Sustainable does not equal vegan or cruelty-free.
It’s October, and that means Halloween season, although I bet Halloween’s going to be cancelled this year in many households, and that’s fine by me. Costumes take some effort, and trick or treating isn’t exactly healthy for kids.
In this blog post I wanted to highlight some brands that you might think were vegan (free of animal byproducts) all along, but aren’t. It’s not to say that they’re horrible, but just because they may be sustainable, it doesn’t mean that they’re free of cruelty to animals.
This list focuses on brands based or available in Canada, but I’d love your feedback in the comments below on any US brands that are deceivingly NOT vegan, and what some alternatives might be for them.
The first brand in California to become a certified B Corporation in 2012, Patagonia’s long touted its values and I give them props for being sustainability leaders in the outdoor wear space. They don’t use fur or angora but you’ll find leather, down, and wool in their apparel, especially for winter wear. They published this blog in 2017 about no longer using Red Pine Land and Livestock as suppliers and talk about consulting animal welfare experts and using suppliers that are Responsible Wool Standard (RWS) certified. If you’re going to use wool it may as well be from a certified supplier. But I am wary about what happens after certain companies get certified, and whether they continue to keep up with ethical practices.
One of Patagonia’s newsletters from 2013 said the following statement: “Beginning spring 2013, our entire collection of Ultralight Down clothing is using white down from geese that have been verified by an independent, third-party traceability expert to be non-live-plucked, non-forcefed.” And they now have this page on the Advanced Global Traceable Down Standard (TDS) offered by NSF International. This means they’re relying on their supplier to do the work. And you just never know what’s going on behind the scenes.
Use instead: Norden
Based in Montreal, QC, Norden (also a B Corp) is committed to creating sustainable, ethical products made from recycled plastic. They’re PETA certified and contain zero animal by-products and have as much of a closed-loop manufacturing process as possible. You can learn all about that here. They’re a great example of how sustainability can also be vegan.
I’ve been criticized before for touting companies that use recycled plastic because that means with each wash, microplastic is going into our oceans. My response to that is that until we’re able to figure out how to mass-produce apparel that is made of natural fabrics AND also vegan, plastics will still be going into the ocean from landfills anyway—and, there are solutions (see #4 below). So until that solution is conceived, I’d still support companies that recycle plastic into something useful BEFORE it eventually goes into the ocean, rather than ones that are exploiting and killing animals for profit.
lululemon doesn’t test on animals or use fur or angora, but they don’t have any animal welfare policy regarding the suppliers they use for their animal-derived products, like their goose-down jackets. Goodonyou.eco says that—like Patagonia—lululemon uses down feathers accredited by the Responsible Down Standard, but they also use leather, wool, and exotic animal hair without stating sources.
Use instead: Noize, Wuxly, and cruelty-free fitness apparel companies
For outerwear, consider Canada-based Noize, which makes high-tech synthetic fabrics that are nearly identical to animal-derived materials, or Wuxly, known for tech-based outerwear that is leaner, lighter and warm, while being respectful to the planet and all living beings.
There are a lot of places to get yoga or other fitness apparel that’s vegan—all it takes is a quick Google search to check, or you can ask the brand directly. My vegan fashion list may help.
If you’re not vegan but you want to ensure that your fav retailer is using responsibly sourced animal products, ask them to show you their policy, and then look into the organizations they’ve listed.
3. EILEEN FISHER
If I had to invest in a high quality, sustainable corporate wardrobe, I always thought EILEEN FISHER was the brand I’d buy. But the B Corp-certified designer line uses wool, leather, down, and cashmere. They have information on their wool and recycled cashmere sources and have been a member of the Leather Working Group since 2013, but there’s no public-facing policy on the source of their down.
Use instead: Stella McCartney but…
Photo: adidas by Stella McCartney AW20, stellamccartney.com
It was REALLY hard to find a designer apparel brand that was completely vegan and still somewhat affordable!
Although Stella McCartney herself is a vegan and MOST of her designer line is, she’s in the same boat as EILEEN FISHER: They use re-engineered cashmere, wool from hand-selected farms (even though they have tried vegan wool), and faux leather and fur, and are working on synthetic silk. They call themselves a “vegetarian brand” which I think is pointless for a fashion company, but they’re right up there in terms of sustainability practices. Vegan media have called SM a vegan brand, but let’s face it: it’s not animal-free until it is.
Or in Vancouver: OKAKIE but…
OKAKIE is an amazing, Indigenous-owned and designed brand local to Vancouver, but they still have items with wool blends. I know they’re on the move to become completely vegan, and they’re so close. I love pretty much all of their pieces!
Please comment below if you know of a completely vegan designer brand.
4. American Apparel
American Apparel was long known as the American-made cotton basics brand of the ’90s, but they were acquired by Gildan in 2017. Most of what you can buy online is vegan, but now they’re no longer made in the USA and this site said in 2019 that they sell wool and leather products without stating sources or animal welfare policies.
Use instead: Ungalli
I’m in awe of Ontario-based sisters and co-founders Hailey and Bree who created Ungalli with knowledge of the negative impact the mainstream clothing industry has on people, wildlife and the planet. Launched in 2013, they’ve been recognized for their sustainability practices, and were able to move their manufacturing back to Canada. In response to customers who were concerned about microplastics in their clothing, in 2018 they introduced 100% organic cotton pieces, and sell the Cora Ball, the first microfibre-collecting laundry ball. I love that because even if apparel companies can’t solve the plastic problem all at once, they can at least provide solutions that will prevent more plastic from leaking into our oceans.
The original buy-one-give-one shoe brand, B Corp-certified TOMS is moving toward making more of its shoes vegan, but several of their shoes still use leather. Like EILEEN FISHER, they are members of the Leather Working Group.
Use instead: Native Shoes
It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Vancouver-born Native Shoes which were (like Crocs,) immediately copied worldwide shortly after launch. They’ve expanded into boots, sandals, and children’s shoes, were always—and hopefully will always be—vegan, and have a recycling initiative called the “Remix Project” that turns the shoes into playground flooring.
For nicer footwear: Call it Spring
While Call it Spring is now owned by ALDO which isn’t a vegan company, at least they have a product line that isn’t completely casual like Native, and doesn’t use leather.
Or: Nice Shoes
I’m lucky to be living close to this retailer, which carries many lines of vegan shoes and accessories. However, you can shop Nice Shoes online and they ship worldwide. You can also find more e-retailers on my vegan fashion list.
6. Any designer bag/wallet
I’ve owned some nice bags in my time, but I can’t say any of them are by a notable design brand, nor do I aspire to own one. They’re beautiful, but often made of fur, leather (ostrich as well as cow), crocodile skin, and snakeskin, and I don’t doubt that most designer brands aren’t transparent about the sources of their animal-derived materials. Also, they rely on cheap foreign labour where working conditions are deplorable, and the items are marked up so high (in the thousands) that the companies are the ones who take most of the profit.
Use instead: Lambert
Melissa Lambert founded Montreal-based Lambert. She’s a mother who wanted to create chic and practical vegan leather bags, which are ethically made in Guangzhou, China and are PETA-approved.
Are there any brands that are deceptively NOT vegan that you want to share, or vegan companies you’d wear all year round? Share with us in the comments!
Banner photo: TOMS.com