Chances are you’ve see the word ‘vegan’ just about everywhere over the past few years. From food menus to supermarket shelves, it’s now ever-present amongst the nation’s food. Soon veganism may be just as prevalent in our fashion with several prominent retailers launching vegan clothing and footwear lines.

However, this hasn’t come up out of the blue. With the topic of veganism dating back to 1944, it is far from a new concept. The Vegan Society’s official definition states it as a “way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.”

Veganism is a fast-growing movement. In fact, many people – some who don’t even identify as vegan – seek out vegan products in order to lessen their personal impact on the planet. This, coupled with the fact that the number of vegans in the UK has doubled in the last four years alone, means that vegan clothing and footwear is well placed to launch.

Additionally, in the post-Blue Planet era, more of us are aware of the pressing environmental challenges we face and thus seek out responsible and ethical products to make a difference. However, these are not simple decisions to make. When it comes to ‘veganism’: 

  • Is it more ethical to discard worn-in leather boots than to buy a brand-new vegan leather pair?
  • What is the environmental impact of the veganism where plastic materials replace animal products?
  • And ultimately, can we care about animal welfare and the health of the environment at the same time?

Retailers want to provide their customers with the assurance that any vegan product can be purchased with confidence. But it’s not as straightforward as you may think. For example, it not only rules out using leather, wool and natural silk (which comes from the silkworm), but also many glues and dyes. This means retailers would need to go back to their suppliers and look into the raw material ingredients in order to check and verify them individually.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) held a workshop for its members in February that addressed these challenges around ‘vegan’ clothing and footwear. The workshop heard from key stakeholders from The Vegan Society, Cruelty Free International (which runs the Leaping Bunny certification scheme), Humane Society International, and more. It also showcased new and innovative ways to provide vegan alternatives, such as materials made from pineapple skins, mushrooms and recycled bottles.

This is one of many ways in which BRC and its members are working collaboratively on progressing the retail sector on sustainability. Under Better Retail Better World, the campaign which uses the framework of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), BRC is working with its members to drive more responsible and ethical sourcing of products in order to help everyone make informed choices when it comes to shopping, whether they seek vegan products or not.

By Leah Riley Brown, Sustainability Policy Advisor at the British Retail Consortium.

Learn more about the sustainability work being done by retailers as part of Better Retail Better World here.