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How to Shop Animal Friendly: A Guide to Vegetarian Clothes and Accessories

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Stella McCartney animal friendly handbag
A “vegetarian” handbag from animal-friendly designer Stella McCartney | ELLE

For the past five years, I have been a vegetarian shopper and dresser. That means I don’t wear fur, leather, or silk, because they come from animals. Many vegan dressers don’t wear wool, but I sometimes do so because animals are not killed during its production (Although, as with shopping for any animal product, it is always good to be an informed consumer and consider how the animals were treated.)

When I tell them my decision to shop vegetarian, many people think it’s difficult to do so, but I’m here to tell you it’s easier than you think – AND it in no way means you are limited to the somewhat frumpy options presented on many vegan shoe websites.

Whether you’re looking to reduce the amount of animal products you buy or want to dress totally veg, I’ve created a guide to finding clothes, bags, and shoes that don’t come from animals but are straight-up fabulous.

First Things First: Label-Reading

Fabric label
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

I cannot stress enough the importance of reading labels when trying to shop veggie-style. Even if I’m pretty sure something is made of man-made materials, I ALWAYS read the label to make sure.

Here’s what to look for:

  • Dig around the lining of clothes (yes, I’ve sometimes looked awkward in stores reaching up the bottom of a dress) to find the larger tag that has things like washing instructions. This will tell you exactly what materials the garment is made from.
  • Bags will often have a little tag inside them, too. These tags will either give you the exact materials the bag is made of, or, if they’re vegetarian, may say “man-made materials.”
  • Shoes can be labeled in a number of places. Often it’s in the lining of the shoe, on the inside, either in the heel or by the toe. Other times they may have stickers on the bottom that will either say the materials or have symbols indicating what the different elements are made from. A diamond shape means faux-leather materials, a textured square means fabric, and what to avoid is a squiggly polygon shape that is meant to look like a tanned hide, which signifies real leather.
  • Belts are often labeled on the reverse side, near the buckle.
  • If all else fails, look up the item in an online store, which will most likely list materials in the description. If you can, it’s generally most reliable to go to the brand’s actual site, as I’ve found that mass retailers, like Zappos, sometimes list materials inaccurately.

Jackets (and Other Leather-Look Clothing)

Topshop black pleather moto jacket
Jacket: Topshop

If you’re like me, you absolutely love moto jackets. I’ll admit it: there’s nothing like a leather-look jacket tossed over a floral dress for class, a party, a date, anything. And, there are awesome, high-quality options out there that are faux.

Here are some brands and stores to find leather-look pieces: (You’ll notice that many brands are not always 100% vegetarian friendly – that will be a theme in this post and brings us back to the importance of label reading.)

  • Aeropostale
  • Bailey 44
  • Express – Their (minus the) leather line has amazing jackets that fit like a glove
  • Free People – They have a whole vegan line!
  • French Connection – Again, a mix of faux and real, though they also sometimes have faux leather skirts and tops, too!
  • Members Only -They have a wide range of jackets, from more affordable faux to high-priced real leather. You can sometimes find faux ones at Urban Outfitters.
  • Topshop – While many of their jackets are real leather, there is the occasional fabulous faux option, like the one pictured above.

Shoes

Dv8 Dolce Vita floral pumps
Shoes: DV8 Dolce Vita

Now we get to the extra-fun part: SHOES! I know you love shoes – who doesn’t? There are a ton of great shoe options out there that are both vegetarian and fashionista-friendly.

As with jackets, some brands are not exclusively vegetarian, so always check the label (have I mentioned you should check the label?!). This list below only scratches the surface since you can find vegetarian options at almost any reasonably priced boutique or shoe site. You’ll also notice that many of these brands are diffusion, or lower-priced, versions of favorite shoe brands.

Here’s a list of some of my favorite brands and stores for vegetarian shoes:

Bags

Gold satchel deux lux
Bag: Deux Lux

Personally, I find that I have even more options when it comes to bags than shoes.  A lot of brands that don’t make many vegetarian-friendly shoes make all vegetarian-friendly bags, such as Aldo (a personal fave), Steve Madden, and Nine West.

In addition, there are some amazing and affordable vegan bag lines that I drool over constantly. In descending order of price range, my top four stylish vegan bag lines are:

Some other great places to look for vegetarian handbags include:

Silk Alternatives

Ted baker dress
Dress: Ted Baker

Many people who understand that I don’t wear leather or fur are surprised when I tell them I don’t wear silk either. Most people don’t know that silkworms are often boiled alive to make the luxurious fabric. Now, there are other, more humane ways to harvest silk, but frustratingly, it is almost impossible to know what methods a particular brand or designer uses.

For that reason, I avoid buying silk items unless they’re from a brand I know has a commitment to being eco- and animal-friendly, like Stella McCartney. Luckily, at most college girls’ fave shopping destinations, like Forever 21, silk isn’t really present because the prices are low (although check the labels at H&M – I’ve found some silk pieces there), but when you’re looking for a special occasion dress, it can become an issue.

Some brands I recommend are Sandro, a really fantastic French label that almost always uses polyester instead of silk, Ted Baker, which does the same, and BCBG, which does have some silk gowns but also many dresses made from other materials. A lot of mid-price prom dress brands use synthetic materials, too.

And what about when you want to splurge on a high-quality piece of casual wear? Just because a brand uses mostly silk in their designs, never give up!  Although almost every piece in Equipment and Rebecca Taylor’s collections is made of silk, I have a couple pieces in my closet from each that I have found in cotton or acetate. Look for pieces that require a bit more weight or structure, like starched shirts, pants, and a-line skirts, since the designer may have opted for a different fabric.

Designers and Higher-End Brands

Marc by marc jacobs teal nylon crossbody
Marc by Marc Jacobs bag: Zappos

Of course, if you’re like me, what you really want to splurge on are bags and shoes. Don’t think for a second that you can’t get amazing designer accessories when shopping vegetarian:

  • Yes, the bag above is Marc by Marc Jacobs, and yes, it’s vegetarian! The brand actually makes a lot of nylon bags. This bag is mostly nylon, but the straps and details are polyurethane. That brings us to the first good tip in searching for high vegetarian fashion: in mid-price designer brands (as in, this isn’t going to happen with Valentino), oftentimes when a piece is made primarily out of fabric, the details on it will be faux leather instead of real to keep the price low. I’ve had similar luck at BCBGMaxAzria.
  • Also when brands like Marc by Marc Jacobs, BCBG, and Sandro emboss a bag to create a faux-snakeskin texture, they may make the base faux leather. Again, not always true, but there’s hope, so (you guessed it) read the label!
  • Stella McCartney is a vegetarian, and ALL of her bags and shoes and leather-look items are faux. If you’re a vegetarian and want a real piece of high-fashion, she’s your go-to girl.
  • Ted Baker’s bags are sometimes leather, sometimes not. If they look patent or textured, they are most likely faux. If they look like classic leather, they most likely are real.
  • BCBG makes some gorgeous fabric and metal evening clutches.
  • Diffusion lines are your friend. Brands’ lower-priced lines are much more likely to use synthetic materials, and this is a great way to get the style of your favorite brands both in vegan form and for a lower price! Some examples include BCBGeneration and Love Moschino.
  • Also, look out for when designers do collaborations with places like Target or H&M! Brands like Mulberry and 3.1 Phillip Lim have sold vegetarian lookalikes of their bags in their Target collections.
  • On a similar note, check outlet stores. Although all of J. Crew’s beautiful shoes are leather, their factory store occasionally has some that are not. The same goes for Kate Spade bags!
  • Even in the highest of designer brands, look for jelly or fabric shoes or bags. Furla has classic rubber bags, and I’ve stumbled upon jelly flip-flops at Valentino and Kate Spade, fabric flats at Marc by Marc Jacobs, and even rubber versions of Charlotte Olympia‘s classic cat flats! Plus, while still pricey, these pieces are often significantly less so than their leather counterparts.

Beauty

Tarte eyeshadow palette
Eyeshadow Palette: Tarte

While tips about finding cosmetics that don’t test on animals could fill a whole other post, I feel this article would be incomplete without telling you about my favorite site for learning about which products are and aren’t cruelty free. Check out Caring Consumer, where you can look up all kinds of brands and specific products, as well as find lists of companies that do and don’t test on animal subjects.

What do you think?

Do you have any remaining questions about shopping vegan/vegetarian? I would love love love to answer them. Anything else you wish I had covered in this post? Want to know where to learn more? Are you interested in looking for clothes and accessories that don’t include animal products? Let me know in the comments!

Posted on on July 13, 2014 / Filed Under: Shopping / Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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12 Responses to “How to Shop Animal Friendly: A Guide to Vegetarian Clothes and Accessories”

  1. 1
    July 13th, 2014 at 3:13 pm

    Such a good article. I am personally not a vegan/vegetarian shopper. My main shopping concern is natural, sustainable fabrics and practices. I prefer to wear natural fibers like cotton and wool, and I buy the vast majority of my clothes second hand. It’s cheaper and you give new life to a piece. Plus not many (if any) people will have that piece!

  2. 2
    July 13th, 2014 at 3:30 pm

    Thanks for the helpful post! In terms of my lifestyle, I’m not particularly inclined to switching up my diet, but I care a lot about animals and the environment so I try to be an informed shopper.

  3. 3
    July 13th, 2014 at 5:19 pm

    Thank you so much for this articulate and informative post! I really appreciate the ease with which you present the search for cruelty-free products. I found some brands I hadn’t heard of before. Though I personally try to avoid brands that sell products created through cruelty to animals, I think it’s important that there are consumers out there buying the cruelty-free products from those brands. Hopefully, there will be more changes if the consumers show they will buy it.

  4. 4
    July 13th, 2014 at 6:45 pm

    I’m so glad you liked it guys!

    Lisha, I have the same feelings and I am actually not a food vegetarian! For me, my two biggest passions are animals and fashion, and I love fashion because I love to feel good in clothes that express who I am. I wouldn’t feel as good, nor would it be an expression of myself, if I wore animal products! That’s why I chose to go veg in clothing in particular. Kudos to you for being an informed shopper and for any steps you take in your lifestyle to do better for animals and the environment.

    Kara, that is definitely yet another important thing to think about, good for you for being even more selective in your shopping! I don’t like to buy products from brands that do sell fur, but as a shopaholic I admit I do sometimes cave! However, I tend to avoid buying stuff at boutiques that sell a lot of fur, or brands that are know for their leather or fur goods. And you make a good point about why one person’s decision can make a difference–demand for cruelty free products means there will be more! When I ask what something is made from, I am letting the store and the sellers know that I care and that if they want me to buy something, they’re going to have to stay away from animals!

  5. 5
    July 14th, 2014 at 12:56 am

    Mat and Nat is a great company from Montreal that does a really wide range of vegan bags and accessories. Definitely worth checking out.

  6. 6
    July 14th, 2014 at 7:45 am

    Great article but I kept getting hung up on the wording. I think you mean vegan handbags and clothing. Vegetarians just don’t eat meat or animal flesh. Vegans don’t use any animal products all together.

  7. 7
    July 14th, 2014 at 12:50 pm

    Hi Abigail!

    I actually did struggle between the choice of the words vegan vs. vegetarian a lot when writing this article!

    I opted for vegetarian since I only avoid clothes that are products of an animal being killed (silk, leather, and fur), and avoid animal products like wool less. Also, to be fully qualified as vegan, something has to use zero animal products at all, and at mass retailers I honestly don’t know what chemicals or treatments they use on their products and whether they are animal tested or derived.

    Although I do use the word vegan to describe myself colloquially, for this article I thought vegetarian would be more accurate. Thanks for catching that though as it is something I had to think about!

  8. 8
    July 14th, 2014 at 4:36 pm

    Yeah, good article, but the important distinction between cruelty-free and environmentally-friendly should have been mentioned.

    But I do like the links to the many different stores.

  9. 9
    July 14th, 2014 at 11:21 pm

    I personally look for leather in certain products, like shoes. No matter the price point of the fake leather products I buy, they just never seem to last as long as my leather pieces. Especially when it comes to shoes. I guess I care about animals, but I also care about the quality of the product that I’m spending my money on.

  10. 10
    July 15th, 2014 at 12:49 pm

    Minnie,

    This is a very fair point–when I buy boots and other staples I have to replace them often, but I don’t mind because the price is often superlow to begin with. It may end up being the same amount of money in the end, buying a pair of expensive boots vs. a couple pairs of cheap ones. If you are looking for quality faux leather items, even just once in a while in place of a leather one, try some of the higher-end brands on this list, like Stella McCartney, Love Moschino, Ted Baker, and Deux Lux. You can also find quality in unexpected, more affordable places–my bags from Aldo and Betsey Johnson hold up really well. Reading reviews online can be a good indicator.

    Of course, whether or not to shop veg is totally a personal choice! These are just some ideas in case you want to find a quality vegetarian item!

  11. 11
    July 18th, 2014 at 8:01 pm

    I love that jacket!

  12. 12
    July 19th, 2014 at 2:07 am

    Thanks Jess, I actually just bought it myself! ;)

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