Ethical Fashion

Struggles of Curating a Cruelty-Free & Vegan Wardrobe

struggles-with-curating-a-cruelty-free-wardrobe
Amber Brown
Written by Amber Brown

Curating a fully functional wardrobe that is dependable, versatile, and in line with your personal aesthetic preferences is a hard enough feat. To do it without including anything that has been made with animal products is nearly impossible.

First things first – you do not have to label yourself as a vegan or even stick to a vegan diet to maintain a cruelty-free wardrobe. It’s all about us each of doing our part in being more socially responsible. You also don’t have to commit to a fully vegan wardrobe and instead cosign to decreasing your consumption of clothes and accessories that use animal products. Progress, not perfection is the mantra.

From personal experience, I can definitely say that committing to a compassionate wardrobe has its fair share of challenges.

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It’s not an overnight switch.

Transitioning to a vegan diet is can be instant, especially if you’re the type who eats out/orders in and rarely have food with animal products in your refrigerator. All it takes is committing to not restocking anything made from dairy, eggs, meat, or honey. There could potentially be a brief transition period where you consume, toss, or give away everything in your kitchen that contains animal products, but once they’re gone, you can move onto your new completely plant-based diet.

Related Post: Top 5 Tips for Taking Up the Vegan Challenge

However, the process of overhauling your wardrobe is much more intense and drawn out than overhauling your fridge and cabinets. Not only can replacing all your non-vegan clothes and accessories get expensive real quick, but it’s not just as simple as going on a shopping binge for new vegan stuff. Strategically building a fully functional wardrobe is not something you can rush through. You also have to purge everything currently in your closet that is not animal-friendly, including pieces that may have been expensive or relatively new. But before you gather up everything to be donated, sold, or tossed, you’ll want to make sure you get your cost-per-wear for these items, right?

If you are planning on transitioning, plan for it to be a process that spans the better part of a year or more. But don’t let the protracted timeframe deter you. The most important commitment you can make on Day 1 is not buying anything that has been made with animal products. This is the biggest and most important step. Give it time and soon your wardrobe will be completely cruelty-free.

You might have to overhaul your entire current wardrobe.

The time it will take you to fully transition will depend on how vegan your wardrobe currently is. Unless you have a daily uniform of t-shirts, jeans, and flip flops, it’s highly likely that you’ll have to do a substantial amount of curating, possibly only keeping 10-20% of what you currently have in your closet if, for example, you have a large portion of professional gear that’s typically made with wool and silk blends.

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Most outerwear contain either down (feathers) or wool and in some cases fur, so if you live in an area with four seasons, at the very least you will need to replace your cold-weather gear. Besides cheap fast fashion designs, most shoes contain some version of leather. You may have a tweed blazer, an angora (rabbit hair) scarf, a mohair pair of trousers, a capsule collection of silk blouses, and who doesn’t have at least one pair of shearling-lined Uggs?

It is an extremely large, and potentially overwhelming project as not only are you making a change ethically, but it can be a big deal financially as well as emotionally to part with pieces in your closet that no longer fit in with your morals. The key to mastering the switch is to have a strategic transitioning period where you find the right balance between editing out all the non-vegan pieces in your closet and replacing them with new cruelty-free versions. You can find a full step-by-step guide to transitioning here.

Giving up leather.

For most people, the toughest decision they will have to make in transition to a completely cruelty-free wardrobe is giving up animal leather. It was definitely something I battled with for weeks and almost stopped me from going all the way.

Related Post: Vegan Leather Options & Alternatives to Animal Leather

Ethically, I was solid on never buying another piece of leather again, but aesthetically I just couldn’t deal. There was also the issue of wanting high-quality bags and shoes that I wouldn’t have to replace season after season.

The texture, the smell, the durability, the association with quality – I’ve had a penchant leather since I was dragged out of the womb (premature, twins, was facing the wrong direction – it’s a long, dramatic story). Guys, this is serious. Leather isn’t just a fabric, it’s part of my identity, well, my past identity. Not only does everyone in my family drench themselves in the material when we go out to dinner, but a classic quilted Chanel handbag and pair of Louboutin pumps had been the “You’ve made it” gifts that I swore I would buy myself once I made it to my dream career.

Credit: Vegan accessories brand, Matt & Nat

Leather is not only beautiful and durable, but it’s also a status indicator. But I couldn’t shake the feeling of hypocrisy that haunted me. Ultimately, I made the decision to completely deny leather, meaning I would not be purchasing any new leather-based items. Once you know the truth, it’s impossible to sleep at night and ignore it. (Note: I am still wearing leather pieces that I’ve purchased pre-transition and will get them on rotation until they wear out.)

The ugly truth is leather is not solely a byproduct of the beef industry. It’s a common misconception that’s used to justify buying leather products, especially by vegetarians. We’ve all probably said it, “They’re going to kills the cows anyway, so I might as well wear the skins so they don’t just go to waste.” This is mostly true for the cattle bred and raised in the United States, but the luxury industry primarily uses Indian cows, which are specifically bred, tortured, and brutally slaughtered for fashion.

Related Post: Why There’s No Such Thing As ‘Ethical’ Leather

To me, there’s no difference between consuming an animal that has been killed specifically for food any more than I can wear one that has been killed for that specific purpose.

Maintaining a sophisticated style aesthetic.

Cotton is the go-to vegan fabric. It’s actually one of the best fabrics out there. Not only is it natural, but it’s also sustainable, especially when it’s of the organic variety. But aside from jeans and basic t-shirts, I’ve never really been much of a cotton girl. Cotton is ideal if you have a very all-American or even boho style aesthetic. But I have a very European-chic, smart-casual aesthetic that leans towards fabrics like wool and silk blends.

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I genuinely feel naked if I leave my apartment without a tailored blazer and nothing beats a wool blend. 99% of cotton blazers just don’t work for the exquisitely tailored designs that I go for. It sucks since natural fabrics are much better for your health and for the environment than synthetics made from plastics and toxic chemicals, but the highest-quality natural fabrics are still all derived from animals.

Giving up high-end, luxury designer fashion.

Because of the prevalence of fur, silk, leather, cashmere, and other exotic skins in the high-end and especially luxury space, it’s nearly impossible to own anything designer that is sans animal products because let’s face the obvious – those elements are synonymous with luxury. In fact, Stella McCartney is currently the only label that’s committed to making luxury vegan bags, shoes, belts, and other accessories. (Note: her eponymous fashion label that is often touted ‘vegan’ sadly does use animal products like silk and wool).

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A temporary solution is investing in high-end/luxury sunnies. Designer sunglasses are a great way to add a touch of luxury to a look because for the most part they’re made from plastic, acetate, and metals. Still, not being able to get a designer handbag or shoes is the real killer. Even styles that are made from canvas, like a pair of Chanel espadrilles or the Gucci Dionysus handbag, have leather soles or lining/straps.

Many vegan accessories are cheap and ugly.

I don’t believe in cheap shoes or cheap bags. These should be investment pieces, not pieces that you have to buy replacements for at the beginning of every season.

The most ubiquitous complaint amongst new or veteran vegans is shoes, shoes, shoes. It’s totally justified. Bags are an issue too, but the lack of high-quality shoes in terms of everything from craftsmanship to design to durability, is really deplorable.

Much fashion that is touted ‘vegan’ is actually just fast fashion dressed up as a more ethical option, but isn’t really. These are the kinds of clothes that are great for a pic to add to you IG feed, but not a sustainable choice when wanting to build a versatile, dependable wardrobe sans deficiency. Again, with the exception of Stella McCartney’s accessories label, there are very few stylish vegan options that aren’t cheap imitations of designer merchandise.

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Credit: Stella McCartney

There are not enough vegan brands.

You can definitely find a plethora of vegan options at almost any department store or online retailer from ASOS to Net-A-Porter since there are plenty of designs that don’t feature leather, silk, wool, you know the drill by now. But Because these brands do use animal products for other designs in their collections, when you buy from them, you are still financially supporting the cruelty of animals. A 100% vegan brand is the best route, but these are hard to find and the aesthetics that most 100% vegan companies is not high-end or sophisticated so you sort of have to sacrifice aesthetics for ethics, which is terrible.

Now don’t get me wrong. There are a few great brands that are completely dedicated to making amazing clothes and accessories sans animal products like Matt & Nat, Amour Vert, Le Bante, and Pamela Anderson’s Pammie’s Life. You can get a full list of 100% cruelty-free fashion brands on PETA’s website www.peta.org. But not only do we need more of them, we also need to help make the ones that currently exist mainstream by supporting them.

The battle between sustainability and ethics.

The goal is to contribute as few items to landfills as possible, while advocating for the end of animal cruelty in fashion. For the former, the solution is simple – curate a wardrobe filled with high-quality, durable, and timeless pieces that will last years before you have to replace them. Where it gets extremely complicated is personal ethics.

A good pair of genuine leather Chelsea boots are something you buy once and could potentially last decades if well taken care of. But because leather is not simply a byproduct of the meat industry, the most ethical solution (and the one I went with remember) would be to nix leather altogether. But this means rolling the dice and buying vegan versions that may not withstand the test of time.

Credit: Vegan brand Matt & Nat

There are plenty of vegan options out on the market, and designers have mastered the aesthetics. These days it can be hard to tell a faux Zara or Blank Denim jacket from a Rick Owens design. But faux leather, along with all other synthetic materials like polyester, are toxic to our health and that of the planet’s. Until fashion and technology merge to make a wholly aesthetically-pleasing, environmentally-friendly, and durable synthetic option, choosing the vegan route like I have means making a trade off between sustainability and animal welfare.

If you have any questions about how transitioning to a vegan wardobe has been for me or would like to add anything other tips to the list, please do! Also, if you’re tempted, but feeling a lot of reservations, share them. Maybe I can help 🙂

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About the author

Amber Brown

Amber Brown

Amber Brown helps modern women curate covetable yet conscious closets and ethical, cruelty-free beauty cabinets over at The GOCO Collective. She believes style is a skill to be learned and mastered, good skincare is the best makeup, and dreams were made to be caught.

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