When Adidas launched its vegan trainer, it confirmed a growing appetite among consumers for clothing that was free from any animal by-products in their materials or the production process.  And now, in this rapidly expanding market, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) has launched a new series of voluntary guidelines and standards for retailers and brands for vegan fashion.

As we know, the ethos of veganism is very much on the rise in the UK, and these guidelines are intended to help consumers buy products that are labelled as vegan with confidence.  As well as the obvious animal products used in fashion, such as fur, lambswool and leather, there is a multitude of animal-derived products used in production processes.

“Retailers want to provide their customers with the assurance that any vegan product can be purchased with confidence,” explains the BRC.  “As the guidelines explain, classing a product as vegan is a very complex process with the need for retailers to ask more questions than ever before.  It not only rules out using leather and wool, but also many glues, dyes, and traces of use in more hidden elements.  This means retailers would need to go back to their suppliers and ask the right questions about the raw material ingredients in order verify them individually.”

Working closely with its members, the BRC has therefore created a “Voluntary Guideline on Veganism in Fashion”, to ensure that consumers are offered products that provide the assurance they expect.  This includes a series of questions to be asked both internally and of suppliers to ensure that all materials used in production are vegan, along with a comprehensive list, far greater than is currently available to producers and retailers, of all animal-derived fibres and materials. Here is another interesting article on vegan fashion.

However, the guidelines stress that labelling a product as vegan does not necessarily mean that it is sustainable.  “It should be stated emphatically that retailers should not claim the product is sustainable simply because it is ‘vegan’,” the guidelines read.  “‘Vegan’ relates to the absence of animal-derived materials whereas ‘sustainable’ will mean different things depending on the issue analysed (including embedded water, carbon footprint, and more).”

Confusion over the terms “sustainable”, “biodegradable” and “circular”, as well as a lack of precise definitions has left them open to abuse.  Many brands wrongly claim their products have no negative impact on the environment, known as greenwashing, whether deliberately or from a lack of understanding. You can read more about this aspect here. These guidelines define and explain the questions that should be asked to ensure accurate labeling, as well as more accurate and extensive lists of suitable – and unsuitable- materials and processes in the manufacturing process.

But ensuring that all materials used is easier said than done.  Many glues, dyes, pigments and inks used in the fashion industry contain animal-derived products, such as dyes made from beetles.  But to ensure that a fashion product is truly vegan, these must also be eliminated.  And it is also a voluntary code, which manufacturers and retails can implement if they wish.  Therefore all consumers looking vegan clothing should always ask the pertinent questions as outlines in the guidelines to ensure that what they are buying really do meet the standards and assurances they expect.

6th February 2020

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