The first year that I was vegan, for my birthday one of my closest friends gave me a necklace on a leather cord and a tiny jar of honey. I could totally understand the confusion over honey (that’s commonly misunderstood), but the leather was a little perplexing since I’d been vegetarian and avoiding leather for a long time before that. Still, when a product seems normal and neutral to one person, they don’t always consider the history of said object.
This time of year there’s no shortage of gift idea lists, but what about ideas of what not to buy? Obviously vegans eschew meat (including fish), dairy, eggs, and honey. But what about things for the closet and cupboard? How do you know what to look for when searching for vegan clothing, body products, and jewelry?
1. Leather or suede goods
In addition to not consuming animals, vegans don’t wear the skins of animals either. Cows, pigs, sheep, and goats are killed by the millions every year for their skin. After suffering things like castration and branding (without anesthetic), the animals are trucked to slaughter. Sadly, the softest leather comes from baby animals like calves and lambs, and even from unborn calves whose mothers have been slaughtered.
Check labels on purses, shoes, jewelry, and luggage. On shoes, the materials are usually noted on the tongue, at the back of the shoe, or on the bottom. Stay away from leather, leather trim and patches, and instead look for words like cotton, manmade, synthetic, or vegan leather.
2. Wool, Cashmere & Non-synthetic felt
Vegans don’t wear clothing made with an animal’s hair. While many assume that the process of wool removal is a simple hair cut, the process is often done with an emphasis on quickness over compassion, and can include painful procedures like tail docking and mulesing. When the wool production of sheep declines, they are sent to slaughter.
Stay away from cashmere, pashina, mohair, angora, camel hair, and shearling. Check the labels of sweaters, scarves, mittens, and coats and look for cotton, polyester, acrylic, or synthetic. You’ll usually find it either at the back of the neck or alongside the body of the clothing. Felt can either be made with synthetic materials or with wool. Just check the label before buying.
3. Down or Items with Feathers
When looking at coats, cushions, comforters, or pillows, stay away from those stuffed with down. Geese and ducks are plucked either after slaughter or while they are still alive. During “live plucking,” the birds’ feathers are painfully ripped out of their bodies while they are held down without anesthetic.
Avoid accessories with feathers. Look for labels like polyester-fill, cotton, synthetic, or down-alternative.
4. Bee products
Vegans avoid animal byproducts, including bee products like honey or beeswax. Bees make honey by regurgitating nectar, and they then store it in the cells of their hive as a source of nutrition in winter months. Vegans avoid honey and other bee products, because those products don’t belong to them; they belong to the bees. Some candles, body products, cosmetics, shampoos, and conditioners will include things like beeswax or honey. Just a quick reading of the label on the outside will let you know if it contains those products or not.
5. Bone China
Before buying plates, bowls, or cups, remember to flip them over and check the bottom for the words “bone china.” Bone china is made from the ash of burned bones and used in ceramics. Instead, choose porcelain or earthenware.
Pearls are made when an irritant enters an oyster, who responds by coating it with nacre. Since naturally-occurring pearls are rare, pearl makers have expedited the process by inserting irritants into the oysters. It’s reported that fewer than half of the oysters survive this process. After the pearls are removed, 1/3 of the oysters are put through the process again, while the others are killed.
Synthetic pearls are available or choose a different piece of jewelry.
Silk comes from silkworms, who weave the fiber to make their cocoons. The silkworms are steamed or gassed alive in their cocoons to obtain the silk.
Instead buy clothing made with materials like polyester, nylon, or rayon.
Fur comes from animals who were raised, trapped, and killed for their fur like rabbits, minks, and foxes. Animals on fur farms spend their lives in cages, and then their lives are ended by suffocation, gas, poison, or electrocution.
If you want to buy fake fur, look for words like faux, polyester, and acrylic. It should be noted that while faux fur is available, some vegans avoid wearing it, because they don’t feel comfortable in something that may be mistaken for real fur. Plus, there have been cases where fur was marked fake, but then turned out to be the fur of dogs and cats.
If you’re vegan and want to know how to avoid non-vegan gifts at the holidays, check out this post with my tips. Still looking for vegan gift ideas? Kristy has a slew of good ones over at Keepin’ It Kind.