Buying Vegan

July 18, 2013

Buying Vegan

Every once in a while, I’ll get an email from a reader who – whether for ethical, religious, or some other reason – has decided to abstain from animal products, but still wants a set of professional clothes for certain occasions. They’ll often ask if I have suggestions on where they can shop.

The answer is not easy. Many suits and sport coats will use animal hair for the canvas, and even if they’re fused, they’ll likely have a chest piece made from horsehair or camelhair. These are the things that give the jacket its structure. I suppose you could have one custom made, but this can be prohibitively expensive depending on your budget.

Ties are a bit easier. Cotton is your best option, as it will lack the sheen in unnatural materials, but like with tailored jackets, you’ll want to keep in mind that many well-made options will often have wool or wool blended materials inside. A sales associate probably can’t tell you the material make-up of a tie’s interlining, so you may either want to buy from a company such as this one, or see if you can get something custom made by Sam Hober or Vanda Fine Clothing.

For shoes, the four most popular retailers are Vegan Essentials, Moo Shoes, Pangea, and Vegetarian Shoes. Admittedly, much of what they sell, at least in the “dress shoes” department, is not terribly attractive. There are somewhat better options at Novacas, Ethical Wares, Vegan Chic, Vegan Wares, and No Harm. The last one seems to have the most wearable designs of all, including the simple brown cap toe oxfords you see above. In general, however, vegan shoes seem to be much better on the casual end of the spectrum. For example, I think these chukkas, minimalistic sneakers, and work boots don’t look too bad.

Another option is to go second-hand, but that obviously doesn’t divorce you from the primary market (in other words, buying second-hand leather shoes can still affect the primary demand for leather). Plus, if you’re against wearing animal products for religious reasons, something being second-hand may not matter to you.

One thing to consider is that if you’re trying to minimize harm to animals for ethical reasons, buying “vegan shoes” may not be a clear best option. Vegan shoes are made from petroleum-based synthetic leathers, and will last you maybe one to three years with regular wear. Well-made leather shoes, on the other hand, are usually made from vegetable tanned leathers and can last for decades (literally) if properly taken care of. I’m not at all prepared to say which has a lower environmental impact, or how that impact would translate to animal welfare, but it’s something to consider.

Update: A friend of ours recommend this model by Sanders. Not all Sanders shoes are vegan (in fact, few of them are), but if you can find them, they seem to be one of the best options available.

(Pictured above: No Harm’s cap toe oxfords)