Creating a Cruelty-Free Wardrobe

Hello everybody! I am super glad that you’re here. This is the first of a new post series: The Vegan Wardrobe Challenge.
My goal is to teach you how to create your own cruelty-free and awesomely green wardrobe. Across January and February there will be a new post every Monday, for a total of 7 posts. At the end of our journey in compassion and sustainability, there will be a surprise. “The Vegan Wardrobe Challenge” eBook, packed with everything you’ll ever need to create a cruelty-free wardrobe. There will be a lot of extra material, planners to keep you on track and cheat-sheets to help you with labels, brands and fabrics. Pre-order yours now at a discounted price at the bottom of this post.

What if you’re not vegan but you still want a cruelty-free wardrobe? Welcome aboard my darling conscious reader! Even if you’re not vegan (diet-wise), you are oh so very welcome on our journey to a cruelty-free wardrobe. Remember, every little help counts. 

I also run a page on Facebook called Cool Vegan Fashion (edit:it’s now called CrueltyFreeBlog.it as it’s linked to my new blog in Italian), and that’s our opinion about the matter:

Cool Vegan Fashion on Facebook

So make sure you are informed whenever a new post of the series is up. Make sure you follow us either on Facebook or Twitter. Use and follow The Vegan Wardrobe Challenge hashtag if you like: #vegwardrobe.

Cruelty-Free Wardrobe: Why Would You Bother?

Let’s start from the very beginning. If you’re vegan you already know why you should bother about having a cruelty-free wardrobe. If you’re vegetarian, or you just eat everything, it might not be so obvious to you. Let’s go through the reasons why you would want to have a cruelty-free wardrobe.

  • You eat a plant based diet so you’re technically a vegan. But remember that veganism is a lifestyle choice: to call yourself a vegan, this philosophy has to touch every aspect of your life. “I don’t eat meat and animal derivatives, but I wear leather and silk.” Mmhh. Doesn’t sound right, does it?
  • You are a vegetarian. Sometimes it’s not so obvious for vegetarians to make the connection. Leather often comes from the livestock bred for meat, so if you don’t eat meat, it’s a contradiction to say the least. You don’t kill animals to eat, but you do to wear them? No point, right?

Cruelty-Free Wardrobe - The Vegan Wardrobe Challenge

You are neither a vegetarian nor a vegan, but…

  • You think that the hide of cows would be wasted. Wrong! Over a billion animals a year are slaughtered for their skin only. Not all leather is a byproduct of the meat industry.
  • You care about your planet. Did you know that livestock (for meat, milk, skin and fleece) has the higher carbon footprint on our planet? Animal farming is the first culprit of global warming. The very global warming that is causing floods and wrecking havoc all over the world.
  • You care about your health. If you wear leather you might want to know that a lot of harsh chemicals are used in the tanning phase of its production. What you end up wearing is nothing like the raw hide of an animal. It’s bleached, washed many times, tanned and treated with toxic and potentially carcinogenic chemicals.
  • You just can live without it. Think about it for a second: would your life really be so bad without using animals for your own vanity? Let’s be honest, in 2015 we don’t need animal’s hides to protect ourselves from the cold anymore. We don’t need fur or fleece to go through the Winter. If we can survive without harming and killing another living creature, why wouldn’t we do it? 

Every time we spend our money we cast a vote for the kind of world we want. Do you want a world full of injustice, pollution and fear or do you want a world where we can all thrive, be free and be treated fairly?

First Steps to a Cruelty-Free Wardrobe

If you got to this point, I assume you’re now convinced you want a cruelty-free wardrobe. Congratulations! You are what makes a difference on this planet, I thank you with all my heart. So where do we start?

The first step to creating your own cruelty-free wardrobe is to get rid of the “guilty items” in your closet. There might be a few of them, there might be many. If you never considered the issue, chances are all your shoes are made of leather. Your bags, your belts, your biker jackets. What can you do now?

Cruelty-Free Wardrobe - The Vegan Wardrobe Challenge

Leather

  1. Let’s start from the hardest part: shoes. Take all of your shoes out and start “analyzing” them. If your shoes are made of leather, you usually have the leather sign somewhere on the shoes. It might be printed on the inside sole or stamped on the outside sole.  If the shoes were pricey, chances are you have real leather on your hands.
  2. Belts. Real leather belts usually have a sign carved on the inside. It’s always the same sign, like the one you can see in the picture above.
  3. Bags. For bags it should be easier, they always have a label somewhere sewn on the inside lining with the materials written on it.

How to Tell Real Leather from Fake Leather

If none of the techniques above works, smell it. No, really, smell it. Leather has a characteristic smell that is very different from plastic. Smell something you’re sure it’s real leather first, and then go on and smell the item you must determine the material of.
You can also do the burn test, but we don’t want to jeopardize your faux leather items: real leather will remain untouched by your lighter’s flame, while plastic leather will quickly melt or catch on fire.
If your items are quite old, you can check how they’re aging. Fake leather ages very differently from real leather. It will eventually crack, while real leather gets consumed rather than cracked. Fake leather is always made from a fabric base, so look at the inside of your shoe/jacket/belt.
Faux leather is lighter than real leather. Faux leather stretches more than real leather. If you examine an item closely, you should be able to tell real from fake!

Fur

The thought of people still wearing real fur makes me shiver, but sometimes you might do it rather unconsciously. That coat with a fur collar/hood/trim? You wouldn’t think they’d kill an animal (or two, or ten) for that shit, right? Wrong. They do. Brands like Moncler and Woolrich both use real fur in their coats. When it’s real fur it can be fox, lapin (rabbit), coyote, mink. If that wasn’t bad enough, they also use down, but that’s a story for another post of The Vegan Wardrobe Challenge.

Cruelty-Free Wardrobe - The Vegan Wardrobe Challenge

How to Tell Real Fur from Fake Fur

Look at the label. This is the very first thing you should always do. If you’re about to buy an item, it must have the label somewhere. You want to read “synthetic fur”, “fake fur” or  “faux fur” on your label. We will go into much deeper detail about labels in the third “lesson” of our Vegan Wardrobe Challenge.
Real fur usually has a much softer feeling than fake fur; it will slide through your fingers easily. Fake fur usually feels bristly and coarse. 
Real fur will be attached to leather. Check the base of the hairs: if it’s real fur you’ll see skin, if it’s fake fur you will see threadwork. 
The burn test again: remove a few hairs and burn them with a lighter. Real fur will smell like burnt human hair, while fake fur will “melt” and curl into hard plastic, and smell like burnt plastic. Make sure you do this away from your coat and on a non-flammable surface. Fake fur is a very flammable material!
Did you know that shearling is exactly like fur? It’s not like wool, it comes with the skin attached to it so the animal is killed and skinned to make a pair of UGGs or a shearling coat. Depending on how large a shearling coat is, 3 to 4 pelts are used, therefore 3 to 4 sheeps are killed for you to wear it.
The technique to spot the real one from the fake one is to look at the leather. Shearling is sheepskin: the hide is removed and the wool is left untouched on the hide. It always comes with leather on a side and wool on the other side. You can also run the burn-test.

Silk

Ok, we’re done with Winter “dangers”, on to Summer’s! Silk is a fabric that is spun from cocoons, which are silk worms in their pupal stage (before becoming a moth). They would leave their cocoons behind anyway, so why wouldn’t we use it? Because we actually kill the larvae before they make it to their moth stage (which means the beautiful moth in the picture below will never see the world). The moth chews its way out of the cocoon destroying the silk fiber. The larvae are therefore steamed alive or gassed before they ruin the cocoon, which can now be reeled. Approximately 3.000 silk worms die to make a pound of silk.
There are alternatives to killing the caterpillars though. Eri silk is silk made out of Samia ricini, another type of silk worms. This kind of silk is not spun like Bombyx Mori’s silk, it’s carded and spun like wool instead of being reeled like normal silk. Pupae not killed from the silk harvest are often killed anyway though, because they’re used for fertilization or sold to eat (Eri silk is mainly produced in India, where they eat pupae).
A non-cruel silk can be made from Bombyx Mori, too. The silk is rescued from the cocoons after the moths have flown away. This kind of silk is more expensive because less silk is usable after the cocoon is ruined by the moth.
Whether is ok for a vegan to wear Eri silk or Ahimsa silk is a grey area. Animals are still “exploited” and “used” for our “pleasure” so silk shouldn’t be an option for vegans. There’s also another issue: every fertilized moth lays around 500 eggs. The offspring would be too huge to feed so it’s culled and left to die.

It looks like the only kind of silk that is truly cruelty-free is synthetic silk.

Cruelty-Free Wardrobe - The Vegan Wardrobe Challenge

How to Tell Real Silk from Synthetic Silk

When we talk about fur, some dodgy factory could be using dog’s fur and sell it as fake fur. With silk, this shouldn’t happen. Why? Because genuine silk is much more expensive than any kind of synthetic silk. No one would ever sell genuine silk and say it’s synthetic. People love genuine silk, it still is a synonym of luxury, even with all the beautiful fabrics that we have nowadays. It’s much more likely that synthetic silk or silk blends are sold like genuine silk.
But you can still run tests to be sure you have synthetic silk on your hands. Check the weave: genuine silk often has imperfection and fluff in some points. If it’s smooth, chances are it’s synthetic.
Run the burn test: genuine silk will turn black and in ashes, while smelling like burnt hair. Artificial silk will behave like plastic, forming a small ball of hard residue.
Last but not least, the price test. As aforementioned, genuine silk is very expensive.

What to Do with the Leather/Fur/Silk/Shearling Items we Found?

Well, it’s up to you. I don’t want you to throw everything in the bin, because that would be a shame. We don’t need more dump cramming the landfills, that I’m sure of! Find a way to give back to the animals, to nature or to give to the less fortunate.
Give a wool blanket or a down duvet to a dog shelter, they are always in need of stuff to keep the dogs warm.
Put your clothes in one of those used clothes drop-off bins if you have them in your area. If the clothes are in good conditions they will be given to the homeless. It’s the quickest way to deal with your pile of unwanted clothes.
Give them to a charity shop, or to a church if that’s more your thing.
You could even sell the most expensive and well-kept items if it doesn’t make you feel guilty. I’d say go for it, from an ecological point of view you’re helping because you’re giving a second life to a product instead of dumping it. As far as the animal suffering is concerned, there’s nothing you can do about something you have already bought.
See it that way: someone is going to buy your used leather jacket instead of buying a new one and create demand to the producers. You can always give a percentage of your earnings to an animal shelter, and use the rest to buy a cruelty-free replacement.

***

Ok peeps, I hope you enjoyed this very first post of our love-filled post series and that you’ll be back for your second lesson. Next week you’ll learn about the vegan wardrobe’s above suspicion items: those materials you think are alright but definitely aren’t, which also include a totally unexpected element that is potentially involved in everything we wear.

Let us know if you have any question (about the post series, the eBook or anything you’d like to know about a cruelty-free wardrobe) in the comments below! Or use the hashtag #vegwardrobe on Facebook or Twitter, and I’ll be right there to answer you!

Are you wondering where I got my facts from? There will be a bibliography at the end of this series, and in the eBook of course. Subscribe to the mailing list below to get the book for free and if you want to be a more conscious shopper and a kinder human! For now, trust me. I know what I’m talking about, I walk my talk and I  want a better planet for us and for the animals!

 

Check out all the posts in this series:

  1. Creating a Cruelty-Free Wardrobe (5/01/2015)
  2. Unexpected Cruelty in your Wardrobe (12/01/2015)
  3. How to Read Clothing Labels (19/01/2015)
  4. Top 10 Cruelty-Free Fashion Brands (26/01/2015)
  5. Recycled and Second-Hand: Your Sustainable and Compassionate Wardrobe (02/02/2015)
  6. Top 10 Cruelty-Free Fashion Blogs (09/02/2015)
  7. Cruelty-Free and Sustainable Fashion: It’s Possible! (16/02/2015)
  8. Your Cruelty-Free Wardrobe – Become Fashion ‘Conscious’ With This Comprehensive Guide (17/03/2015)
Elisa

About the Author

Elisa

Hey, it's Elisa, founder of styleonvega.com. I'm a social media specialist by day and blogger by night (honing my multitasking skills since 2006 ;). I'm an atypical Italian, freedom lifestyle advocate and modern spirituality enthusiast. Feel like we could get along? Join me just above this box or get in touch with me on Facebook or Twitter.

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Sara

WOW. Thank you for this post.
I was shamefully ignorant till now. I am up for the challenge!

    Elisa

    You’re welcome Sara! And thank you for being interested in this topic. You really are what makes a difference!

Sam

I think products need to come with correct labeling just like food so people can make an informed choice, I struggle to tell what is real and what is fake when it comes to materials.

    Elisa

    Hi Sam! Yes, usually clothes and accessories come with labels, but more often than not some things are not yet regulated by the law. Anyway, there are many methods you can use to know if a material is animal derived or not, it’s actually easier than it sounds! Thank you for dropping by!

Larissa

I love this post! Thank you for bringing awareness to the topic. You really don’t even think about what your clothes are made of unless its fur do you!

    Elisa

    Thank you for reading this post Larissa! I hope it has made you think about the cruelty that is in every animal derived material, not only fur. 🙂

Cornelia

Hi Elisa, Just want to say – this post is amazing!

I have just signed up to your wardrobe challenge and it is everything I need right now. Spending so much time researching the cruelty free side of the beauty industry, I haven’t had the time to spend on the fashion side of things. I don’t need to look any further, everything I need is right here! Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you for taking the time to write these challenges!

    Elisa

    You’re welcome Cornelia, thank you a lot for fighting the right fight 😀 <3

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