Fashion: Is My Wardrobe Ethical?
Updated: Apr 9
To celebrate the premiere of Vegan Fashion Week in Los Angeles, I decided to feature a post dedicated to vegan fashion.
Obviously, not everyone was born in a vegan household where every clothing item that was ever bought was vegan-friendly. So, you may still have some non-vegan items in your closet. And it's okay! They were already bought and hopefully you are not doing any more harm by supporting the process of making the clothes with your money. But what can you do about them? It's not environmentally-friendly either to just throw out the vegan items. You can either donate the items to a thrift store, a clothing collector or get them recycled at your local textile recycler. You can even keep the clothes and still use them until their time is up.
Why vegan materials?
To determine the environmental impacts of certain materials, the most common tool that is used is the Higg MSI Materials Sustainability Index. It measures different categories of environmental impact with their points system. For each category, points are added, giving the total environmental impact per material as seen below. As you can see, the production of cow leather has a greater impact than synthetic leather by almost 500% in just global warming alone (orange) and by about 46% in total.
According to the official Higg MSI homepage, even other leather options such as that from goat or pig are still more impactful than synthetic leather, with each scoring 158.
Left: Cow leather; right: Polyurethane (PU) synthetic leather
Color code: orange = global warming; yellow = eutrophication; green = Water scarcity; blue = abiotic resource depletion, fossil fuels; purple = chemistry
Moving on to textiles, the two most impactful materials are alpaca fabric (283) and silk fabric (128). One of the vegan materials that you do have to look out for is cotton with a shocking MSI score of 50.4 points in water scarcity. This is due to the inefficiant water use in cotton production. Cotton usually needs 8,000 litres of water per kg but the global average water footprint of cotton is 10,000 per kg. If this fact shocks you, here is a comparison: one kilogram of meat consumes up to 20,000 litres of water which is enough to make just 8.8 hamburgers. One kilogram of cotton can make 5.6 men's t-shirts that can be worn for years!
As seen below, pretty much every common synthetic fabric such as viscose, nylon, elastane and polyester has a much lower MSI score than natural fabrics. What may not be environmentally-friendly however, is not recycling or donating items that contain such materials. Since they are not bio-degradable, it is dangerous and very irresponsible to just trash them. Watch out for that when sorting out your clothes. The oceans will thank you.
So, in order to truly veganize your wardrobe, you have to now focus on your future additions and how to properly do that. And it's not that difficult either! Watch out for my next post: an in-depth vegan's guide to clothing sorted in categories.
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