Cruelty-Free Closet 101: How to Veganize your Wardrobe in 10 Steps

So you recently became vegan. Well, CONGRATULATIONS! And welcome to the club. Unfortunately, you won't be getting any membership kit in the mail anytime soon. We at nooch digest, however, are going to provide some (hopefully) useful tips and tricks on how to make your new life as a vegan a little bit easier. 

You probably had the same experience that we had. You just woke up as a newly-minted vegan in your comfy vegan pj's on your blissfully cozy vegan bed and you're starting to get ready for work. You look at your closet and you stare at it a little longer than usual and something clicks in your head: you have absolutely nothing to wear. 

Ok, that's a tad dramatic but the point we're getting to is that you're suddenly faced with this unique but pressing dilemma: Your wardrobe is not as vegan as you are. 

While people may laugh at this, it is important to know that what we eat and put in our bodies is not that different from what we buy and put on our bodies. As vegans, people sometimes fail to recognize that the clothing they wear, much like the food that we eat, comes from a massive multi-billion industry. Within both industries is a hierarchy of exploitation. As you go down this ladder, the ones at the bottom are the ones getting the sh*t end of the deal. As you may have already guessed, nonhuman animals are usually at the bottom of this hierarchy. Therefore, as vegans, we, at nooch digest, firmly believe that we have a duty to lessen, with the goal to completely eradicate, the need for clothing that exploits the lives of animals, both human and nonhuman, as well as the environment. 

Also, an important thing to keep in mind is to remind yourself that you're not alone in this. It might seem like a daunting task at first but every single vegan we've met, known, and talked to (including ourselves) have faced the same unique challenge that you're facing right now. It's also worth nothing that this change is not going to happen overnight and this transition will be an ongoing process. We're all here to make things easier for each other!

With this said, here are our tips on how to start converting your closet to a collection of cruelty-free clothing!

 

1. Know what's actually in your closet right now.

First and foremost, you need to look into your closet and actually see what clothes you currently own. Most of the time, you'll find clothes you didn't even know you had that are already vegan-friendly, which to me, is similar to finding a money in your pocket you didn't know you had.

I find it easier to just grab everything off the rack and start making piles of clothes. One pile could be clothes you couldn't live without and would want to keep, another would be clothes you might want to keep, and a third pile could be clothes you definitely want to get rid of (which would include clothes that are obviously made of animal-derived materials.)

Note: There's always a controversial argument among vegans who keep clothes even though they are not vegan (like leather and wool), but we realize that everybody has different budgets and financial limitations that would restrict them from buying new clothes so we leave this option at your own discretion. Again, this is an ongoing process and nobody expects you to have your closet turn magically vegan overnight.

 

2. Always look at the labels.

Being vegan, we're assuming that you're already familiar with the practice of reading labels on food products to make sure they're vegan. Well, the same goes with clothing! 

As you're making your piles, (or if you're purchasing clothing in general) it's essential to read the labels on garments as it will help you determine which clothes you're going to want to keep or not. The two labels I usually read are the Country of Origin label and the care label. The main reason I read the Country of Origin (or COO) label, which is usually located underneath the main label on the inside neck area of the garment, is to get a general idea of where my clothes are made. To me, it's important to not only be fighting for animal liberation but for the well-being of the workers' who made the garments as well. Ultimately, the COO label does not determine whether that particular garment was made under fair working conditions or not, but it is important to be cognizant of where your clothes came from and how far they travelled to get to you. On a side note, if you want to know more about the production of clothing, especially with today's fast-fashion model, I recommend watching "The True Cost".

The care label, on the other hand, might be the most informative piece of labeling in a garment. These labels are usually made of satin and are sewn directly onto the sideseam of the garment. These labels are found on almost all garments entering the United States as required by federal law, so you should have no problem finding them. Besides providing the instructions on how to properly care/wash your garment, the care label also provides the garment's fiber content. Why is this so important? Read on to find out why!

 

3. Know your fibers.

In my opinion, every vegan worth their salt should know a thing or two about fibers, and I'm not just talking about your daily supplements.

Fibers are the materials that make up the fabric of your garment. Individual fibers get spun to form yarns and either gets knitted or woven into a textile and can very well determine how the garment drapes, feels, fits, and conforms to the wearer's body. Some of the more commonly known fibers today are cotton, polyester, silk, and wool. Since there are so many fibers out there, we compiled an easy guide on the most used fibers in the fashion industry as well as which fiber is what, so the next time you see a care label, you'll know exactly what you're buying. 

  • Plant-based fibers include seed hairs, such as cotton; stem (or bast) fibres, leaf fibres, and husk fibres, such as coconut.
    • Cotton - most widely used fiber known for its breathability and relative inexpensiveness
    • Flax - lightweight and absorbent, used to make linen fabric
    • Jute - used worldwide predominantly as sackcloth, known for strength and durability
    • Hemp - fiber that is recently experiencing a steady growth in usage due to the industry's "cottonization" of the plant, typically has a similar texture to linen.

 

  • Animal-derived fibers include wool, hair, and secretions, such as silk. For the sake of a more "comprehensive" guide, we also included skins and feathers.
    • Leather - People might not know this but leather is actually made from the skin of animals, namely cows. However, pigs, goats, sheep and exotic animals such as alligators, ostriches, and kangaroos are also used/farmed to make leather. (Due to lax labeling laws, sometimes even dogs and cats are used without the end consumer knowing it.) Leather also comes in different grades, from full-grain and top-grain leather to suede, "genuine" leather and bonded leather. 
      • Suede - leather that is made from the underside of the skin, primarily from a lamb, a goat, or a calf. It is then "rubbed" to make a velvety nap.
    • Silk - Silkworms are a type of caterpillar usually the Bombyx mori moth. Once the pupa creates their cocoon, the silk fibers are harvested either by placing the entire cocoon in boiling water or by heating the cocoons with steam. Both of these industry standard practices are done while the developing pupae are still inside, effectively killing the pupa to keep it from breaking through the cocoon, which destroys the thread. Approximately 3,000 silkworms are used to make every pound of silk. For information about Ahimsa, or "peace silk", which can be considered as an oxymoron by some, see here.
    • Down and Feathers - Down is the soft layer of feathers closest to the birds’ skin, primarily in the chest region. These feathers are highly valued because they do not have quills. Most products labeled “down” contain a combination of these underfeathers and other feathers or fillers. Today, most down are obtained by forcibly plucking feathers from ducks and geese, usually when the animals are only around 8 weeks old.  
    • Shearling - refers to the sheep’s skin tanned with the wool still attached to it. “Shearling” also refers to the sheep: A shearling is a yearling sheep who has been shorn just once, and a shearling garment is made from a sheep or lamb shorn shortly before slaughter. It can take dozens of individual sheep skins to make just one shearling garment.
    • Fur - arguably the most controversial of them all, fur is known as the short, fine, soft hair of certain animals. The most commonly farmed fur-bearing animals, according to PETA, are minks, followed by foxes, chinchillas, lynxes, and even hamsters. For more information on fur and how it is obtained, we highly recommend watching the documentary, "The Ghosts In Our Machine."
    • Wool - refers to the full fleece on the outside skin of sheep. The most popular types of wool include (but are not limited to):
      • Lambswool which comes from the first shearing of the sheep;
      • Cashmere which is obtained from the undercoat of the cashmere goat;
      • Mohair which is taken from the Angora goat;
      • Angora (not to be confused with the Angora goat mentioned before) comes from the undercoat of the Angora rabbit whose fibers are extremely fine making Angora incredibly soft and the finest of all wool fibers; 
      • Alpaca hair which comes from the Alpaca, an animal living in South America;
      • Vicuña, which is obtained from the animal of the same name, and is related to camels and llamas and live high in the South American Andes,
      • Merino wool, which comes from the Merino sheep. It is the most popular breed of sheep used for clothing and produces the most luxurious wool, famous for its fine staples. According to PETA, in Australia, the most commonly raised sheep are "merinos, specifically bred to have wrinkly skin, which means more wool per animal. This unnatural overload of wool causes animals to die of heat exhaustion during hot months, and the wrinkles also collect urine and moisture. Attracted to the moisture, flies lay eggs in the folds of skin, and the hatched maggots can eat the sheep alive. To prevent this so-called “flystrike,” Australian ranchers perform a barbaric operation—mulesing—or carving huge strips of flesh off the backs of lambs’ legs and around their tails. This is done to cause smooth, scarred skin that won’t harbor fly eggs, yet the bloody wounds often get flystrike before they heal. Every year, hundreds of lambs die before the age of 8 weeks from exposure or starvation, and mature sheep die every year from disease, lack of shelter, and neglect." See more on this from the video below: (WARNING: Graphic footage is included in this video.)

 

  • Synthetic fibers are man made fibers made from chemicals. They are generally based on polymers and are stronger than natural and regenerated fibers.
    • Polyurethane (PU) - Polyurethane is popularly known as faux leather. It is a waterproof alternative, can be dry-cleaned and is lighter than animal-derived leather. It is also used to create spandex, including Lycra, to waterproof fabrics, and to add buoyancy to competitive swimsuits.
    • Nylon - an artificial fiber made of polyamide which contains carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, and hydrogen. The material has good wear resistance, and can handle excessive temperatures, does not absorb water, and dries quickly. 
    • Polyester - Polyester is a synthetic fiber derived from coal, air, water, and petroleum. While polyester doesn't feel as soft as cotton, it’s hard to stain, it holds its shape, and it doesn’t wrinkle.
    • Acrylic - known for its wool-like texture, acrylic retains color well and is resistant to wrinkling. Acrylic fibers are often referred to as artificial wool because it has the warmth and softness of wool but does not absorb water. It is often used as cold weather fiber for blankets and sweaters.
    • Acetate - this type of fiber is known as a regenerated man made material, predominantly from cellulose/wood pulp.
    • Rayon/Lyocell - produced from naturally occurring polymers. The fiber is sold as artificial silk which mimics silk's hand and texture. Modal, which is primarily made out of the fibers of the beech tree, is a type of rayon fabric.
    • Spandex - lightweight manufactured material that can be stretched over 500% without breaking. It is used when a stretch fiber is needed.

 

4. Donate, trade, or sell. 

Remember that third pile you had? One of the easiest ways to veganize your closet is to donate unwanted clothing, including non-vegan clothing, shoes, and accessories to charities or to individuals in need. 

According to the fashion documentary The True Cost, in the US alone, there is about 11 million pounds of clothing thrown away each year. For the most part, these textiles aren’t biodegradable, which means they sit in landfills for at least 200 years. It's important to recognize this problem and to look for any opportunity to recycle/upcycle/donate/hand down clothing that no longer align with your ethics. Another option is to sell your garments, especially if they are on the more expensive side. Depending on the clothes, stores like Buffalo Exchange, Crossroads, Beacon's Closet, and Wasteland (and much more) will buy your garments from you, giving your garments a second life and a little seed money for your new vegan wardrobe.

 

5. Do your research.

Now that you've gotten rid of some (or all) of your non-vegan pieces in your closet, you can finally start looking into shopping. A lot of guys are either not fond of shopping or are completely overwhelmed just by the idea of it *coughs*Dustin*coughs*. But fear not, with a little patience, a dash of courage, and a couple keystrokes, you can find exactly what you're looking for. 

Depending on your budget, you can find stores that match your price point either online or in a traditional brick and mortar store. A lot of people might not know it, but many off-price outlets and department stores carry items that are vegan-friendly. Stores like Nordstrom, Macy's, Century 21, and Marshalls are just some of the more commercial places that you can get vegan-friendly garments from. Just remember to read the labels first!

Another important resource is social media. With today's landscape, all kinds of brands from huge designer brands to ethical up-and-coming brands are using Instagram and Facebook as platforms to extend their reach. If you already have a brand that you like, you should follow them on social media. Some brands give amazing style advice and oftentimes, brands use social media to let their followers know ahead of time of upcoming sales and discounts. Visiting the companies' websites can also lead to finding out how ethical and sustainable their practices are and whether they are worth paying your dollar. 

 

6. Build your basics.

Anybody who's overhauling their wardrobe needs to start at the bottom. What good is a wardrobe if you don't have a solid foundation of everyday basic items? We're talking t-shirts, slim jeans, chino pants, shirts, underwear, and socks. Places like the Gap, American Apparel (while they're still around), and Uniqlo are just some of the stores that we would recommend checking out for your everyday staples. 

However, if you feel like these stores are not necessarily your kind of style and you want to patronize companies that are more sustainable and eco-conscious, there's also Everlane, Threads For Thought, and Alternative Apparel, which I personally wear and recommend.

 

7. Find your fit.

This is a tricky one. Finding good-fitting clothes is almost as hard as finding good vegan brands. Unfortunately, the choices are limited. I've been shopping for almost my entire life (my credit card was activated as soon as I left the womb) and to put it simply, it was all a matter of trial and error. 

Part of this process involves you going out and trying out clothes and choosing clothes that makes you feel confident. There's going to be times when you're going to fall into a fad or a trend (deep V-neck shirts with drop crotch harem pants, anyone?) but realize like all trends, they come and go...and sometimes they come back again. 

Basic rule of thumb is: go with your gut. You know which aspects of your body you want to feature and which parts you don't. If you can, take someone who you trust with you to go shopping. There's nothing quite like the brutal honesty you can only get from a true friend.

 

8. Buy Investment Pieces.

This might be my favorite part of this entire post, mainly because buying investment pieces basically means to splurge.

(#TreatYoSelf.)

However, before you go out and start buying that $3,000 jacket, it's important to know what investment pieces are. For me, these are the pieces that I constantly wear to work and on the weekends. Pieces that I get the most wear out of and ones that usually go with most things in my closet. These are usually outerwear pieces, some pants, raw designer jeans, and of course a go-to navy suit. You need some of these pieces in your wardrobe because these are the ones that usually express your individual style. These kind of "statement pieces" do exactly that: make a statement.

This is also a good time to support your local and vegan businesses like Vaute Couture, MooShoes, and Brave Gentleman. These brands tend to be on the higher priced tier section, and for good reason. Unlike popular opinion, it costs to be an ethical and sustainable business. There's a lot of things that go through that most people don't know about: from buying raw materials, to paying employees a fair living wage and overhead costs to buying staggering minimums and import taxes, all of which are calculated into that price tag. These small businesses do not have the negotiating power that bigger corporations do and as such, end up paying more up front. So if you're going to make a bold statement, you might as well make it a good one.

 

9. Go vintage.

Do you ever wonder how those fashionable kids get their style? The short answer? They shop vintage.

Buying items from thrift stores and flea markets have been the secret of many fashionistas the world over. It's the easiest way to express your inner-cool guy/girl without having to look like an exact replica of your co-worker who got the same shirt you're wearing from the Gap. 

Word of caution, however. Vintage shopping is an acquired taste and can be a marathon of sorts. There's a lot of going through seemingly endless racks of clothes, most of which will be duds. Also, a lot of items can be overpriced and the fit is usually limited to one size. But once you find that one piece, when the price is a steal, the fit is impeccable, and the style is just the right amount of cool without being too pretentious, you'll have a moment when you'll start to hear angels singing. Believe me, you're going to want to keep that garment for the rest of your life.

 

10. Take Risks.

In other words, have fun with it! Don't take our word for it, just go out there and try on stuff that you like. Go a little out of your comfort zone and be a little adventurous. You might be surprised at the outcome. If you feel good about it, ultimately, that's the only opinion that really matters. 

Hopefully this little guide helped. Soon, you'll be on your way to having a completely 100% vegan wardrobe! In the meantime, let us know what you thought of our guide and if we missed anything or if you have any questions/suggestions, don't be shy to use the comments section below!