We are no strangers to veganism – from our colourful Instagram feeds, to the trendy cafés popping up all over the place, even to our close friends ditching meat and animal by-products, one thing is clear: veganism has taken the world by storm. Celebrities and ambassadors alike have advocated for the positive health and environmental benefits of this plant-based diet. But how has this movement changed the fashion industry?
Tom Ford, founder of the eponymous multi-million fashion label, is one example of how this trend is influencing the way high fashion is being produced. Always mindful of his health, Ford says he was inspired to take the leap and become vegan after watching the documentary What The Health. “I’ve been vegan for about the last year. When you look at how most of our meat, our animal products, are raised, from a health standpoint, I didn’t feel that I should eat those things anymore.”
Image: Landon Nordeman
Although initially health-related, Ford says that since going vegan, he has become more conscious of the unethical use of animal products in fashion. It goes without mention that the fur controversy is heading this debate, and Ford is proud to be limiting the use of fur in his collections, embracing faux fur and clothing pieces made from food by-products instead. “That means cowhide, it means shearling, it means not doing fur that is raised purely for its pelt…whether I’m consuming meat or not, other people are, so these are things that are collected.”
Image: Alessandro Garofalo
But is using faux fur instead of real fur a change for the better? The production of faux fur itself is an unsustainable practice, as most fake fur is produced with petroleum, a non-renewable resource. Creating synthetic fibres to imitate fur also requires chemical reactions which release toxic substances into the environment, and so many designers are torn between the unethical practice of using real fur, and the unsustainability of faux fur. Ford himself is ambivalent regarding this topic, “I’m also very torn about this because fake fur is terrible for the environment. People think of fake fur as a disposable thing. They buy it, they wear it a few seasons, they throw it away, it doesn’t biodegrade. It’s a petroleum product. It is highly toxic. And then, you could argue that tanning leather is a highly toxic process. A fur coat gets recycled. People wear them for 30 years, they give them to their kids, then they turn them into throw pillows. So I don’t know the answer to that.”
Image: Landon Nordeman
This uncertainty in which course to take is by no means a harmless one. Ford recounts the time when a woman at an event was so distraught by the use of fur in his collections that she poured tomato juice over him in protest. Although a frightening experience, it did not convince him to ban fur from his label. He goes on to explain how many customers are loyal to the brand because of its fur and leather pieces, and how it is ultimately a difficult decision to make for the business.
Image: Yannis Vlamos
So, has veganism saved the day? We don’t know for sure, but it has definitely made heads turn and minds think about the future of the fashion industry. Even though progress is slow, we are for sure heading towards a more sustainable future. Let’s hope we will soon be saying goodbye to fur and leather, for good!
Written by: Tiffany Ko