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The Global Rise of Cruelty-Free Fashion

The rise of cruelty-free fashion and beauty brands is apparent and all around us. Over the last few years, keen followers of fashion, no doubt would have noticed a sharp increase in consumers seeking more conscious fashion choices.

For many, the search led them to nowhere. Others chose to do something it and launched their own brands in this increasingly popular product niche.

The poor state of the planet we live in is highlighted daily. No longer do we witness natural disasters from a safe distance. More and more of us experience first-hand or know of someone who has been directly affected by such climate change provoked calamities.

Most causes point to the vast amount of land, claimed through (mostly) deforestation in order to make it suitable for growing crops that will feed the animals. According to a study done by the Harvard University approved in 2013, around 30% of the worlds ice-free surface land is farmed to support the feeding of chickens, pigs and cattle that we consume.

This, in turn, uses up even bigger, incomprehensible to a normal human, amounts of water and energy.

The biggest activists fighting against climate change are the millennials and gen Z. They also happen to have a major impact on how businesses think, act, advertise and exert the most influence globally.

Not to say other generations aren’t – but these two generations are the most passionate and vociferous. They know how to use social networks and media to their advantage creatively. They also do not stop when they have an unmet need. Instead – they rise to the challenge and do something about it.

This will explain the sudden rise of cruelty-free fashion brands tailoring their demands to the needs and desires of the conscious-minded amongst us.

While the term “cruelty-free fashion” may not evoke visions of beauty and luxury, many of the brands using these materials are creating beautiful and covetable products.

Products that are a hit with the environmentally conscious consumers, as well as, vegetarians, vegans and other flexitarian categories. These currently account for 11% of the world’s population and the numbers are growing daily.

In terms of materials, there is an ever-increasing list of sources that, in one way or another, are able to produce raw materials that can be used in the fashion industry.

Silk, for instance, is one of the most criticized materials. The preferred choice for luxury brands, due to its soft handle and sheer finish, silk is often criticised by vegans and animal rights activists because of its origins. Typically produced by boiling the cocoons of the silkworm – it is anything but a kind process. The silkworms die in the process.

While there are several synthetic, silk-silk alternatives, they, unfortunately, are not bio-degradable.

But what is perceived as a problem by some, is an opportunity for another. Silk farmers in India have developed an innovative method of breeding and harvesting of silk. Done in accordance with the principle of AHIMSA (Sanskrit word for “non-violence”) the silk yarn and fabric is manufactured under the most stringent social and natural conditions. This results in cruelty-free or also known as “peace” silk that is slowly becoming more known and sought-after raw material.

cruelty-free fashion
Organic peace silk kimono by Ethical Kind

A newcomer to the fashion industry, Lily Chong founded her luxury fashion brand Ethical Kind on solid foundations of social responsibility. Her brand’s sole focus is to create beautiful feminine holistic leisure and sleepwear by using organic, cruelty-free peace silk.

“Organic Peace Silk is the alternative for people who care about the lives of animals and the environment, and for the people who appreciate the queen of luxurious silk fibres feminine grace and beauty,” says Lily. Aside from the reasons Lily mentions, silk also has age-old wellness benefits. What used to be seen as self-indulgent purchase, now can be a conscious healthy and environmental choice.

Other silk alternatives are cactus silk, pineapple silk, lotus silk and manmade spider silk. All are natural and made from plant-based fibre. Though they are not yet mainstream fashionista’s “go-to” raw materials choice – but it is only a matter of time before they become the “new normal”.

There are more plant-based fibre raw materials interesting options coming to the market. Though they are yet to become easily available and the preferred choice for fashion designers.

They are biodegradable and easily can satisfy textile fanatics and animal lovers alike.

Some examples of such materials are made from banana. The natural fibre is made from the stem of the banana tree and is incredibly durable. Though it may sound like it is new, in fact, it has been used in traditional textile production in Japan and Nepal since as early as the 13th century. Similar to natural bamboo fibre, its spin ability, fineness and tensile strength are said to be better. Depending on what part of the banana stem the fibre was extracted from, it can be used to make a number of different textiles with different weights and thicknesses.

The rise of cruelty-free fashion is further supported by celebrities who too are choosing to voice their lifestyle choices.

The recent popularity of plant-based diets and their proven health benefits has converted many to ethical vegans. But in today’s age of increased drive for transparency, they want their dietary preferences to be reflected in their sartorial choices.

One such celebrity is the actress Rooney Mara who recently launched Hiraeth. A fashion label born out of her own frustration with not finding cruelty free and animal-friendly clothes and accessories. Her simple and elegant clothes are all manufactured in Los Angeles in ethical factories. Often described as social and planetary responsible, the high profile of Rooney goes a long way to help increase the awareness that we should be doing what we can, no matter how small and be more responsible for our purchasing choices and daily actions.

cruelty free fashion hiraeth
Looks from the AW19 collection by Hiraeth Collective

To further drive the point home, the renowned trend forecaster Lee Edelkoort said in a recent interview that her prediction is that in this decade, people will tire of overconsumption and our lives as we know them will shift radically.

She believes that people globally are hungry for greener, fairer, less consumerist society. “In Germany and parts of China,” she says, “ecology equals economy”.

Whether we like it or not, the face of fashion is changing.

The cruelty-free, vegan fashion revolution will continue to influence designers not just in fashion but also across other creative fields.

Designing with the environment in mind, and not just price and profit will soon become one of the metrics brands will report against. The use of new materials made out of plant-based or recycled plastic bottles, cork, wood, industrial waste, rubber, and other materials will become more and more mainstream.

Eco-conscious and cruelty-free fashion is here to stay and is the north star of the future.