In January 2020, more than 400,000 people signed up to do ‘Veganuary’, pledging to cut all meat and dairy from their diet for the month. But what about their wardrobes? Veganism, if taken on fully, would involve cutting all animal products from your wider lifestyle, too, and the prospect of navigating the clothes shops might suddenly sound like a bigger commitment than eating a few extra seed-rich meals.
Fear not; there are now dozens of vegan-friendly fashion brands out there producing clothes that are truly stylish, without using any leather, fur, wool, feathers, silk, exotic skins or other animal-derived materials.
Ethical fashion remains a minefield. Some argue that vintage leather is OK. Stella McCartney has never used leather or fur in her designs, but will use responsibly sourced wool as she believes the quality is better than alternatives. Meanwhile the Duchess of Sussex is a fan of vegan leather trousers (more on those shortly), but still has many leather handbags in her collection.
Ruling leather, silk and wool off your sartorial menu will enlarge your environmental footprint in ways you might not have predicted, however, as many vegan labels need to produce their products with plastic-based fabrics instead. But a lot of brands are aware of the issue, and are seeking to make clothes that are both animal and environmentally friendly.
If you are thinking of making some changes to the way you shop in 2021, here is a guide to 15 brands that are vegan-friendly whilst also trying to limit their environmental impact. And, crucially, they don’t compromise on style either…
After the Duchess of Sussex said that ‘cropped pants in vegan leather’ were one of her fashion essentials in 2017, searches for what exactly ‘vegan leather trousers’ are soared by 67%. In short, they are ones made from synthetic leather-look materials like PU and PVC, without using any animal skins or derivatives in the coatings or glues. But of course some designer incarnations offer better quality.
Nanushka designer Sandra Sandor’s vegan leather collection has expanded to offer glossy dresses, bags, shoes, shirts and jackets recently, as well as trousers, all of which have a luxe edge and are cut into more exciting silhouettes than your standard biker attire.
The London-based label Luxtra uses Pinatex and Frumat to make its luxury handbags; the former being a 'leather-like fabric made from pineapple leaves, the latter from apples. The textiles are soft and durable, and are cut into around a dozen classic handbag and backpack styles.
Trailblazing Stella McCartney has offered vegetarian-friendly runway collections since she founded her brand in 2001. From bags, to shoes, to ready-to-wear and sportswear, her fashion empire covers pretty much all bases. Although she does use wool and silk in her clothing ranges, her vegan accessories are the chicest in the business. Imitation cow-hide is also used to great effect in her resort 2021 collection.
When Hannah Weiland launched her London-based brand Shrimps in 2013, faux fur was considered a naff alternative to the real thing. But the designer helped to push the material into the luxury fashion conversation, and now she offers a full ready-to-wear and accessories line alongside her famous outerwear collection.
Matt & Nat
Designers of vegan It bag the Bini Bucket, Matt & Nat makes all of its accessories from PU (polyurethane) which is a smidge more eco-friendly than PVC (polyvinylchloride) and lines them with a material made of recycled plastic bottles. The designs are clean, timeless and will last for years in your wardrobe.
Marks and Spencer
M&S currently sells 14 pairs of women’s shoes every minute, so when the design team noticed demand was increasing for vegan options, they decided to develop their synthetic range to be 100% vegan in 2019. Their offering spans from classic courts to trainers, with prices starting at £19.50.
Another bag brand to know, most of Mashu’s top-handle bags can be carried as a case, or worn as a satchel. A water-based PU (rather than oil-based) is used as an alternative to leather, and the handles on each bag are made from off-cuts from a furniture company that would otherwise be thrown away.
Finding vegan jeans is quite tricky - you’d be amazed at how many brands use a leather branded patch on the waistband. Dutch denim label Mud Jeans is a PETA-approved vegan label and offers every classic cut and style of jeans that you could want. A lot of their styles are made from recycled cotton, too, which is better for the environment than sourcing and processing new fibres.
Free People’s vegan leather edit is full of classics. This is perhaps the best destination if you’d like a glossy pair of black ‘leather’ trousers, a shearling-look biker jacket, or a 'suede' skirt.
Angela Roi is on a constant quest to find new materials that mimic the look, structure and flexibility of the kinds of leathers used on designer handbags. Her latest discovery looks just like a soft pebble grain leather, but is made from EPUL (that’s Exquisite Polyurethane Leather, by the way).
Trainers are another hard one to find on a vegan wardrobe diet. Ethletic’s canvas pumps are an ideal everyday basic made from organic, fairtrade canvas twill cotton, with a sole made of fairly traded natural rubber from Sri Lanka.
The other place to go for vegan trainers is Veja. The cult brand introduced its first vegan styles in 2019, and now offers dozens of its hit trainers in new vegan-friendly materials.
Exotic crocodile textures have been a huge trend for the last few seasons, so vegan handbag brand JW PEI set out to develop a cruelty-free version. Its bags are made with a microfibre fabric which is less toxic than PVC and more luxurious-feeling than PU. They say that their bags are five times more durable than genuine leather.
Shoe brand Beyond Skin has brilliant everyday styles, from biker boots to loafers. The shoes are made from Italian faux leather or microfibre suede which is created using recycled plastics; the brand argues that the impact of pollution is less than that of traditional leather tanning processes.
A final label to note if you’re into the idea of a faux fur coat. British brand Jakke’s graphic, colour blocked and patterned designs come on super-soft brushed fabrics that feel like fur, as well as curly teddy textures that imitate shearling. Best of all, many of the coats are made from completely recycled materials.