People go vegan for a variety of reasons—ethical, environmental, nutritional, trend—the list goes on. For me, stepping up to plant-based was just a natural progression from my longstanding vegetarianism, and I wish I did it a lot sooner.
Growing up with flexitarian parents and a lot of veggie friends, I was already well versed in alternative milk, imitation meat products, and preparing delicious vegan meals so ditching things like cheese, eggs, and milk really wasn’t an issue for me. What really hit me when going vegan was the adjustments that are required to eliminate animal products from other aspects of your life. My biggest struggle? The wardrobe.
Being a part of Heddels for nearly four years, I would like to think my taste in menswear has grown in line with the ever-expanding scope of our website “owning things you want to use forever”. Unfortunately, most of the high-quality garments and footwear that fit my aesthetic use some sort of animal product such as leather or wool, so this posed a problem when adapting to a fully plant-based lifestyle.
In this article, I’ll be sharing the changes that I’ve had to make when buying quality menswear as a vegan. It’s important to note that I’m still navigating this part of my plant-based journey at the point of writing this, and It’s only recently that I have become completely strict with my sartorial choices and begun to completely phase out animal products from my wardrobe.
I want to make a disclaimer that by writing this article I am by no means trying to convert anyone to veganism. If you’re considering taking steps towards a vegan lifestyle, then I hope this article will show you that you can invest in quality clothing that doesn’t support the use of animals or animal products.
What and why is Veganism?
Before I get going, I just wanted to ensure a clear definition of veganism as I still meet loads of people who don’t fully understand what the lifestyle means or entails. By definition, a vegan is someone who does not eat or use animal products. At all. This means meat, dairy, eggs, fish, leather, wool, silk, honey: basically if it comes from an animal and we are consuming it in some way by wearing or eating it, it’s not vegan. You can eat a ‘vegan diet’ and not label yourself as a ‘vegan‘.
The reason for veganism is because some of us, myself included, do not believe that we should systematically kill, exploit, and torture innocent animals for our own benefit. Especially in a modern society where this is no longer necessary. Yes, there have been times in history when a lack of knowledge or technology has made it necessary to eat meat, but to vegans, those times have passed. We now have the knowledge and technology to sustain human life on a plant-based lifestyle and there is strong evidence to suggest that adopting a plant-based lifestyle is the single most beneficial thing an individual can do to reduce their impact on the environment.
Instead of getting too deep into ethical reasons for veganism, I will signpost you to this Ted Talk with vegan activist Ed Winters, as I won’t be able to put it as well as him without thousands of words.
It only seems natural to start here. Raw selvedge denim opened the floodgates for me in terms of quality menswear, and I’ve been a passionate denim head since I bought my first pair of A.P.C.s over 8 years ago. But what do most pairs of raw denim jeans have on the waist? A leather patch. And its these leather patches that can make certain pairs of raw denim jeans so attractive.
But, aside from the waist patch, jeans are typically completely vegan. Denim is just cotton after all. Thankfully, this makes it incredibly easy to buy a pair of good quality, vegan selvedge denim jeans. For many years, the majority of jeans on the market had a paper waist patch, and many jeans still have paper patches today. Especially selvedge denim jeans which are based on vintage Levi’s and Lee silhouettes.
Levi’s, orSlow, TCB Jeans, Resolute, Warehouse, Denime, and Burgus Plus are just a few brands that make stellar selvedge jeans with paper waist patches, making for a completely vegan jean. Some brands, like Dawson Denim, even offer optional canvas waist patches on their jeans allowing you to make them vegan. The only thing you need to remain wary of is potential leather trimmings such as rivet backings
The demand for wool can be seen in how often it’s featured in fashion. But to say that wool is simply a byproduct of the meat industry is incorrect in many cases. Wool is not something that simply falls off of an animal that we then find and weave into a fabric – it requires many ethically questionable practices to produce which affect the welfare of sheep and lambs. It is therefore classed as an animal product making it prohibited in a vegan lifestyle.
There is evidence to suggest that alpaca wool is often ethically sourced by gently shearing wild alpacas, however, alpaca wool is not exactly a wallet-friendly or easily accessible fabric, and it’s often blended with sheep/lamb’s wool to bring the cost of the garment down.
Now, wool is used to make a plethora of quality knitted goods. Knitted sweaters, jacket linings, ball caps, it’s everywhere in menswear. But for many wool garments, there are alternatives out there that use knitted cotton, linen, or a blend of the two. Let’s take sweaters for example. It’s very common for sweaters to be made from a wool or wool blend. But in my experience, there is a solid vegan option for most of these styles, and for the most part, cotton/linen blend knits provide a similar aesthetic to their wool counterparts. Cotton is also extremely easy to care for and can be just as hardwearing as wool when woven in certain ways.
Above are two Allevol knits. The grey knit on the left is 70% wool 30 % mohair, so – 100% animal products. The dark indigo knit on the right is 100% cotton. This is an example of how you can still buy high-quality vegan garments that have similar aesthetics to those time-honored styles which traditionally utilize animal products. You can also look for classic sweater styles made from cotton fleece/ loopwheeled cotton, like the Real McCoy’s Cotton Cardigan shown below.
To be honest, there is so much high-quality cotton knitwear out there, I would argue that after doing your research, knitwear is an easy part of the wardrobe to navigate as a vegan.
Jackets & Coats
Okay, jackets and coats are slightly more complicated due to the vast amount of styles there are. But in a way, that kind of makes navigating coats and jackets easier as it is more subjective. It really just boils down to not buying a jacket that’s made from animal skin or fur, and avoiding trimmings and finishes like pocket bags and leather toggles.
Denim jackets often have a leather patch at the neck which I have found has limited my options, but just like with jeans there are options out there with paper patches (or no patch at all) like those shown below.
I was never a leather jacket guy. But if you are, then I would say that waxed cotton and moleskin are both materials that can provide a lustrous look comparable to leather does. Especially considering how those fabrics age and earn patina. As well as being free from animal cruelty- those fabrics are also typically a lot more affordable.
I have found down jackets difficult to navigate as a vegan. They are probably one of my personal favorite garments aesthetically and a winter staple, especially living in England where it can get super cold. I still own and use down jackets and coats that I acquired prior to going fully vegan (I’ll get onto this later). However, to be completely transparent, I am yet to find a vegan down jacket that fits the quality and aesthetic criteria I look for in a garment, and until I do, I won’t be buying one. Some of the ways in which feathers and down are sourced are unconscionable, and even those sourced under the regulation of Responsible Down Standard requires the birds to be killed prior to removing the feathers and plumage.
PrimaLoft is a completely synthetic insulation that is commonplace in the outdoor industry and works in the same way as down, but I have not been able to find a PrimaLoft jacket that fits my style preferences yet.
Similar to jackets, I’ve personally found vegan footwear easy to navigate. However, this is only because I literally live in Converse 70s Chucks, which, along with other canvas sneakers like Vans and Sperry, are vegan when being made from canvas and rubber (though, they have started putting a leather converse patch on most of the hi-top Chucks).
There are also other amazing brands like Moonstar, Shoes Like Pottery, Spring Court, and Novesta that make vegan vulcanized sneakers. So, I personally found it easy to phase out service boots and other leather shoes as, to be honest, I barely wore them anyway. But for other vegans, this could be more difficult.
There are just some styles, like service boots, that don’t really exist in a vegan form. Granted I haven’t done any vigorous digging, but I spent some time looking for the purposes of this article and it would appear that there are no service boots, boat shoes, or derbies that have the same quality materials and builds as the traditional leather variants. Goodyear welts, stitchdown, and other quality construction methods that make the shoe retractable don’t seem to have entered the world of vegan footwear yet. I hope this changes and I’m optimistic that it will in line with innovations in the world of vegan leather, like MuSkin.
With the above in mind, I still find that vegan sneakers last just as long as their non-vegan counterparts, and I think anyone can argue that a pair of beat-up Converse or Vans look awesome. It’s also easy to find vegan running shoes from brands like Saucony and New Balance, and high-quality vegan sandals from brands like Birkenstock and Suicoke. Iconic sandal-maker Birkenstock has just launched a fully vegan range of their iconic styles like the Arizona and Gizeh. Yuketen also makes sandals using their synthetic Vaqueta Leather, so things are looking up on the quality sandal-front.
A Note On Second Hand and Other Thoughts…
When I’m asked about veganism and clothing, I’m often asked if I would buy a second-hand leather jacket or a pair of second-hand Red Wings. I’ve made the choice to cease buying animal products, even when they are second-hand.
Although I wouldn’t be paying directly for the slaughter of the animal required to make that product, I believe I would still be contributing to the supply and demand of that material. If everyone bought second-hand leather jackets (demand), then makers would notice this and continue to create more new leather jackets (supply). The same would go for boots, sneakers, and so forth.
So I mentioned earlier in this article that I’m still wearing down jackets that I have owned for a while. Well, I also wear some leather shoes, jeans with leather patches, and jackets with leather trim, all of which I’ve had for a long while. At this point, I haven’t made the conscious decision to rid my wardrobe of animal products I acquired prior to going vegan.
This may change, but I’m currently happy to accept that the animal products I still own are from a time where I thought differently and they will eventually perish or be sold/donated/moved on – meaning that, in time –my wardrobe will be completely free from all animal products. I believe that to sustain a vegan lifestyle, you must balance the strictness of the vegan philosophy with care and an understanding that you are breaking free from often extremely long standing habits and choices.
From my experience, there will always be people who nitpick you – “isn’t your car interior leather?”, “isn’t that a leather toggle on your jacket?” This scrupulosity should be ignored, and you shouldn’t scrap your car, because a lifestyle as devoted as veganism should be a journey, rather than the flip of a switch.