Let's explore how vegan fashion has led the movement of conscious and ethical styling in India while preserving traditionalism and blending it with a modern approach.
The term ‘Vegan Fashion’ is currently making quite a buzz, but have you ever wondered how local shoppers have been following this practice for years? So, why is veganism trending in fashion now? Let’s gain insights from the founders of various PETA-approved vegan brands to understand why this term has been gaining prominence recently and how it differs from traditional cruelty-free practices.
If you are someone who doesn't keep up with trendy fashion language and is not acquainted with the term ‘Vegan Fashion,’ veganism simply refers to a lifestyle that excludes the use of animal-based products. Vegan fashion, on the other hand, encompasses clothing, shoes, and accessories made without any animal products or by-products. It involves creating stylish and trendy items without using materials such as leather, fur, silk, or wool, which typically come from animals. The practice of making plant-based products from natural fibers like cotton and linen has been ongoing in India since time immemorial, given India's substantial production of cotton. So, why has the term ‘vegan fashion’ come up recently, considering these methods have been in use for a while?
The simple answer lies in the fact that today, this approach has become an educational advocacy for consumers rather than just a product for sale. In the past, brands selling these products and consumers were not necessarily aware of this aspect. From the brand's perspective, Charmee, the founder of The Terra Tribe, a vegan clothing brand, explains, "One notable change since the introduction of the term is that brands now strive to create contemporary styles from naturally available materials, traditionally used for generations, by infusing style with sustainability." With the changing times, the influx of information, technology, and a better understanding of eco-conscious living, people have embraced sustainable practices as a way of life rather than merely an approach to fashion.
But wait, are sustainability and veganism the same thing?
While both terms are often used interchangeably, there is a significant difference between them. People, and sometimes even brands, confuse veganism with sustainability. Arundhati, the founder of Studio Beej, a conscious accessory brand, emphasizes, 'If you are a vegan brand, it is not necessary that you are sustainable, as not all vegan products are environmentally friendly.' Veganism may involve avoiding the use of animal-based products and following cruelty-free practices, but sustainability goes beyond, focusing on practices that do not harm the environment. Vegan materials such as polyester, nylon, and PVC, while alternatives to animal leather, may still have detrimental effects on natural processes. 'Synthetic materials like polyester raise environmental concerns due to their petroleum-based origin,' notes Supriya Shirsat Satam, founder of the eco-conscious accessory brand FOReT. The choice between the two often depends on individual preferences, ethical considerations, and environmental priorities. Sustainable and vegan practices in both categories are gaining importance as consumers seek more responsible and ethical fashion choices. Combining both becomes a win-win situation for brands and the environment.
To align with these practices, these brands have adopted various techniques and employed innovative materials. FOReT utilizes cork (obtained from the bark of the cork oak tree) and banana bark, along with other plant-based materials. The Terra Tribe incorporates Tencel (a cellulosic fiber obtained from the wood pulp of eucalyptus trees using recyclable solvents), organic cotton, handwoven hemp, and linen. Imars Fashion utilizes PVC, PU, canvas, and jacquard (a decorative design woven into the fabric on a jacquard loom, forming a slightly raised decorative area).
Studio Beej employs Pinatex (a non-woven textile using pineapple leaf fiber), cork fabrics, PET bottles, Desserto (leather made with nopal - a cactus), and Khesh (a textile process involving the use of old cotton sarees). Sol’eart Fashion uses non-leather fabric and vegan alternatives to craft its non-leather footwear.
These materials are sourced from various parts of India, supporting numerous communities, artisans, and moments, making it a social process along with conscious efforts. It also involves extensive research to find materials that are both ecological and economical, according to all the founders. Arundhati states, "As these materials are vegan and alternatives to mainstream ingredients, they cost more due to their availability in remote areas, research costs, and the effort to find the right sources, which eventually increases the indirect costs associated with them." Development efforts are dedicated to the careful sourcing of materials. Sourcing these vegan materials is not difficult; however, researching and finding them at the right price is. Ritu Garg, founder of Imars Fashion, an eco-conscious vegan bag brand, adds, "Once you have established that, the process becomes streamlined, allowing you to focus on providing innovative products and trendy designs to your customers while staying true to your main goal of consciousness."
As mentioned by Ritu, it is crucial to stay relevant to trends while focusing on the main objective. This industry demands constant efforts from both brands and customers. In the face of pressing global challenges, such as dwindling natural resources, brands are recognizing the need to address environmental issues. The founder of The Terra Tribe emphasizes, "Vegan and sustainable fashion is not only related to using natural materials but also involves other efforts like managing waste, carbon offsetting, and planting trees."
Nital Ganatra, founder of Sol’eart Fashion, a vegan and hand-embroidered accessories brand, adds, "Overall, the modern approach to vegan fashion is about combining style with ethics and sustainability. It offers consumers alternatives that align with their values and contribute to a more responsible and compassionate industry."
Expanding on her point regarding the role consumers can play in this groundbreaking moment, she emphasizes that it is the responsibility of consumers to stride forward and become conscious consumers rather than mere purchasers. They should actively advocate for such practices and contribute to spreading awareness alongside brands and other stakeholders. Supriya adds, "Consumers, especially the environmentally-conscious Gen Z, are increasingly conscientious about their purchasing choices, which is a positive development for this industry to thrive even more."
In an ever-evolving economy like India, the modern approach to veganism in fashion involves a holistic commitment to cruelty-free practices, ethical considerations, sustainability, and innovation. This approach reflects a shift in consumer values, expressing a desire for fashion that aligns with environmental principles.