The #PlasticFreeJuly campaign was launched by the Plastic-Free Foundation in 2017 to promote a world without plastic waste. The foundation works to equip participants with the knowledge and tools they need to seriously reduce their plastic waste, and for the past years, the hashtag #PlasticFreeJuly has been filled with info on how to downsize your use of this environmentally wasteful material.
Here at Vilda, we take a slightly different approach to #PlasticFreeJuly. While you’re busy swapping to a reusable coffee cup and forgoing plastic bags, consider this: an estimated 60% of all the textiles in the world are made from plastic-based materials, such as polyester, PVC, acrylic and nylon. And when those fabrics are washed, they release microplastics into the water, which then ends up in the environment. 6 kg of polyester can shed as much as 137k fibres – and polyester’s not even the worst fabric in terms of microplastic pollution. So what happens once these microplastic fibres hit our waters? They contaminate the environment on a huge scale and are toxic to marine wildlife – hardly vegan-friendly. And a lot of this damage is coming from our wardrobes: the fashion industry accounts for 15-30% of all plastic pollution found in our oceans.
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So, how do we solve this from a vegan perspective? With so much of what we consider “vegan fashion” being made from PVC, PU, polyester and other forms of what is essentially petroleum-based materials, is it possible to have a vegan and plastic-free wardrobe? The answer is…maybe. It does take more work than a conventional vegan (or non-vegan: plenty of mainstream shoppers have wardrobes that are overflowing with polyester) wardrobe – but with a little research, it can be achieved. It pays to look beyond the high street and look into little-known labels experimenting with new and not so new textiles: some naturally-derived vegan materials have always been around, while others are new innovations that might replace not only leather, but also plastic-based fabrics.
Plastic-free vegan leather: Cork isn’t a new material – it’s been used for a long time, especially in countries Portugal, where there is an extensive presence of cork trees. Cork is biodegradable, recyclable and regenerates itself by growing back on the tree once the bark is taken off, so there is no need to cut down the tree in order to obtain the material. Brands like Corkor offer beautiful cork bags and French label Ovide makes jackets from the material. Discover The Vegan Tannery, an online boutique offering materials like leaf leather and recycled rubber. If you’re looking for something more innovative, check out these brands making accessories and clothing in nontoxic, cruelty-free apple leather.
Plastic-free vegan wool: frequently and very frustratingly, the wool or no wool debate is framed in an outdated “wool vs plastic” light. In reality, materials like organic cotton, hemp fabric and soybean fibre are widely available to replace wool. Tencel in particular is an interesting material – made from wood cellulose, it is produced using a closed-loop technology, meaning that water and chemicals used in the process are re-used. Check out organic cotton knits at People Tree or Miakoda New York, Tencel designs from Komodo, or check out hemp knitwear at Thought.
Plastic-free vegan silk: silk is a relatively simple fabric to replace. Natural materials include linen and Tencel (again!), as well as ramie, which derives from a nettle plant and is biodegradable – check out Balossa‘s amazing ramie collection. Cupro, a regenerated cellulose made from cotton waste is also a fantastic choice – it’s machine washable (unlike silk) and biodegradable. Have a look at Mamoq’s designs in recycled cupro or Noumenon’s envy-inducing jumpsuits and other styles in cupro.
Living a plastic-free (or as close to plastic-free as possible) life isn’t limited to swapping your toothbrush for a bamboo one – the practice of limiting plastic should extend to your wardrobe. As vegans, we must do our best to care for the planet we are on, and everything that lives on it, and cutting down on our use of plastic-derived clothing is a great way to do so.
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Header photo by Karina Tess via Unsplash