Vilda Debate: Are You Still Vegan if You Wear Fur?
ELLE US writer Victoria Dawson Hoff recently posted a piece on being vegan and still wearing fur, prompting a flow of comments condemning her for what could easily be seen as a double standard – how can you follow a plant-based diet and still contribute to the cruelty that the fur industry entails? As editor of Vilda, a vegan of a year and a half and someone who’s never worn fur, I felt compelled to write a reply.
Victoria’s reply to the comments was that while she admires the look of materials such as leather, fur and silk, she’s slowly moving towards a cruelty-free wardrobe, which seems commendable to me. Let’s not forget that Victoria works in fashion, a business where you’re constantly tempted to (and somehow expected to) buy and wear all the irresistible things that you’re constantly looking at – I’ve worked in fashion for years and let me tell you, it’s not an easy place to be vegan. Most of the It items (bags, shoes, coats) do have some animal ingredients – such is the market right now and in my opinion, it’s up to both the consumer and the industry to change that, which Victoria is slowly doing by committing to cruelty-free. While I commend her for that (and am thrilled to see there’s a vegan writer at such a powerful fashion publication as ELLE!), I wanted to take a look at the paradox of following a vegan diet while choosing to wear clothes made from animal products.
Veganism, as a term and ideology, stands for a philosophy where the aim is to eliminate or diminish all animal cruelty and exploitation. The term “vegan” was coined in 1944 by Donald Watson of the Vegan Society of the UK. He defined veganism as “a way of living that seeks to exclude, as far as possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty towards, animals for food, clothing and/or any other purpose.”
Over the years (as veganism grew increasingly popular and became a trend) the term is most frequently interpreted as “a person who does not eat any food that comes from animals and who often also does not use animal products (such as leather) ” Source: Merriam Webster dictionary
As most people that define themselves as “vegan” (as Victoria appears to be doing) will tell you, veganism is a way of life rather than a diet. There are many people that follow a plant-based diet for their health or environmental reasons, but still choose to wear clothing and use makeup with animal ingredients. Are these people still “vegan”? To me, “vegan” can be a flexible term: I can take a bite of my friend’s non-vegan cupcake or use a cruelty-free, but not vegan, free beauty gift that came with a magazine – in my mind, I’m still very much a vegan. Having said that, there are certain basics that vegans are (quite rightly) expected to respect: if you eat a burger once a month or even once a year, most people would agree it means you’re not only not vegan, but not even vegetarian. The question is, where do we draw that line? No matter what camp you may fall into, pretty much all vegans tend to think fur is one of the biggest no-nos there is.
It’s interesting that fur is seen as a much stronger impact than many other animal clothing ingredients (that are just as cruel and unnecessary). Animal-friendly fashionista Stella McCartney is often described as “a vegan designer” for her decision to reject all use of fur and leather in her collections – even if she does use wool and silk in her designs. Even many omnivores are strongly and outspokenly anti-fur, while having no problem with leather or wool. Fur seems to be the great divider of the animal rights debate. If Victoria were a vegan who on occasion wears wool (which she perhaps does), chances are that ELLE piece wouldn’t even get written. “On Being a Vegan Who Wears Wool”? Hmm, no, I don’t really see a headline there. Wool just isn’t provocative enough, while fur is a big, bold, shocking statement. Especially for a self-defined vegan: where leather has a connection with the meat industry, no such excuses can be used by someone following a plant-based diet. So how could a vegan justify wearing fur?
First of all, let’s talk vintage fur. As Victoria mentions, she does tick the sustainability box, but she could also do so by buying a gorgeous Vaute Couture coat. And while it’s easy to think that going vintage means you’re not contributing to demand for more fur, the opposite is actually true – especially if you are a fashion writer who lets herself be photographed wearing fur for a streetstyle page. What that photo is saying isn’t, “look how sustainable and animal-friendly I am for choosing vintage”, it’s, “look, I’m wearing fur because it’s chic and trendy”. Which of course ends up being more of an advertisement for fur than anything else.
I disagree with those who call Victoria ignorant in the comments – not only is she well aware of the implications that her fashion choices have for her choice of lifestyle, she is also conscious of the alternatives. She references Stella McCartney, Matt and Nat and Freedom of Animals in her piece (while wearing a pair of Free People faux leather trousers), all of whom she likes. So what is her excuse? According to her article, she has none.
I agree that judgement and attack are not the correct way to make a change in the world and don’t think Victoria or anyone else should be attacked, no matter what they choose to wear, but I would be delighted to see fashion industry professionals such as Victoria explore cruelty-free style more. Victoria claims she knows that she is wrong, but refuses to be judged. In her words, “in a perfect world, I would sell or donate the offending garments, and buy myself a brand spanking new, cruelty-free closet”, but her budget won’t allow it, which I completely understand and recognise, but then she adds: and neither will my mind.
Why? Why, as a vegan, will your mind not conceive of such a thing? I completely understand and agree with the budget concerns, but your mind? I own an old leather jacket from before I was vegan, but if I could afford to trade it in for one of Free People’s gorgeous vegan alternatives, my mind would certainly jump for joy about it.
Didn’t we all like meat before going vegan? I loved fried chicken as a kid. There was nothing like it for me – the smell, the crisp texture, the delicious taste…but once I understood where it came from, I had no problem cutting it out of my life forever, along with other animal products. No one says it’s easy – we all once liked meat and cheese and apple pie and leather shoes and woolly knits. But defining yourself as “vegan” means your belief in right and wrong are stronger than your preference for certain things you “like”. Plus, as Victoria mentions, there are lots of alternatives for cruelty-free consumers – while it initially takes some exploring, there’s a big chance that you’ll quickly fall in love with your new compassionate wardrobe.
We are all works in progress – I edit a vegan online magazine and am far from a perfect vegan myself. But putting yourself out there, in a streetstyle picture, as a vegan who wears fur suggests that you are actually okay with fur and other fashion-related forms of animal cruelty.
I applaud Victoria for having chosen a cruelty-free diet and making changes to make her wardrobe and beauty routine more animal- and planet-friendly. Baby steps are definitely better than no steps at all. But while she’s going through the process (because going fully vegan is indeed a process), I’d like to encourage her to look into the kind options that offer the fur and leather look minus the cruelty – see slideshow below.
A passionate changemaker, Sascha Camilli is the founder and editor-in-chief of Vilda Magazine. Born in Moscow and raised in Stockholm, she has also lived in Los Angeles, London, Milan and Florence, before landing in her current hometown of Brighton, UK. She was selected as one of GLAMOUR UK's Most Empowering Nu-Gen Activists and is a frequent public speaker on the topic of vegan fashion and material innovation. Her book Vegan Style is out now on Murdoch Books.