At Yale and around the country, it is becoming more fashionable to “go green.” Have you ever considered the fact that switching from the standard meat-filled American diet to a vegan one is the carbon-cutting equivalent of trading in your Hummer for a bicycle? College is a great time to start evaluating how your everyday decisions affect the world you live in, and even moderate changes can make a difference. Your clothing, and the products you buy, is a great place to start, and it’s possible to shop cruelty-free on any budget.
Vegan fashion is no longer an oxymoron. In fact, it’s a growing trend among those who want to cut cruelty out of their everyday lives. Yes, there was a time when eschewing a leather handbag often meant settling for a shapeless hemp sack, but you can chuck the old tree-hugger stereotypes: Today it’s easier than ever to be compassionate and cute.
“What is vegan fashion?” you might ask. Well, the vegan lifestyle is more than just the elimination of animal foods and by-products from your diet. Unless you’re stuck in the Stone Age, fur is kind of a no-brainer — for those of you that have been living under a rock, just think cruel electrocution and steel-jaw leg hold traps.
But wool? Down? Leather!? The truth is that these materials are the products of exploitative industries that cause the suffering of millions of animals every year. How about the “it was going to die anyway” argument? Down and leather help prop up factory farms by boosting the income gained by slaughtering animals; these products are not an afterthought but an integral part of a cruel industry. Furthermore, products like leather may not even come from the animals you think they do: It is common for European countries to make leather from the skin of cats, and to import those skins into the United States. Your shoes might be a mixture of several kinds of leather, from several kinds of animals.
New Haven isn’t much of a “haven” for vegan fashion, and we’ve seen fur in quite a few shop windows on Chapel Street. But if you can make it to New York, or even your local shopping mall, there’s lots to be had. For the fashionistas, Stella McCartney has long led the high-fashion charge by refusing to use fur or leather in her line. NaturevsFuture is a new high-end line from a recent Parsons grad that uses natural, recycled and synthetic fibers to create chic vegan-friendly options. For those without designer budgets, never fear: Most stores carry plenty of animal-free clothes; just check the label. A personal favorite is Wildlife Works — their stylish t-shirts help give jobs to rural Africans and protect wildlife all at once!
But while nearly any store will offer vegan-friendly apparel, many fall down in the accessories department. Enter a cadre of retailers to solve the dilemma. The Montreal-based company Matt and Nat sells classy bags and wallets for men and women that certainly pass for leather. For those seeking stylish vegan footwear, Mooshoes is a store based in New York that specializes in both men’s and women’s shoes, and online retailer Alternative Outfitters is a great place to look for your perfect vegan accessories. My all-time favorite line of adorable wallets and bags are the handmade Queen Bee Creations out of Portland, Oregon. There’s even a vegan fashion blog (www.veganfashionblog.com) to help point you toward cute finds.
With all the great options out there, there’s really no excuse for wearing bits of a dead animal. And if all else fails, you can always head to Forever 21 — they don’t sell fur, and their stuff is cute, cheap and almost never made from real leather.