Along with many people of my generation, (at 21, I just about fit into the 'millennial' category) climate change is often on my mind.
The Leonardo-DiCaprio-produced Cowspiracy, in 2014, brought veganism into the limelight by claiming that the best thing we can do to reduce our carbon footprints, was switch to a plant based diet.
In Britain, the number of vegans has risen by 350 per cent in the past ten years, according to a survey carried out on behalf of the Vegan Society, which might be spurious, but we have seen the trend begin to seep into fashion more and more, as ethical capsule collections are trialled by bigger and bigger brands.
PETA challenged me to switch to a vegan wardrobe for a week. At first, I thought this was a staggeringly easy challenge to pull off.
I then began to realise how many things I own contain wool, silk or leather. Several of my winter jumpers contain wool, as does my black full length coat, from the conscious collection in H&M. I wear this coat most days, but wouldn't be able to throughout this challenge, so I kept my fingers crossed that it wouldn't rain.
My black leather rucksack has been my best friend for a while, and I wasn't sure how vegan leather would fare carrying half my belongings across London.
Having been a vegetarian for most of my life, and being adamantly against fur, I was overly-confident. The only concern I had was for my favourite bag. My black leather rucksack has been my best friend for a while, and I wasn't sure how vegan leather would fare carrying half my belongings across London. I'm a recent graduate of Brighton University, and now a freelance journalist, so I spend a lot of time carrying my laptop and various notebooks around, mostly on trains between Brighton and London.
I also had a lot of questions. Mainly - what was actually off limits? It turns out that silk, down, wool and cashmere were a no-no, as well as the more obvious materials like exotic skins and fur.
My usual style probably (definitely) contains too much black and grey, although the recent rise of peachy, nude tones are so much perkier and they're in tune with the understated look I usually opt for. My wardrobe is sourced from a mixture of vintage shops, Zara and other high street classics like H&M and Monki. Although in a bid to reduce excessive consumption, I have refrained from shopping too much in the past year and have sought to restyle pieces that I already own. This has lead to many failed DIY attempts on my part, adapting boyfriend jeans into cut offs with trailing, raw edges, for example.
When I explained to my parents I was completing a vegan clothing challenge, they were slightly perplexed. I'm pretty sure they weren't certain why I was doing it- but after explaining that the leather industry uses chemicals such as arsenic throughout the tanning process, releasing hazardous and dubious chemicals into waterways and the air, they begun to see the worth of this experiment. Many people assume that leather is primarily from cows, but it can be from sheep too - tracing the origins of products sometimes can't be done.
Many people assume that leather is primarily from cows, but it can be from sheep too- tracing the origins of products sometimes can't be done.
So here's how I fared when I switched to a vegan wardrobe for a week, including hunting for the perfect leather replacement brand.
It turns out there are A LOT of ace vegan only PETA approved retailers out there!
Today I had a really busy day, so I wore a Zara organic cotton tee, and some black vintage cut-off jeans (denim), frayed at the ends. I carried my things in a LaBante cream vegan leather rucksack called 'Agnes', which is actually turning out the be better than my real leather bag that I was unhappy about saying goodbye to...so far, so good.
This morning I had a meeting with the lovely team at Beyond Skin, to hear a little more about their vegan shoes, and get some advice. I suddenly realised that I literally have one pair of vegan shoes, with five days to go. However, problem totally solved, as Beyond Skin make shoes that are beautiful irrespective of the 'vegan-over-style' hype that sometimes surrounds vegan brands.
They're currently selling some tiger pumps, and even better a cut of the proceeds go to animal charities, so I bought a pair to help me breeze through this #veganwardrobeweek. I wore polyester grey culottes and a white cotton shirtdress with side splits and wide cuffs, from H&M.
I worked from home today, so I took the opportunity to wear my favourite soft tee, a long peach viscose top with 'girl gang' emblazoned on the front, from boohoo and made in the UK. I paired it with vintage Calvin Klein crop black jeans for ultimate comfort and happiness levels whilst working behind a screen all day.
I went out for lunch wearing birkenstock style sandals from Bourgeois Boheme, a vegan shoe brand. They were so comfortable, and the mock leather is actually much softer than real leather. Maybe I'm starting to be converted to this vegan leather alternative...
Today I wore Topshop cotton.To my amazement, it turns out that most of my wardrobe is actually vegan already, and it only takes a quick peek at the labels to see that vegan friendly polyester is the primary material used on the high street.
The weather was gross today, so I opted for a black Zara jumpsuit (100 per cent polyester) and an oversized, white chunky knit… or what I thought was a knitted woolen jumper, until I checked the label and saw 60 per cent cotton and 40 per cent polyester. Win! I paired these with the tiger shoes from Beyond Skin. Another day, another cruelty free outfit.
One thing that has surprised me the most during this challenge, has been the incredible variety of textures and aesthetics that can be created using the same material - namely polyester.
Ah, the weekend. Today I wore a pair of pale pink trousers from Zara (a mix of acetate and viscose), with a vintage Ralph Lauren grey sweatshirt (cotton). One thing that has surprised me the most during this challenge, has been the incredible variety of textures and aesthetics that can be created using the same material - namely polyester. As the week is drawing to an end, I'm realising that accessories need more attention than clothes, and that actually wearing vegan clothes is pretty easy. I carried my things in a small nude bag by Wilby, a sustainable vegan brand based in London, and approved officially by PETA. The bag is made from cork leather. I received several compliments on my bag choice today, which ended in similar conversations about cork leather, and how yes, that's actually a thing. And it's good for the environment, and yes it looks cool too.
Whilst I'm sure I haven't converted anyone this week, the concept of vegan dressing has been discussed more than usual, raising some of my friends awareness of their own contribution to the leather industry.
The last day of a purposeful vegan dressing. It's sunny and lovely out, so I wore a grey swing dress from H&M basics, with white faux leather sandals from Bourgeois Boheme. As I reflect back on my wardrobe for the week, there have actually been very few changes, except that my comfortable Adidas sambas have been neglected entirely.
As I reflect back on my wardrobe for the week, there have actually been very few changes, except that my comfortable Adidas sambas have been neglected entirely.
It was difficult not being able to wear my chelsea Dr Marten boots, and I'm sure that it would be slightly harder to wear vegan clothes during the long British winter. Luckily, I work in an industry where work attire can be pretty flexible. A heavy reliance on white cotton shirts definitely helped getting through 'suitable/unsuitable' conundrums.
There is such a variety of animal-free options out there: bags made from loads of unusual materials like cork leather and barkcloth - a material, traditionally from Uganda, made from the inner bark of trees from the Moraceae family. It seems that when the option to use leather is taken away, brands become much more innovative and creative in their search for an alternative material that maintains their ethos.
Completing this challenge has encouraged me to look at labels more, and shop more consciously.
I was also surprised by the fact that places like H&M, Zara and Urban Outfitters all stock animal-free clothing. Most people didn't seem to even realise I was completing a challenge, besides a few people mentioning that my sartorial choices were a little more varied (especially in the bag department). Whilst I'm not about to throw out the leather I already own, I would definitely think twice before buying anymore.
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