The future of fashion is vegan and this is already a fact. We must be aware of the effects our choices produce and the risks and the costs related to these choices. Fast fashion and cruelty against animals are no longer sustainable and have a hugely negative impact on the environment. The t-shirt we wear is not as innocent as we might think and the cost of looking like our influencers is too high to bear. Fashion must be re-born, and vegan and sustainable fashion solutions must prevail. The consumer holds the key and information is the weapon to drive the change. The consumer can and must make a difference.
How many reasons are there for us to wear what we wear? One? Two? Three? How many reasons are there to reconsider the content of our closet and adopt vegan fashion? Hundreds.
- Leather is not a by-product of the meat industry
- More than one billion animals are slaughtered every year for their skin to produce your clothes, shoes, automotive seat covers, bags, furniture, gloves and accessories, etc. (1)
- Animals like zebras, bison, water buffaloes, boars, deer, eels, seals, walrus, sharks, and frogs are hunted and killed for their skin. Most of the items are labeled only with “Genuine Leather” and it cannot be detected if it comes from endangered wildlife or it is in fact, the skin of domestic dogs and cats.
- In China (the largest producer of leather, around 25%) an estimated two million cats and dogs are killed for their skin every year.
- Snakes & lizards are usually skinned alive to “maintain elasticity”.
- Ostriches are the birds killed for their skin and the feathers are removed by hand while the bird is alive.
- Most alligator and crocodile skins come from factory farms. They are not treated better than the pigs or cows in the farm industry that we already know.
- Sharks are cruelly hooked and left aboard ships to suffocate for the sake of sharkskin.
- Millions of Kangaroos and wallabies are killed each year for their skin.
- Each year, 100 million animals are bred and killed for fur coats and fur trim for hooded jackets and hats, gloves, shoes, etc. (2)
- 60 million mink, 13 million foxes, 14 million raccoon dogs were killed on fur farms only in 2014 in China and 42.6 million mink, 2.7 million foxes; 155,000 raccoon dogs; 206,000 chinchilla killed in Europe.
- Hundreds of millions of rabbits are killed for fur each year.
- Huge numbers of animals are trapped and killed for their fur in the wild, mostly in the USA, Canada, and Russia. Traps inflict great pain and anguish, both to the target animals and to unintended victims such as pets and endangered species.
- Each year, animals such as coyotes are caught in traps (leg-hold traps, snares, drowning traps) for their fur. Often left for days, unable to seek shelter, food or water, these animals can cause serious injury to themselves to escape. When the trappers finally arrive, they will often beat the animals to death.
- In the wool and cashmere industry, millions of sheep die every year due to heat exposure, malnutrition, and infections.
- 5000 silkworms killed for only 1 kg of silk products.
The 2017 Pulse of The Fashion Industry Report presented in Copenhagen Fashion Summit in 2017, outlines that the synthetic leather is much less harmful to the environment than the animal leather.
The leather industry has a bigger impact on the global warming and climate change (rate 159) than the production of polyester -44 and cotton -98) (3)
It is not just cruel towards animals, it is also a major pollution cause and water waste. More than 170,000 tons of Chromium wastes are discharged into the environment worldwide each year. Just look at the numbers for India, statistics 1999:
- 700,000 tons of wet salted hides and skins were processed in about 3000 tanneries
- These tanneries discharged a total of 30 billion liters of wastewater with a concentration of suspended solids between 3000–5000 mg/L and chromium as Cr6 between 100–200 mg/L (Rajamani).
- each ton of hide/skin needs 30,000 to 50,000 liters of water for processing while the water availability per capita in India is 30 liters per day (4)
The problem with the fast fashion
Fast fashion is a term that describes cheap but trendy clothing, inspired by the collections of high line designers, and produced in an extremely fast way. The products are fancy and modern and at a lower price than the originals.
All good so far but look at the numbers:
- 80 billion garments are produced each year
- 52 micro-collections released now instead of 2 seasons
- Apparel consumption is expected to rise by 63% from 62 million tons today to 102 million tons in 2030, an equivalent of more than 500 billion T-shirts
- We produce 400% more than 20 years ago
- The average person buys 60% more items of clothing than 15 years ago.
- We only wear garments 7 times before getting rid of them
- Most women wear only 20-30% of the clothes in their wardrobe
- 1 garbage truck of textiles is wasted every second
Climate change and global warming
- 10% of the global carbon emissions come from apparel industry
- The fashion industry’s climate impact is expected to increase 49% by 2030.
- One kilogram of clothing over its entire life cycle creates 11 kilograms of greenhouse gases. (5)
Water waste and pollution
- 1.5 trillion liters of water are used by the fashion industry each year while 750 million people in the world do not have access to drinking water
- 2.6% of the global fresh water is used to produce cotton
- It takes about 2,720 liters of water to produce just one cotton shirt – a number equivalent to what an average person drinks over three years.
- It takes about 10,000 liters of water to produce enough cotton for a pair of jeans.
- It takes about 170,000 liters of water to grow a kilogram of wool.
- 20% of the industrial water pollution comes from textiles treatments and dyes
- 22000 litters of toxic waste is dumped into the rivers in Bangladesh every day
- 190000 tons of textile microplastic fibers end up into the oceans each year and twice as many particles are released by older clothing items.
Chemistry and toxicity
- 23% of all chemicals produced worldwide are used in the textile industry
- Cotton production used 24% of the insecticides and 11% of the pesticides produced globally
- 1kg of chemicals is needed to produce 1kg of textiles
- 11 chemicals commonly used to make clothes are dangerous
- 63% of items tested from major brands contain hazardous chemicals
- 80% of the world leather production uses chromium
- 30% of the identified substances in clothing manufacturing posed a risk to human health. (5)
- 70 million trees are cut each to make our clothes
- By 2030, it is predicted that the fashion industry will use 35% more land for cotton, forest for cellulosic fibers, and grassland for livestock—altogether over 115 million hectares that could be used to grow crops for an increasing and more demanding population or to preserve the forest.
Labor practices in garment production
- Over 50% of workers within the fashion industry are not paid the minimum wage in countries like India and the Philippines.
- Minimum wages in the industry are ½ of what is considered a living wage
- In India, the minimum wage is only 26% of the living wage. India has the largest fashion-sector workforce. Estimates show that 35% of all workers receive less than 80% of the minimum wage of about €100 per month.
- Gender inequality: noncompliance to minimum wages can be as high as 87% for women.
- 1 in 6 people worldwide work in the garment industry and most of them without rights and protection; 80% of them are women and only 2% earn a living wage, while the rest hardly take a minimum wage.
- Child labor
All this for fashion. And what is fashion anyway? A barricade behind which men hide their nothingness. (The Roycroft Dictionary (1914) by Elbert Hubbard
Vegan and sustainable solutions for fashion
According to the same report presented in 2017 at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, over 50% of the industry, have not started to take action yet.
The good news is that the consumers are far more sensitive to environmental, social, and ethical concerns than those of previous decades. Yet, most consumers have, at best, a hazy idea of what goes into their buys. Consumers will make conscious choices only if they get well informed and aware of the industry’s impact on the life on our planet.
Authentic leather must be replaced. Synthetic leather has only a third of the environmental impact of cow leather. The luxury or comfort given by exotic skin, wool and cashmere, fur jackets and fur trims do not justify the cruelty and violence behind the scene. The United Nations sets as one of its goals to achieve a state “in which wildlife and other living species are protected” in its 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Nevertheless, fashion policies regarding animal welfare are even less developed today than those concerning the environment and only the consumer is capable to make a change sooner if not immediately.
Substituting cotton with bast reduces the environmental impact by more than half, with the largest gains in water conservation. Viscose and lyocell also have lower water and energy footprints. The alternative fibers are as comfortable and good looking as cotton or wool. Organic cotton will be less harmful, and it can be considered as a first step but on long term, lower impact materials should prevail.
Research shows that if we replace 30% of cotton use by polyester in 2030 would save roughly 23 billion m³ of water annually—water valued at €0.81 per m3. Polyester is no perfect answer, of course. It comes with its own challenges. In a 2017 study, it is estimated that 15% to 30% of plastics polluting the oceans can be attributed to primary micro-plastics, with 35% of those attributed to laundering of synthetic textiles. Moreover, polyester’s production relies heavily on fossil fuels. It is a non-renewable resource and is not biodegradable. Yet polyester lends itself to fiber-to-fiber recycling better than cotton does. It can also be made from waste products such as plastic bottles. Further positive developments include innovations that minimize the impact of plastic microfibers, for example through protective bags for clothing during washing and filters for washing machines.
- Buy less
- Think twice before you buy and buy only if you need it
- Buy ethically and cruelty-free garments
- Wear it longer
- Do not throw it but donate it through in-store collection boxes or public collection schemes
- Upgrade washing and drying machines to eco-efficient
- Use eco washing powders/liquids, filters, and protective bags for washing
If you love animals, you most probably care about the planet too. And if you do not care about either of the two, you should still care about your health. One cannot be healthy in an unhealthy environment. The human body is 70% water. We cannot ignore what puts in danger our water, our life. That leather bag does not worth it. That cashmere jacket either.
Choose wisely. Go vegan. Vegan fashion is the future.