer vegan clothing ranges. KoolKompany Ltd, Rapanui, Lucy and Yak, and THTC Clothing did not appear to sell animal products at the time of writing.”

If you’re concerned about the environment, you might want to check that the brand you’re choosing doesn’t just replace animal products with harmful plastic alternatives. Our Ethical Clothing Guide points to the best of the bunch.

High-street vegan clothing brands

If you want to find a fully vegan high-street clothing brand, you’ll sadly have your work cut out.

Our High-Street Clothing Guide found that Shein was the only company to claim “a strict no animal policy” – a claim that was found to be “patently false.” While Shein may not use real leather or fur, we found products made from down, silk and wool, with no accompanying animal welfare policies.

Nonetheless, many individual items will be vegan by default. Clothes such as 100% cotton t-shirts, or recycled polyester fleeces will not contain any animal products. Check the label or ask someone in the shop.

Check out our guide to High-Street Clothing to find out more about the animal welfare policies of well-known brands.

brown rabbit grazing on grass
Rabbits and many other animals are used for their fur

What can consumers do about vegan clothing?

1. Demand change from high street brands

If you’re concerned how little high street brands are doing to address animal welfare or animal rights, why not write to them? You could ask them to drop certain animal products associated with particularly poor conditions, or call on them to go vegan altogether.

2. Support a campaign

Animal rights groups like Four Paws and PETA run targeted campaigns calling for change. You can support them by signing petitions or offering your time or activism. They do everything from demanding better practices by individual companies (see this PETA campaign calling for H&M to stop using mohair and cashmere) to calling for wholesale changes in the law (Four Paws is currently calling for a Fur Free Britain).

3. Support a vegan company - and let them know

By buying from a vegan company – and getting in touch to let them know why you bought from them – you’re supporting them to stick to their animal-free ethic.

If you can’t find what you want from one of these companies, you could buy a second-hand vegan product. This way you won’t be inadvertently supporting a non-vegan high street brand.