There are way too many fabrics that we use in fashion that involve animal lives. Leather, wool, silk, cashmere, fur, and a lot more.
Fortunately, we now have an abundance of vegan fabrics to choose from. In every fashion choice you make, you can make sure that you aren’t harming animals in the process.
But, labeling something as a vegan fabric is simply not enough. Not all vegan fabrics are made equally. Some harm our planet far more than advertised, and we’ll touch more on this later.
As such, choosing vegan fabrics is not a black and white process. There are many considerations to think about and factors to account for. We’ll discuss all those in the next sections.
Why Choose Vegan and Cruelty-Free Fabric?
Fashion is intended to be pretty and aesthetically appealing. But all that glamour can hide the dirty aspect of textile being made from animal or animal-based products.
Vegan fashion means choosing fabrics that do not use any animals in the process. Meaning, no silk, wool, cashmere(here’s our article on if cashmere is vegan), leather, or any other fabric made from an animal.
In doing so, you are not promoting the use of any animal as materials in creating fabrics or garments.
By choosing vegan fashion, you become a more thoughtful consumer and play an active part in making the world a better place. If you are just beginning your journey into vegan fashion, then we suggest you also read our guide on what is vegan fashion.
Today, there exist so many innovative textiles that are vegan, cruelty-free, and best of all, sustainable.
But that does not mean they’re that easy to find. Looking for vegan and cruelty-free fabrics is rarely an issue. The bigger problem is looking for ones that are vegan, plus sustainable, and eco friendly.
Even plant-based vegan fabrics don’t always mean that they’re good for the environment, although we generally put plant-based vegan fabric high up on our list.
The classic example of this dilemma is conventionally produced cotton.
We always talk about how cotton is such a resource-intensive crop. But to what extent exactly?
To make one kilogram of cotton, you would need an average of 10,000 liters of water . The amount changes depending on the location, but it’s generally around those numbers.
Additionally, 10% of all agricultural chemicals go to cotton production. That means a tenth of all the pesticides and fertilizers in the world go to cotton alone . Considering that cotton only takes up about 2% of arable land, that’s a pretty high number.
That’s not even considering all of the unjust labor practices that many workers in cotton fields go through or how unsustainable cotton production can lead to soil erosion.
From that, it is clear that vegan fabrics need to be analyzed at a much deeper level.
In looking at vegan fabrics, one of the first major considerations is whether or not it’s sustainable. The general rule of thumb is that plant-based vegan fabrics are sustainable, but that is not always the case as we saw from the previous example.
Vegan fabric made from plants is usually sustainable as it is biodegradable and is a renewable resource. However, you should also consider the other resources required to produce the textile.
Sustainable fabrics must also be durable. The most sustainable type of fabric is one that you can use for years to come.
Many vegan fabrics are not eco friendly. Synthetic fabrics such as polyester or polyurethane, for example, are plastics and are not good for the environment.
The best vegan fabrics are those that biodegrade and don’t require any petroleum to produce.
But there are certain types of clothing, such as activewear or athletic wear, that require the use of synthetic material purely because of the function of the fabric. For these, your best option is to go for recycled synthetic fabrics.
Fair Trade & Ethical
If you choose a vegan fabric, it’s imperative that it’s cruelty-free. But the textile industry inflicts cruel practices not only on animals but on humans as well.
Vegan fabrics should be produced in fair trade. The farmers and workers creating the fabric for your garments should be adequately compensated and be under good working conditions.
When you buy clothes, you should take a look into how they were manufactured, where the factories are, how they treat their workers, etc.
Fortunately, brands are increasingly transparent in their business practices and supply chain.
Plant-Based Vegan Fabrics
Lyocell (Wood Pulp)
You may know lyocell by the brand name Tencel. In essence, it is a semi-synthetic fabric that’s lightweight, breathable, absorbent, and very versatile.
It is an upgraded form of modal, which is another type of fabric.
To understand lyocell, we have to circle back a bit to its beginnings. This fabric is often touted as an upgraded version of modal. Modal, in turn, is an upgraded version of rayon. All of these are based on cellulose fiber.
Rayon is actually a pretty popular fabric and has a silk-like feel to it, making it a viable silk alternative. But rayon is not sustainable due to the harmful chemicals used during processing(we talk about it in full detail here). And most of the time, modal is not as well.
Out of the three variations, Tencel lyocell is the best option and is the one we recommend. It still follows a similar process of using certain chemicals to process the wood pulp but using less harmful solvents.
Tencel even recycles more than 99% of the solvent used to dissolve the cellulose fiber in the pulp, resulting in a closed-loop process.
Made from wood like eucalyptus and bamboo, the material is biodegradable on its own and is only considered a semi-synthetic material because of the manufacturing process.
However, manufacturers may also blend lyocell with other fabrics. Depending on the fabric used, it may no longer be biodegradable.
While conventionally produced cotton may not be sustainable, a viable alternative is organic cotton fabric.
Organic cotton is produced in a way that sustains the land it is planted on. There are no synthetic pesticides or fertilizers used in making organic cotton. Meaning, the chemicals often present in these substances are absent in organic cotton textiles.
It also takes a considerably lesser amount of resources to produce compared to regular cotton, making it much more eco friendly.
It takes 2,168 gallons of water to produce enough chemical cotton for a single t-shirt. But it only takes 186 gallons to make enough organic cotton good for one t-shirt. That’s a savings of nearly two thousand gallons of water per shirt.
Most vegan brands that use sustainable fabrics go for organic cotton. It’s simply the better choice.
Linen is one of the oldest clothing materials there is. It is a material made from the fibers of the flax plant.
Interestingly, the flax plant is very sustainable, and nearly every part is good for something. This probably contributed to how flax has been used to make fiber for clothing for thousands of years.
Linen, when not dyed, is completely biodegradable. But be careful of linens that don’t have certifications or aren’t organic. The dyeing and bleaching process can make even material like linen have a negative environmental impact.
Perfect for the summer, linen is lightweight and versatile. Your skin will thank you when you wear linen fibers as it’s extremely breathable.
Plant-Based Vegan Leather
There are now many vegan leather textiles made from plants. You’d be surprised at how many innovative vegan textiles are coming out as of recently.
Some notable examples are mushroom, apple, cork, and pineapple leather. You can check out our detailed account of what vegan leather is here. There you’ll find more information on pineapple and cork leather.
These vegan textiles made from plants are far superior over those made from an animal. Remember, leather is animal skin so there is absolutely no sparing an animal when you wear it.
Though they are made from plants, not all are biodegradable. To make these textiles as durable as possible, manufacturers usually attach another layer of synthetic material.
It’s important to note that some popular vegan leather options such as PU and PVC are harmful to the environment.
Always search for vegan brands that use plant-based leather. If you can’t find one within your budget, PU is the friendlier version of the two but is still not sustainable.
We recommend brands that use Pinatex (pineapple) and MuSkin (mushroom).
Hemp is made from the fibers of the Cannabis sativa plant, but, the fibers used are not psychoactive by any means.
It has a bit of a texture to it, but we wouldn’t say that it’s rough. It does become soft over time, so the textures of hemp are subject to change.
Hemp is one of the most durable yet lightweight vegan fibers you can find. You can easily keep clothing made from hemp for decades with proper care. Talk about sustainable vegan fashion!
Plus, the creation of hemp fibers doesn’t require a lot of resources. But, you may still need to look for organic sources to certify that there was no excessive use of pesticides and fertilizers during cultivation.
Synthetic Vegan Fabrics
There’s an important issue with synthetic fabrics that we have to consider. While synthetic fabrics can be vegan since they’re usually made from plastics, they’re also harmful to the environment.
But there are instances when synthetics can be the best option, such as in sportswear. We highly recommend that you go for recycled options in these situations.
Search for clothing brands that use recycled materials such as plastic bottles in making the fabric. Check out our vegan clothing brand recommendations here.
They still won’t be biodegradable. But many brands use a closed-loop system and offer take-back programs.
Polyester is one of the most common materials you’ll see in fast fashion today. It’s cheap, widely available, and not difficult to care for. It’s also made from plastic.
Generally, we would not recommend polyester. By its plastic nature, it already isn’t sustainable. Polyester is manufactured using petroleum and it isn’t biodegradable.
But, we could make an exception for recycled polyester fibers. The use of any recycled fiber diverts waste from the landfills and turns it into something useable.
Another plastic, nylon is a fiber that’s commonly used for clothes that need a little bit (or a lot) of stretch. It is made to be strong and versatile. But alas, though vegan, it’s not good for the planet.
Nylon production takes up a lot of resources and produces plenty of greenhouse gases. Not exactly the model vegan fabric we would recommend.
However, just like polyester, nylon can be recycled. Many vegan brands now provide clothing with recycled materials, so you shouldn’t have trouble in your search for a vegan and sustainable brand.
As you’ve observed, there are tons of vegan fabric options. Not all of them are good. But, you have the capacity to dig deeper and find out more information.
You have to be vigilant in looking for clothing made from vegan material because the textile industry is full of environmental and ethical issues.
We hope this list helped you find the best vegan material to wear.