I noticed that some people were not aware of some of the fabrics that Annie talks about in her last article about lingerie. I want to give a description, then, of what it means to wear vegan clothes, and why some fabrics seem so weird and special.
To begin, wearing vegan clothing means, of course, that no animal has died to make it, nor are we using any of their by-products. Some vegans may chose to wear some animal by-products, however, because they don't actually harm the animal - such as wool. No sheep has ever died giving away their 'hair', but some may still find it offensive to take it away from them, or perhaps there are some farms that mistreat these animals. This is like the idea of eating honey even though it's technically vegan. For whatever reason and whichever choice you make, chose wisely, and be happy with your decision.
- materials included in the list of harmful products: leather, silk, fur, suede
Although not harmful to animals, finding clothes that are ethically made in manufacturers that don't employ children and that are safe for the employees is just as important. Vegans don't harm animals, nor do they want their cherished garments to have been made by people who can barely breathe due to too many harsh chemicals, in environments where there homes are provided with highly toxic water from the manufacturer's waste, and having to bring children as young as 6 years old to help because their salary can't even cover the cost of the rent, even less for food.
- countries to watch out for: mostly third-world countries, especially China and India. These two unfortunately have received a bad reputation for allowing companies to ignore their laws and turn a blind eye on the waste and child abuse.
Afterwards, the other thing to watch out for is to ensure that the clothes they wear don't harm the planet, nor any of its habitants' homes, and that they are safe for their skin's health. This means a range of products that are natural or derived from sustainable and safe natural sources. Synthetics, although vegan, aren't healthy for us, nor are they good for the environment. Polyester, surely the most popular synthetic fabric, and polar fleece are derived from oil, and we all know about the controversy surrounding this resource, which is mainly used for energy, but also for products such as these fabrics, as well as plastics, additives in food, and complements for soaps and toothpastes. North Pole and West Coast drilling and their pipelines caused so many problems lately that it seems to not make any sense to even have to ask the big oil company owners to stop. Furthermore, the chemicals in these fabrics actually penetrate our skin and don't let the skin breathe properly, so they are not good for us. Also, although cotton is natural, it is the crop that needs the highest amount of pesticides of all crops in the world - mostly thanks to Monsanto - and the harm done is to their farmers' health and the land it was grown on.
- materials to avoid: all synthetic fabrics, ordinary cotton
Now that I've told what not to buy, here is a description of the safe materials to purchase.
You may already have heard of this form of certification, but what does it mean exactly? First of all, it means that the people who are at a disadvantage are the priority. They are the ones to whom the companies who wish to offer a fairly-traded pay for their product will give the work. Small-scale farmers and producers, those generally marginalised by the mainstream market, are the main target.
Second, sustainability is important. Although an environmental certification is not necessary, you can rest assured that your fair-trade product has no genetically modified crops, will sustain itself - so no overusing the land in any way, no monocultures, biodiversity and permaculture are encouraged, etc. This is in large part due to the problems and hazards that go along with highly chemically-grown crops and the possibility of land not being usable for these at risk workers in the long run.
As for the price negotiations, this is done between the Product Organisation and the Buyer. Therefore, the buyer does not contact the farmer directly. This actually ensures that the minimum market price - the minimum price someone has to receive to make it a decent sale and sustain himself - is always ensured, even if the market prices have dropped. So, for example,when the oil prices dropped drastically, oil companies were the ones who lost money (although I doubt any of the companies risked closing due to this, but in Canada, several employees of the tar sand lost their jobs). In the case of a fair-trade product, these producers will never have to suffer a drop in revenues that forces them to close. Furthermore, since the Organisation requests a partial payment of the product upon ordering - not delivery - this ensures the Organisation can pay the producer, ensuring they don't run into money problems due to a client not being able to pay or taking a long time to do so.a And, if needed, a higher price can be negotiated for higher quality products, such as for those that managed to get an environmental certification, such as the Rainforest Alliance, Ecocert, USDA Organic Certification, and so on, or for promoting biodiversity.
- materials available: fair-trade cotton
Rayon and other fabrics can be made out of corn. Although this can be a bit of a contradiction, since we know that quite a lot of corn is made from genetically-engineered plants, and most crops are monocultures that are now destroying areas such as the Amazon. However, if properly grown and processed, this could definitely be a much more sustainable fabric than polyester. Jonano, for one, uses animal feed that is about to be thrown out to make their clothes, and Herman Miller - although not a clothing company - makes their material to be 100% biodegradable as well.
Although traditionally meant for shoes and hats, this plant has been reinvented to become what is today the softest fabric ever. Used to make towels, sheets, bathrobes and more, a t-shirt or socks made with this product are very comfortable. Often blended with organic cotton or both cotton and spandex, it is versatile and very sustainable. Bamboo grows at the very quick rate of 10cm per year, use very little space and grow themselves - therefore needing absolutely no care, especially no pesticides. The leaves and the soft inner part of the bamboo are what are used to make viscose rayon. However, this viscose uses the same amount of chemicals are wood viscose for paper, so this is not the most environmentally-friendly product. Plain bamboo is the safe way to go, or better yet, choose organic bamboo.
Yes, this fabric is made from the same plant that makes people high. But this fabric has nothing to make you become intoxicated, except maybe high on joy for being so green. It is the most versatile fiber, growing more quickly than bamboo - it can be replaced in only 100 days. It is also very durable; being 8x more durable than cotton, this was historically used for ships' sails and ropes in British and American Navies. The only disadvantages is that it wrinkles easily, so ironing is needed, and the colours aren't varied because it runs easily.
By far the most commonly known green and vegan fabric out there, the amount of organic cotton growing increases by 50% per year. Of course, the mention of it being organic means that the pesticides and fertilizers used do not contain chemicals, and the seeds aren't genetically modified. In the United States, the National Organic Program (NOP), from the USDA, is the level growers must meet. They have high standards of quality.
Made from the hulls of soy beans, this product is also biodegradable. It is considered to be the vegetable alternative to cashmere for its feel and softness.
A wood-derived fabric, lyocell is not organic since many chemicals are used to process it. However, the process is by far less environmentally-damaging than to make polyester, and the source - wood - is something that can be regenerated. It is also a strong fabric and part of the chemicals used are recycled. This product can also be used to make mock suede, satin and silk, so it is an vegan alternative to these animal by-products.
Recycled, used and vintage
Of course, we can't forget to reuse someone's no longer loved items. Garments that are no longer wearable due to stains and holes can be salvaged by making newer, smaller ones; used clothing can be purchased at consignment stores and charities; and vintage articles give one a special look that never truly goes out of style. Some stars do it - why not us? I'm a neo-hippie myself and have a weakness for bell-bottoms...