As a vegan, the most difficult fashion challenges are shopping for vegan shoes, outerwear, and accessories – as these are the clothing and accessory categories that are most saturated with animal fur, hide, and feathers.
I faced this conundrum a few months into being vegan, when I realized that almost all of my shoes, bags, or coats were sourced from animals. I had already been feeling overwhelmed about the insidious ubiquity of animal products in food, and the task of having to carefully scrutinize food labels to see if they had any any sneaky animal ingredients such as casein in dairy-free cheese, and egg whites in veggie burgers. Now on top of my vigilance around food, I had the extra challenge of analyzing where my clothes came from. Would the list of things I had to question and investigate ever end?
Giving away my leather shoes and bags was fairly easy, because after a few months of being vegan just looking at them in my closet made me feel nauseous. But I have to admit I was a bit reluctant to give up wool and down. At first, I rationalized that ducks and sheep who were used for their feathers and wool weren’t killed in the process, and that they were probably being humanely treated. However, after I learned about the horrors behind wool and down production, I knew that I could not be complicit in the perpetuation of these industries either.
Thus began the process of searching for vegan outerwear. It took me a while to get the lay of the land, but thanks to my relentlessness when it comes to online shopping, I eventually got a sense for what my options were.
Before I get into those options, let’s quickly break down the problems with wearing animals as outerwear, and clothing in general.
What’s wrong with wool, down, leather, and fur – really?
Well, basically, everything. When we use sentient creatures in business and use treat them as property, all manner of things can and do go wrong. In a nutshell:
- They become reduced – in a company’s eyes – to economic units of production
- All of their natural instincts and desires – such as to bond with one another and roam freely in nature – are denied them
- Their lives consist of being confined, mutilated without anesthetization, exploited, and slaughtered
Here are the problems specifically with wool, down, leather, fur:
Wool – From sheep who had “mulesing” (chunks ripped out of their skin) performed on them without anesthetization. They are roughly shorn of their hair, which provides insulation from cold weather. Eventually, they’re shipped on a long arduous boat trip, to the Middle East only to be brutally slaughtered
Down – From ducks in China who are also exploited for eggs, meat, or despicably cruel foie gras. The soft undercoating beneath their top layer of feathers is violently torn from them several times while they are alive and then once more after they had been killed
Fur – From “fur farms,” where animals are caged and experience extreme distress from being confined. They are killed through anal, and sometimes vaginal, electrocution, so as to keep the fur in tact. 100 chinchillas, 60 minks, or 10 to 24 foxes are required for 1 full-length fur coat
Leather – From cows in India and China, where there are no animal welfare regulations. Animals used for leather are confined on filthy factory farms, dehorned and castrated without anesthetization. On the way to the slaughterhouse, they are crowded onto trucks and subjected to all manner of weather extremes. They may not be stunned properly before being skinned
I urge you to reflect on the ethical issues of using animals for their skin, fur, or feathers. If we saw someone treating a dog in such inhumane ways, we would think that the person was a deranged psychopath. And though we tend to only extend moral consideration to companion animals, the truth is that all animals matter morally because they have the capacity to suffer.
For most of my life, I wore leather, wool, and down because I simply didn’t know any better. Once I learned the facts about how exploited animals were treated, however, I made a commitment to myself that I would find vegan alternatives to these materials. You can make this commitment as well.
Vegan outerwear options
With its variety of high quality and fashionable vegan jackets and coats, Vaute Couture is trailblazing the movement for eco-friendly and vegan clothing. Vaute Couture sells beautiful coats and jackets that will last a long time, and in buying their coats you will be supporting a self-funded independent label that is passionate about animal rights.
Barbour makes waxed canvas utility jackets that are excellent quality and perfect for crisp 50-60 degree weather. They come with big pockets that make carrying a bag sometimes unnecessary. I will concede that they are very preppy looking, so if you want a more unique and edgy look, Vaute Couture also sells some waxed canvas outerwear.
Hoodlamb is a Netherlands-based company that uses hemp to make an eco-friendly and vegan fur alternative. And as if that wasn’t awesome enough, they give portion of its proceeds to Sea Shepherd, a marine wildlife conservation nonprofit.
In the winter, I wear Hoodlamb’s Long Coat. The outer shell is wind and water resistant, and the inside is lined with Hoodlamb’s “hemp fur.” It’s warm without being bulky, and the overall design is both versatile and unique.
The Gap and Abercrombie & Fitch
The Gap and Abercrombie & Fitch usually come out with several quality vegan-friendly coats each year. However, they also sell coats made with down and wool so you have to be careful and read the product description.
The German brand Naketano has a great selection of cool-looking vegan coats and jackets at a reasonable price, so they are worth checking out as well.
If you find a product with PrimaLoft that you like, by all means get it! PrimaLoft is an awesome down alternative that’s both warm and lightweight.
Hats, gloves, and scarves
When looking for vegan hats, gloves, and scarves look out for wool and cashmere. Cotton, linen, polyester, and acrylic are all good alternatives.
Fall through spring, I usually alternate between these two hats:
Micro Dome by Mountain Hardware – Incredibly lightweight beanie made from fleece. I love this hat because it’s so warm, soft, and stretchy. It’s also very compact.
Bones Beanie by The North Face – Beanie made from acrylic and fleece. This one is a little heavier, but equally as comfortable.
They’re great for day-to-day wear, as well as hiking and other outdoor activities.
If you’re looking for something more unique, you may want to to check out the Etsy shop TikiFiberCrafts, which sells cute warm vegan slouchy hats.
Stretchy and warm, Gravity Thread’s Half-Finger Gloves are made with vegan acrylic and elastane. They keep your hands nice and toasty, while leaving your fingertips exposed so you can do things like look up things on your phone.
Another good option is Xmittens, which sells mittens made from recycled vegan fleece.
Vegan vs. eco-friendly
Some jackets and coats from these stores are made from materials like nylon and polyester. Which brings up a question I commonly get asked when people are suspicious of my preference to only wear vegan clothes: which is the lesser of two evils: non-vegan or non-eco-friendly? I say non-vegan, because although un-eco friendly materials aren’t biodegradable, I find the unbelievably cruel ways by which animals are exploited for their skin, fur, and feathers to be the more appalling and therefore more pressing issue. Furthermore, many non-vegan coats have an even bigger carbon footprint with leather by far being the worst for the environment of all, so they aren’t eco-friendly either.
A good question to ask is, “how much will I wear this?” If you buy a coat or jacket that you wear over and over until it’s worn out, then you are usually making a good investment / choice both financially and ecologically.
As individuals, we have the opportunity to choose whether or not to continue supporting our society’s insatiable and mercilessly destructive need to consume at whatever expense necessary to animals and the environment. Remember that consumers drive change, and the less people who choose to support companies’ exploitation of animals and the environment, the more opportunity there will be for ethically-minded practices to take its place.
Above: Ladies Waxed Utility Jacket by Barbour, Oatmeal Knit Slouchy Hat by TikiFiberCrafts, Convertible Mittens by American Apparel, Mono Lumberjack Infinity Scarf by PiecesToPieces, and Hoodlamb Parka by Hoodlamb