Shopping for Authentic and Ethical Vegan Clothing

There’s a weird trend going on amongst some of the most popular online stores just now. After Veganuary finished, there was an upward tick in names like ASOS, Pretty Little Thing & Boohoo showcasing products made from “vegan leather”.

Your initial instinct may be to go, “OH THAT’S GREAT, FINALLY!”. I hate to burst your bubble, but a slight misnomer or illusion is going on. It might not be the case for those brands I’ve mentioned, but using terms like “vegan leather” can be incredibly misleading.  Vogue Business recently highlighted that some vegan leathers go through an incredibly intensive production cycle which is almost as resource intensive as normal leather. 

It may be the case that when we see products from fast-fashion sites advertised as “vegan”, the cheapness should set off alarm bells about whether the product has been made ethically or sustainably. Think about it. If you noticed a vegan leather jacket was less than £20, wouldn’t you wonder why?

If you want to become more knowledgeable when shopping for vegan clothing, here are some important things to look out for.

Check the source

The majority of vegan leather is really just polyurethane (PU leather). It’s a plastic-like polymer that can be created using anything from mushrooms to pineapple to apple skins. Because the process and technology behind making PU leather are still relatively new, it comes at a price reflected in the final product. 

When we see fast-fashion items listed as vegan or vegan leather, it may be the case that they’re made from other non-animal plastics and micro-plastics, which just aren’t good. Harper’s Bazaar pointed it out as such in a recent article stating that “Vegan leather can be made from plastics which take years to biodegrade, [making it] worse for the planet than regular [leather].”

So when you’re looking at a vegan leather product, have a good scan through the materials. If you’re not sure, ask the brand directly how materials were produced or sourced so that you can make a sound judgement.

See what dyes they use

Who doesn’t love a good t-shirt? I’m partial to old band tees myself. And while lots of vegan-friendly slogans are popping up on t-shirts all the time from the likes of Pennys/Primark, H&M etc., the dyes used might not be the best. Viva La Vegan, a UK based fashion brand which sells ethical vegan t-shirts, highlight that their clothing uses water-based vegan inks to minimise the amount of waste product entering back into the local water network.

Just think back to being in art class in school and having to wash paintbrushes in the sink. Now think of how many fast fashion brands are washing hundreds of litres of artificial dyes down the drain. It might make you think twice about buying a F.R.I.E.N.D.S t-shirt just because it is so cheap. Oh, and do have a look at some of the shirts from Viva La Vegan – they’re super cute.


Check their fabric footprint

Every piece of clothing you own has a fabric footprint. Most of us wouldn’t even consider the journey clothing takes from sourcing materials to productions to packaging to shipping to delivery to being in your wardrobe. 

The BBC reported that the fashion industry accounts for about 10% of global carbon emissions, with Fashion Revolution estimating that a pair of jeans “emits 34kg of CO2 to be produced, similar to taking a car and driving for 111km”. That’s a lot of miles for your jeans.

Again, check the supplier’s website or ask them if they take a climate-neutral approach to sourcing their materials. In most cases, ethical brands will use offsetting measures to help balance emissions out of their control. 

Remembering why it matters

This all seems like a bit of homework just to buy a jacket or jeans, doesn’t it? 

For me, it isn’t at all when put it into perspective. Remember, PETA states that over a BILLION animals, not just cows but pigs, goats, sheep and even cats & dogs, are killed for their skins every year. Choosing to have a vegan-friendly wardrobe is a wholly positive step. Just make sure that when you’re shopping vegan, the brand advertising as such is clear and honest in their messaging.