Words by Olivia Penn
I’ve been in the vegan scene since 2015. Things have changed a lot since then. With veganism growing substantially it is becoming easier than ever to live a vegan lifestyle.
I’ve also changed a lot since then. Particularly regarding fashion. I’ve become more conscious about how I choose to dress and I have tried to minimise my effect on the environment.
But back in 2015 when I first went vegan I remember really having no trouble at all trying to find vegan footwear. My go-to shops were the likes of New Look, Topshop and River Island, all of which had plenty of vegan footwear on offer; in fact, I would go as far as to argue that most of their footwear was faux leather.
But now all of a sudden, these brands are marketing their footwear as vegan. When I first started to pick up on this I was confused – it has been vegan all along, why were they acting as if this is something new?
It all comes back to a concept that’s used all too often in relation to fast fashion brands: greenwashing. They’re attempting to market themselves in a way that makes it look like they care.
Do they really care though? I doubt it. I’m sure their usage of faux leather has little to do with the environment and animal welfare and everything to do with the fact that it is much cheaper to produce than real leather.
They haven’t changed their production. It’s nothing new. They’ve simply realised that veganism is growing in popularity; and as a result, their very smart marketing teams have picked up on this and used it as a new way of selling their products.
Although I can say with complete confidence that using faux leather is a win for the animals, it’s not necessarily a win for the environment. Because most of the leather used in fast fashion footwear is either PVC or PU which are both derived from plastic.
I think at this point we are all pretty well versed in why plastic is a not-so-great material.
Nevertheless, the bar chart on page 42 of this report; ‘The Pulse of the Fashion Industry’ shows that real leather is worse than faux leather for the environment. But that doesn’t make faux leather good, it just means that real leather is really bad – both in terms of environmental effects and animal welfare.
So really neither real leather nor faux leather is good. So any attempt by fast fashion brands to make themselves look good because they are using faux leather is deceitful. It’s just another chapter of their greenwashing story.
It’s not all bad though. There are vegan footwear brands that have innovative new ranges using materials such as piñatex; a leather alternative made out of pineapple. These brands include Vegetarian Shoes and Nae Vegan Shoes, it should be noted though that currently shoes made out of piñatex only make up a small section of their ranges; with the majority still being made out of the plastic alternatives to leather mentioned above.
Despite this; I would still recommend buying at smaller vegan brands rather than their fast fashion competitors. I would rather my money went to a small vegan business than into the fast fashion machine, which has many of us trapped.
While it’s exciting to see well-known fashion brands advertising their vegan products I think its important to remember that they don’t really care about veganism – they care about the fact that it is popular.
If you’re vegan, I think its time for you to consider reducing the amount of purchases you make in fast fashion shops. Many of the beliefs that are important in veganism, such as the avoidance of harm, are also important in the ethical fashion movement. I think the world is a better place when veganism and ethical fashion are combined.