Vegan Clothing: What Is It and Should You Have It in Your Closet?

When trying to make sustainable and environmentally friendly choices, it is important to look at the clothes that you buy. Vegan fashion has become more popular over the years as people have exposed the toxic chemicals and inhumane practices companies use for their clothes. For example, leather companies use toxic chemicals in the tanning process, and silk requires the boiling of silkworms in their cocoons. These practices unsettled people, so they started to look for other fabrics that do not use animal products and do not harm the environment. If you do not know what vegan clothing is, keep reading to learn more about it and which vegan materials are truly sustainable.

What Is Vegan Clothing?

When most people think about a vegan lifestyle, they only think of excluding animal products from their diet. However, a vegan lifestyle includes other products that you use in your day to day life. This has created a market for vegan makeup and skincare, as well as vegan clothing. You wear clothes every single day, and it would seem wrong to speak out against animal cruelty while wearing a leather jacket. Now, leather is probably the most obvious material that vegans steer clear of, but there are several more. These are the materials many vegans choose to no longer buy:

  • Angora
  • Bone
  • Cashmere
  • Down
  • Horn
  • Feathers
  • Fur
  • Leather
  • Mohair
  • Pashmina
  • Shahtoosh
  • Shearling
  • Shell
  • Silk
  • Snakeskin
  • Suede
  • Wool

If you are not vegan, you may be wondering why some materials like wool make the list. Sheep do not have to die in order for us to receive wool. Farmers just shear the sheep and send off the wool for processing. However, having vegan clothing is about more than animals dying. This style of clothing is meant to protect animals from receiving any harm and mistreatment. For example, Merino lamb farmers cut off the folds in their skin to prevent blowflies from laying their eggs in the folds. This leaves the sheep’s rear end scarred and some never quite heal properly. To prevent this type of treatment, vegans stay away from wool altogether.

Instead of using animal products for clothes, they use plant-based and synthetic fabrics. Some of the most popular materials that companies label as vegan include rayon, polyester, and pleather. By purchasing these materials for their clothes, you can avoid causing any mistreatment or death to animals. When companies label their clothing as vegan, they sell like crazy. People have doubled their rayon use in the last decade, whereas silk purchases have only dropped.

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Is This Clothing Sustainable?

The answer to the above question is that it depends on which material you are using. If your vegan clothing consists of mostly rayon, polyester, and pleather, they are not sustainable. They are better for animals because they do not require any animal products, but they are not better for the environment. Rayon comes from the bamboo plant but is on of the least eco-friendly materials available on the market. To create rayon, companies cut the bamboo into tiny pieces and dissolve them in carbon disulfide to form the viscose. They then use the viscose to create the fibers and dump the remaining wastewater irresponsibly. The fumes from the chemicals can harm the workers’ nervous systems and are so toxic that you can no longer produce rayon in the United States.

Polyester is essentially a plastic thread made from petroleum. Studies have shown that washing these clothes releases microfibers into our water system, and putting them in the dryer release those microfibers into the environment. Even most of our tap water contained microfibers now. This means that our animals are ingesting plastic and so are we.

Pleather is another material companies use in vegan clothing that is not environmentally friendly. It reduces the use of toxic chemicals used in leather tanning, but it increases the amount of plastic we use. Generally, pleather wears out fast, so people stop wearing it after a while. They discard the material, which then will sit in our landfills for hundreds if not thousands of years. This adds to the mountain of waste that we already cannot handle.

Which Materials Are Both Vegan and Sustainable?

While some materials for vegan clothing are not sustainable and eco-friendly, some of them are the opposite. Materials such as cork, hemp, linen, organic cotton, and the new pinatex are materials that are both vegan and eco-friendly. Many people believe that you can use the terms vegan and eco-friendly interchangeably, but that simply is not true. If you want to buy vegan clothing without feeling guilty about adding to the chemicals and plastics that already surround our everyday lives, give these materials a try.


While cork is not ideal for shirts and pants, they are a great addition to shoes and bags. Cork is water-resistant, renewable, and completely recyclable. In fact, your purchase of cork actually helps the environment. Cork trees regenerate after harvesting, which prevents the desertification of cork tree forests. These forests are home to several endangered species, so keeping these forests alive is crucial. In return for protecting these forests, you get to have a lightweight and durable accessory.


When it comes to sustainable vegan clothing, hemp is probably the best option available. It does not require any pesticides or herbicides to keep it alive, and it does not need much water. Hemp also does not need a lot of space to grow and even returns many of its nutrients back into the soil! It is similar to linen in the sense that it comes from the stem of the plant and that it is thermal regulating. This means that it helps you to stay cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

Be aware that some companies do use chemicals to speed up the growth of the plant, so do your research before purchasing. Many see hemp as an eco-friendly product and will buy it right away, but make sure it is completely eco-friendly.


Linen comes from the stem of the flax plant and is a great, sustainable material. It does not require as much water as cotton, which saves the resource for other purposes. The material gets stronger every time you wash it and is naturally moth-resistant. It is breathable and thermal regulating, so you can wear it any time of year. If you buy the material untreated, it is also completely biodegradable.

Organic Cotton

When buying cotton, you have to make sure it is organic cotton. The inorganic variety uses more pesticides than any other crop, which is devastating for the surrounding environment and workers. Organic cotton focuses on sustainability, so growers use a holistic approach to growing it. This material is also breathable and especially great for the clothing you keep close to your skin, like underwear.


Pinatex is a relatively new material that comes from pineapple leaves. Pineapple farmers were typically throwing out the leaves, so this material gives another use to the plant. It is a great alternative to leather and pleather because it does not require all of the harsh chemicals needs to make it. While it still has some aspects that are not entirely eco-friendly, designers plan to make this material biodegradable.


When talking about vegan clothing, there is a lot of ground to cover. It is especially important to know that vegan does not always mean eco-friendly and vice versa. Vegan focuses more on preventing harm to animals, whereas eco-friendly focuses on protecting the environment. That being said, not all vegan clothing is eco-friendly. Thankfully, there are materials that are entirely plant-based and use minimal chemicals, so everyone can be happy. If you want to find specific clothing brands that offer sustainable clothing, check out the information here.

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Lacey Jolley

I love exploring, experiencing new places, and eating good food! I'm amazed every day at how well the Earth provides for us, and I want to return the favor. I hope to help others learn how we can make our world a better, cleaner place.

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