Style & Sustainability On A Budget: Veganizing Your Closet Without Buying Into Fast Fashion

Most of us who are vegan have not been so from birth, and have gone through some sort of transition process, from omnivore to cruelty-free. That means that most of us have found ourselves, at some point, with items in our closets that violate our ethics concerning animals, leftover from our non-vegan days. Some of us decide to immediately overhaul our closets, getting rid of anything containing animal products, and some opt to make the transition more slowly waiting until older items wear out.

The hardest part about going vegan for many of us is not about food, but about what to wear. Many worry that veganizing the wardrobe immediately upon vegan transition, which means removing all of those wool sweaters, leather shoes, and down coats and replacing them with vegan versions, is simply too expensive to take on. Most turn to “fast fashion” for “cheap fixes,” shopping at stores such as H&M, Forever 21, Primark, and Target for clothing made of animal-free fabrics at very low prices. Unfortunately, these inexpensive vegan fashion replacements are produced at the expense of the welfare of the workers who make them. In Elizabeth Cline’s revelatory book Overdressed, on fast fashion industry, she explains, “to make cheap clothes, you need cheap labor.” Sadly, that means that all of those stylish steals equate to cruelty toward human beings, even if they contain no animal products. Plus, most of the times fast fashion is also not environmental friendly.

That brings us to the question – how does someone veganize their wardrobe without spending a fortune? Shopping from used and vintage clothing stores is one of the best ways to veganize your wardrobe with high-quality fashion (without spending a fortune). By buying clothing at thrift shops, consignment stores, and online sellers of used clothes we recycle instead of creating more waste, save money, and opt out of the fast fashion system that sees workers treated unfairly and produces items by harming the planet. I explored this topic at length in my forthcoming book Vegan Love: Dating and Partnering for the Cruelty-Free Gal.

Vegan Love and Dating by Maya Gottfried - Veganizing Your Wardrobe - Fast Fashion

In addition to saving money, saving animals, and saving people, when buying used clothes we have the opportunity to support thrift stores that donate proceeds to causes including helping people who are suffering from life-threatening diseases, homeless animals, and women in domestic shelters. For example, the Housing Works Thrift Shops in New York City benefit people living with HIV/AIDS. I recently walked out of one of their stores with two cute vegan dresses and an embroidered fabric purse, all in perfect condition, for well under $100. And I knew that money was going to help people who needed it. I gave good quality clothing a new life, didn’t pay into the unethical fast fashion industry, and gifted myself with two new-to-me dresses. Voila!

At the beginning of 2016 I committed to a year of not spending more than $100 on any piece of clothing, not purchasing anything from fast fashion stores, and of course everything would be vegan. I called it my “Year of Living Fiercely”. There were so many wonderful used pieces priced well below $100 that ticked all the right boxes (stylish, high-quality, budget-friendly) – and I was completely happy with them. I even found great items by designers I loved including a party dress by Vivienne Westwood. At the end of the year I was so accustomed to the high quality of clothing that didn’t come from fast fashion retailers, that I had no urge to go back into one of those stores. The fabrics fast fashion companies use now feel like paper or plastic to me and the last place I want them is next to my skin. I am much happier avoiding them. And of course, I wouldn’t want to support those businesses now that I know the cruelty involved. With so many wonderful affordable used clothing options, why would I be tempted?

One of the challenges women often face when transitioning to veganism is what to do about all of those expensive leather handbags and shoes. Many of us spent a great deal of money on high-end accessories before we were vegan and experience separation anxiety at the thought of letting them go. We also wonder how we could possibly afford to replace them all, and do it ethically. When I cleared all the leather shoes and purses from my closets, I was left with only a few selections. I realized that living with only a handful of handbags was not the end of the world, but still I craved more of a collection.

I have found many cute, high-quality vegan handbags shopping in thrift shops and online. At online auction site Ebay I have purchased a few used handbags produced by the popular vegan company Matt & Nat, for as low as $15. Even Address Chic has many high-quality new vegan handbags and wallets priced well under $100, and they are all ethically produced. One might also search for Lucite purses (so cute), or straw handbags. Just remember, if you are not buying a purse produced by a vegan company, you’ll want to double-check that it’s not made with any animal products.

For many, shoes pose the biggest challenge. Purchased new, high quality and ethically produced vegan shoes can be quite expensive. However, stores like Etsy and eBay have some wonderful vintage vegan shoe finds, all you have to do is search using the keyword “vegan shoes” on their websites.

Certain vintage stores even offer clothing and accessories that have never been worn before, which are otherwise deemed “deadstock. Rue St. Denis in NYC is one such store, and also one of my favorites. It has racks of stunning vintage dresses, shirts, skirts, pants, and suits, all in immaculate condition. I bought what is now one of my favorite dresses, with black and white stripes and big pink flowers (for under $100). Grabbing something of-the-moment at a fast fashion chain that falls apart after one wash could never compare with the rewarding experience of finding that high quality, never-before-worn eighties frock.

The idea of veganizing a wardrobe without purchasing from fast fashion retailers may seem daunting (and potentially pricey.) But just as when I went vegan and found there was fantastic vegan food aplenty, when I put my foot down in regards to ethically-created, affordable fashion, my closet filled up with beautiful finds that fit the bill.

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Written by Maya Gottfried, Author of books Vegan Love, Good Dog and Our Farm

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