Ever ordered a dish you thought was vegan, only to find out afterward that it was cooked in fish sauce? Or had a friend innocently include egg in a meal they made especially so you would have something to eat at their dinner party?
Wearing vegan is just as tricky as eating vegan. Just as it is easier to not consume steak than it is to not consume honey, avoiding fur is much simpler than avoiding the following five materials that have a way of creeping into your clothing.
Silk: Silkworms are the caterpillar of the silk moth Bombyx mori. They produce silk by churning out a thread from small holes in their jaws, and the material may be found in everything from ties to dresses, suits, lingerie and jacket lining. Because silk is ruined when the moth leaves its cocoon (pictured at left, credit: Krish Dulal), silk manufacturers kill it beforehand. Common methods include steaming, boiling, gassing, or heating them in ovens. “Ahimsa peace silk”, an alternative developed in India, is produced from cocoons collected after the moths have naturally emerged. But, as Peta has stated, even if producers do not kill the silkworms deliberately, they may cause them to suffer by providing them with inadequate food or forcing them out of their cocoons prematurely.
Wool: Claiming the wool industry isn’t cruel is like claiming the dairy industry isn’t cruel. The domestic sheep has been selectively bred to produce a thick fleece. Shearers are usually paid by volume, causing them to prioritize speed over animal welfare. In Australia, which dominates the wool industry, tens of millions of Merinos are subjected to “mulesing” each year, meaning their tail area is mutilated by hand shears and often without anesthetics. The purpose of mulesing is to keep the sheep’s backside clean and therefore reduce the likelihood of flystrike, although it often leaves exposed wounds that become infected and attract flies anyway. Wool (pictured at right, credit: Pexels) is often blended with other materials to make fashion items, which is why you should read the fine print to know if it crept into that sweater or jacket you’ve been eyeing.
Pearls: These hard objects are produced within the soft tissue of oysters and other shelled mollusks, and often adorn jewelry and clothing. Pearls form naturally in one in 10,000 oysters. However, pearl-makers have devised a process called “culturing”, in which they surgically open one oyster’s shell and insert another oyster’s tissue. Less than half the oysters survive this process. The minority that do survive are put under further stress, with cultivators suspending them in water in a cage, washing their shells, moving them around in different waters, and raising and lowering their cages to subject them to changing water temperatures. After the pearls are extracted, the oysters either go through the process again or are killed and discarded. If you’re not a trained expert, it is nearly impossible to tell if a pearl is real or synthetic.
Dyes: Most natural dyes used in the fashion industry are derived from plant sources such as roots, berries, bark, leaves, and wood. But a small percentage are derived from cuttlefish and from specific types of snails and insects – and these cannot be considered vegan.
Leather: Leather jackets are an obvious no-no for vegans, but leather also has a habit of working its way into clothing in small quantities – as in leather patches on jeans or bags. It’s a bit like eating bacon-dusted fries and thinking it’s vegan because you can’t see a dead pig taking up your entire plate. Vegetable-tanned leather is another misleading term. Unlike vegan leather, which must come from a vegan source, vegetable-tanned leather is real animal hide tanned by barks, branches, leaves, and fruits – most certainly not vegan!
During our own research on the market, we were surprised to find many brands that claim or imply they are vegan-friendly but sell peace silk, leather, or even things like recycled milk or animal bones! In the same way that shopping from a vegan supermarket or eating at a vegan restaurant provides a guarantee that you are not consuming animal products, the same goes for fashion. This is why we established Phloem, an online marketplace to shop direct from strictly vegan fashion brands. By purchasing from brands that don't use animal products at all, you can be sure no surprises creep into your closet.