Vegan fashion includes clothing and accessories made from cruelty-free sources. In other words, bye-bye leather, suede, fur, feathers, down, etc. The reason that these products have become less popular is because people have become more aware of the environmental toll it takes to produce them. For example, the process of making leather creates a mass of chemicals and gases, including carcinogenic chromium.
Human rights and environmental groups have long-pushed for people to take into account the environmental impacts of their consumer choices. In the words of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), “Leather, fur, exotic skins and other animal-derived material contribute to a multifaceted environmental crisis.”
Over the past few years, many consumers have started paying attention — giving rise to vegan fashion.
Global Vegan Fashion Today
As of 2019, the global vegan women’s fashion market was valued at a whopping $396.3 billion, according to an industry report by Grand View Research. Per data referenced by Vegan Society, this same market was worth $51 billion in 2016. That’s a nearly sevenfold (677%) increase in just three years.
Within this market, vegan shoes drive growth, accounting for a 41.3% share of the global revenue for 2019. Instead of purchasing footwear made of leather, suede, wool, or fur, consumers have the option to buy shoes built from vegan alternatives, including polyamide, polyurethane, and cotton, which look almost identical. “Footwear is more of a fashion statement among women in particular,” the report noted, “with their intention to have more than one shoe to suit different occasions, which is driving the product demand.”
The second biggest segment of the market is apparel, holding the next-largest revenue share of 2019. Vegan clothes do pander to a more niche audience, says Grand View Research, but customers have signaled they are highly receptive to change, which is fueling segment growth.
North America overtook some European countries as the market-dominator in 2019, accounting for 34.6% of global revenue. Increased US interest in this market has been driven by the emergence of new retailers and the movement from large retailers toward these products, in addition to promotion from celebrities. For example, in March 2020, Serena Williams launched a vegan fashion line for women. Europe closely follows, with the UK, Germany, and France as leading countries.
Small Seller Space
What’s interesting about this market is that, because it is so young, many small, specialty retailers actually have the upper hand. While major players have started selling vegan alternatives to clothing, new retailers specifically focused on vegan fashion are viewed as more genuine and appealing to consumers. Reformation, a US-based sustainable brand, is a great example of this. Less established than other market competitors like Abercrombie & Fitch, Topshop, and Gap, Reformation has cemented strong brand recognition over the past through years by asserting a clear, continuous message of sustainability. Another brand mentioned in the report is Whimsy & Row.
That being said, the market isn’t entirely dominated by newer companies. Big brands have also noticed the trend toward cruelty-free clothing and tried to get a piece of the pie. For example, in 2018, Gucci announced it would go fur-free, starting with its 2018 spring collection. Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, and Giorgio Armani also don’t use fur in their clothes.
A Fur-less Future?
Is the growth as sustainable as the clothes? By the looks of things, yes.
Grand View Research predicts that the women’s vegan fashion market will grow at an average annual rate of 13.6% from 2020 to 2027, in a continuation of the massive growth it's seen over the past year. Major retailers continue to jump ship to team sustainable, making this projection appear very likely.
One big challenge to the industry, however, the report notes, is the coronavirus pandemic. Since the global public health crisis reached the United States earlier this year, the fashion industry has been devastated.
“Store closures due to quarantine and lockdown measures have resulted in disastrous consequences, with sales decreasing considerably from January to April 2020,” found the industry report. “This has also impacted the sales of the vegan fashion drastically as the major consumer base of these products is present in Europe, which is severely affected by the pandemic. In addition, the pandemic situation has goaded people to spend more judiciously and avoid frivolous purchasing.”
Despite these consequences, the industry will remain fashionable. Analysts predict it won’t be long before people are buying pleather skirts and fake fur coats again.
About the Author
Jemima is a journalist who enjoys reporting on business, particularly small business and entrepreneurship.