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Monica Chopra, Manager Fashion, Media & Celebrity Projects, PETA India
Monica Chopra, Manager Fashion, Media & Celebrity Projects, PETA India
Monica Chopra is PETA India’s Manager of Fashion, Media and Celebrity Projects. She is the founder of the vegan lifestyle portal The Eco Trunk and has worked as a fashion designer. She writes about the rise of vegan fashion in India.

The Vegan Revolution: Why it’s boom-time for vegan fashion

What in the world is pineapple leather? Its existence means the vegan fashion revolution is here.

In early March, the National Institute for Interdisciplinary Science and Technology (NIIST) in Thiruvananthapuram announced that it had developed vegan leather from agricultural waste. The institute comes under the government of India’s Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, a research and development agency.

NIIST has shown how, instead of killing animals for their skin, it is possible to turn agricultural waste such as mango and pineapple peels, cactus, vetiver grass, banana pseudo-stem, and paddy straw into bags, belts, wallets, sandals, and pouches.

Cactus technology has already been commercialised and sold to a Mumbai-based entrepreneur. World over, scientists and fashion companies are working towards developing even more state-of-the-art vegan leather, wool, and silk. In India alone, animal-friendly novel materials include Malai Eco’s coconut leather, Kanpur Flower Cycling Pvt Ltd’s temple flower leather, microbe-derived Bioleather, and FABORG’s WEGANOOL, a vegan wool.

This is because consumers are increasingly opting to leave animals out of their wardrobes because of the cruelty animals are subjected to. Complementing this development are renowned designers, who are increasingly turning towards vegan leather and other non-animal materials in their creations.

In the lead up to World Fashion Day, 33 leading Indian designers and brands pledged to be leather-free after being contacted by PETA and Lakmé Fashion Week. Big names such as Gaurav Gupta, House of Masaba by Masaba Gupta, JADE by Monica and Karishma, péro by Aneeth Arora, Ranna Gill, Shyamal and Bhumika, Sonaakshi Raaj, Siddartha Tytler, Rina Dhaka, Vikram Phadnis, Rocky Star, Atsu Sekhose, Dev R Nil, and Akshat Bansal have all given leather the boot.

In the lead up to World Fashion Day, 33 leading Indian designers and brands pledged to be leather-free

Not only does this ethical choice help stop cruelty towards animals, it also helps protect the planet, because bovine leather has been ranked the most polluting fashion material.

Designer Anita Dongre has long been leather-free and is now an advocate for MIRUM®, a plant-based material made from materials like rice hull, cork, and rubber. It is leather, just without the environmental impact and cruelty. Dongre, alongside her son Yash, is using it to make stylish and contemporary vegan bags and accessories.

At the end of its lifecycle, MIRUM® can be recycled or ground up and returned to earth. Like leather, silk isn’t cruelty free. It is produced by boiling or gassing live silkworms who would have otherwise grown into beautiful moths. To produce just one kilogram of silk, humans kill approximately 6,600 silkworms, and about 50,000 silkworms are killed to make a single saree. That means perhaps trillions of silkworms are killed every year for this easy-to-replace material.

PETA India’s 2022 Vegan Fashion Award winner JJ Valaya is a fan of TENCEL™ LUXE. This vegan silk was unveiled at the 2022 Lakmé Fashion Week. This luxurious and elegant fabric – made from renewable wood sources – is used to create Valaya’s ‘Rumeli – The Summer Story’ collection. TENCEL™ LUXE is transforming the future of premium fashion, and we are
delighted to integrate this beautiful material into our belief of sustainable luxury, ” says Valaya.

The marginal farmers of Thar can now monetise their cacti, and the pineapple farmers of Meghalaya and Tripura can now get a better price for their produce apart from the fruit, as the leaves are also in demand.

These pioneering materials have a variety of practical applications, such as for upholstery in automobiles. In fact, another PETA India award winner is Tata Motors who used modern vegan interiors in its AVINYA Concept car.

In footwear, last year, PETA India partnered with Metro Brands to launch its first-ever vegan-friendly shoe collection – the Tie-Dye Collection – made in honour of our colourful Earth and the animals who live on it.

According to various estimates, the vegan leather market worldwide will expand to nearly $90 billion by 2025, while the overall vegan fashion market will reach $837 billion by 2030. The numbers speak of the groundswell of interest in vegan fashion. This growth has increased in post-COVID-19 with rising awareness among buyers that they need to be more mindful of the environmental and ethical consequences of their choices. After all, COVID-19 is largely believed to have stemmed from a live animal in a meat market.

Since the most on-trend vegan leathers and fabrics are plant-based, the increase in patronage of these items is also good news for India’s farmers. The marginal farmers of Thar can now monetise their cacti, and the pineapple farmers of Meghalaya and Tripura can now get a better price for their produce apart from the fruit, as the leaves are also in demand.

These cutting-edge shifts in production can contribute in a great way to increasing the income of India’s farmers.

And as indicated before, the environment benefits from the growth of vegan fashion, but so does human health. The skin of animals is treated with a toxic soup of chemicals to keep it from rotting; chromium and other deadly substances either run off or are dumped from leather tanneries, polluting waterways and causing widespread environmental damage and cancer in tannery workers. And animals bred for both leather and wool emit methane, a potent greenhouse gas that worsens the climate catastrophe. And silk production uses high amounts of water.

We’ve entered a golden age of cruelty-free fabrics that take into account animal welfare and environmental concerns. Bolstered by some investment and support from the government, the transition from traditional animal-extracted materials such as leather, silk, and wool to their vegan replacements will further accelerate, benefitting India’s consumers, farmers, and entrepreneurs. The trajectory of vegan fashion is set to go in only one direction – upwards.

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