Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Vegan Fashion is the future – Interview with Vegan Fashion Canada founder, Vikki Lenola

Vegan Fashion Canada features conscious brands on the runway and a sustainable, vegan textile display

Published: Sep 14, 2020 02:50:59 PM IST

Vegan Fashion is the future – Interview with Vegan Fashion Canada founder, Vikki Lenola
Vikki Lenola first captured the attention of media as a model and has since utilized this attention for good causes through her activism. With degrees in environmental studies and business, she recently set out to start her own non-profit; Vegan Fashion Canada features conscious brands on the runway and a sustainable, vegan textile display. Proceeds from the show benefit Animal Justice, a team of lawyers and other professionals helping animals in Canada. Brands already lined up to show include Doshi and The Honest Whisper. With experience producing fashion shows like at the Toronto Motorcycle Show, working with hundreds of brands as a model and brand ambassador, and having worked with animal rights organizations like PETA, it makes sense Lenola would be in charge of such a project. But what is vegan fashion anyway? Why does it matter? How is it relevant to India and the rest of the world? We set up an interview to get the scoop on this increasingly popular buzzword in the fashion industry. 

What inspired you to start Vegan Fashion Canada? 

As an activist I have done a lot of friendly community outreach. We have great conversations with people. One thing I noticed was that, when talking about animal exploitation for clothing, some people would ask what else they could wear for shoes if not leather. I was shocked so many people had no clue about their other options. This question was coming from sincere people who really did not know. I became very interested in showing people that alternatives exist without sacrificing style or quality. 

Excellent. So what is vegan fashion exactly, for those who still might not know?

I think there is a lot of misunderstanding about what the word “vegan” means. It goes beyond a diet; it’s a lifestyle where you do the best you can to avoid harming other sentient beings. That includes what you wear. So vegan fashion would mean clothing or accessories that do not use any “material” that comes from an animal. Thankfully, in modern times it’s not necessary. Unless you’re still living a truly hunter-gatherer lifestyle without choice. That probably doesn’t apply to anybody who can name a celebrity or is reading this online. 

What are our options when it comes to vegan fashion?

Plant-based fibres are key to an ethical fashion future. Innovation is booming in plant-based fashion, with fibres derived from things like pineapple leaves, apple skin, mangoes, mushrooms, corn, cactus, coconut, grapes, banana peels, lotus plant and more. Many of these are made using waste as resources. It’s really exciting!

We will be showcasing many of these in our sustainable, vegan textile display, with Piñatex first in our lineup. There are still some other factors to consider of course. For example, we want to avoid cancelling out the benefits of a biodegradable fibre with non-biodegradable finishes. We would also want to avoid harsh chemical processes or dyes. It also doesn’t give us the go-ahead to be wasteful and buy a new shirt everyday and dispose of them after one use. I don’t think that will ever be the responsible thing to do. But, the benefits of plant-based fibres are undeniable. It can mean a much cleaner, safer production. It can help us achieve a circular economy.

They can allow us to be kind to people, animals, and the planet. It is renewable like animal-derived fibres but can omit the unsustainable downfalls of animal-derived fibres.  The word “sustainable” is for the most part, unregulated. I think there is confusion in assuming renewable is interchangeable with sustainable, which is not the case. Just because you can keep making something again and again does not mean it has no repercussions for the environment. 

Synthetic fibres are another vegan option. We can do better but it can be a step in the right direction. For example, synthetic leather has half the environmental impact compared to animal-derived leather, according to the 2017 Pulse of Fashion Industry Report. If choosing this type of textile, I would at least go for durability instead of the inexpensive kind that crumbles apart after only a few uses. The kind that crumbles uses a polyester backing under the polyurethane. Doshi is one of the few brands that uses a microfiber backing, resulting in luxurious feel and serious durability that lasts for many years to come. Another synthetic option to consider is upcycled material.

This can at least extend the use of material. We see this with nylon regenerated from waste like fishing nets to make swimwear, and recycled water bottles to make jacket filling, for example. There are many other types to consider with various impacts. To help reduce our environmental impact we can also try second-hand clothing and use microplastic filters when washing our clothes.

Biofabrication is where nature and technology meet, and it’s a big part of an ethical fashion future. We can choose the attributes that we like from animal-derived materials and replicate it using technology. All without harming the animal. For example, Bolt Threads uses bioengineering to replicate the seriously impressive strength qualities of spider silk. This would replace breeding and killing many billions of silk worms each year – which is rated horribly for being water and energy-intensive, according to the Higgs Index.

The Faux Fur Institute is leading the way with in-vitro fur. Besides reducing greenhouse gas emissions and waste, this would reduce risk of pandemics that could start from cramming so many animals together of filthy fur farms. And it could prevent disrupting ecosystems like what happens with culling coyotes (which counter-intuitively increases coyote populations, I should add). Another great example is Modern Meadow, and how they can produce real leather without using a cow. They can even customize the softness, transparency and more. It greatly reduces waste, toxic chemical pollution, land use, water use, and methane emissions. Photo journalist Sean Gallagher captured some eye-opening pictures in Payundee, India, revealing how chromium pollution from the leather industry is destroying the environment and the health of workers. In contrast, biofabricated leather production would be so safe for workers and the environment, that companies could actually be fully transparent instead of having something to hide. Imagine that! Biofabrication is overall superior and more efficient. It won’t happen overnight, and many individuals and businesses will need help and incentives to transition. But similar transition programs have been successful already and I believe we can make doing the right thing profitable. So everybody can win. 

You can learn more about vegan fashion on the Vegan Fashion Canada blog and social media. 

Disclaimer: The views, suggestions and opinions expressed here are the sole responsibility of the experts. No Forbes India journalist was involved in the writing and production of this article.