*The Dutch translation for this story in Vegan Magazine can be found here.
I recently became a vegan. I was a vegetarian for nine years. I ate dairy and bought and wore animals. The contradiction in being vegetarian and wearing animals was easy to see and even easier to ignore—all my vegetarian friends wore leather, cashmere, and wool.
I, too, loved wearing wool because I loved wearing suits, something I grew into as my clothing tastes changed. I liked how everyone praised my new style and how I felt like Clark Kent transforming into Superman; I could take on challenges of which my normal self could only dream.
Just like Superman I had a responsibility—I just didn’t realize it. I could afford to buy wool suits as opposed to lesser quality synthetics and choose other animal materials, throwing my allegiance behind finer sartorial standards, exposing the gap between my actions and beliefs.
When I became a vegan, it was about the environment and animal ethics: consuming animal products was silly because there were so many healthier and more environmentally friendly alternatives, and why should animals suffer for us? Clothing was at the back of my mind because I was more focused on what I put into my body rather than on it.
I failed to make the connection until I was on the website of my favorite suit retailer, scrolling through pages of sports coats and suits. And it hit me: “I can’t wear this stuff.” Most items were made from animals—wool, cashmere, mohair, silk. These materials are used because they let the body breathe, are relatively durable, and complement the body’s structure. But then, sitting in front of my computer, I realized that they didn’t complement my beliefs.
So, what now?
I’ll continue wearing my wool suits, because it’s even more contradictory to waste what one has, but I won’t buy any more clothing that is made from animals. With suits, the market for quality garments is monopolized by animal furs. Cotton is an alternative, but there are significant problems in terms of labor and chemical and water overuse. Cotton is also considered less formal. So, it’ll be challenging to find pieces that fit my stylistic requirements and veganism.
And it’s in this tension between how I want to look and veganism that I will be forced to make compromises. In becoming more aware of how my choices affect the world, I try, and will continue to try, to adjust my behavior accordingly. This is what I can do in order to make the world more sustainable, and it’s something I wish more people would seriously consider.
But it’s hard looking in the mirror and criticizing your own actions, just like it’s hard to put on your favorite outfit and see that it’s worn and frayed after years of use. We want to hold on to it because of how it makes us feel—the memories we had while wearing it—but, somewhere, we know it’s time to move on. As a species, it’s time for us to move on, and find a style that better fits our world.