The days when vegan food was seen as expensive, niche and unappetising are long gone. Thanks to chain pubs and fast food brands like Wetherspoon, Greggs and McDonald’s, cheap, convenient and flavour-packed vegan food is now available to the masses.
But there’s more to being vegan than plant-based food; traditionally, veganism is about avoiding anything that causes harm to animals, which means no leather handbags, no latex condoms and no tattoos, amongst other things.
What’s more, it’s not just vegans who are buying into the lifestyle. It’s increasingly being seen as a healthier and more sustainable way to live, and non-vegans are dipping their toes in when they want to feel virtuous.
Non-food brands are cottoning on to the idea that veganism is a lifestyle with growing appeal, and we’re seeing vegan products pop up in every retail sector…
For people who equate quality with leather, it’s easy to be cynical about ‘vegan’ footwear – but being cheap and synthetic isn’t what makes a shoe vegan.
Synthetic shoes could be made with glue that contains gelatin, for example, and sometimes non-leather shoes will list ‘other materials’ on their label, which could mean anything. Brands actually need to go to great lengths to ensure their shoes are 100% vegan.
When its first vegan footwear range launched in April this year, Topshop avoided harming animals throughout the manufacturing process. The PETA-approved range is made in Spain using ‘lower-impact materials, eco-friendly production methods and certified suppliers’.
Dr Martens also launched a vegan range this year, and the brand has benefited from the vegan ‘halo effect’, which is when a vegan product accelerates overall sales.
It’s happened to Greggs (10.6% increase since introducing the vegan sausage roll), Leon (24.5% increase since launching jackfruit wings and a beetroot burger) and it’s happened to Dr Martens – sales have increased by 70% since the launch of its vegan boots.
Just like footwear, furniture can easily be unsuitable for vegans due to animal derivatives in the glue and padding.
Heritage sofa brand Chesterfield has taken this on board. Not only has it launched faux leather versions of its iconic sofas, but a new manufacturing process means that all its sofas are now vegan except for the ones covered in leather. (Although on its website, Chesterfield lists its wool sofas as vegan, which shows there’s still a lot of misunderstanding about veganism.)
As well as sofas, there’s also vegan paint, which hit the headlines when the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge used it to paint their baby’s room. While big players B&Q and Homebase are yet to stock it, premium brand Farrow & Ball states that all but two of its paint ranges are suitable for vegans, and none are tested on animals.
(Wondering why standard paint isn’t vegan-friendly? It’s because it contains animal derivatives like milk protein and beeswax, and is often tested on animals.)
Apart from the obvious testing on animals, the ways beauty can be non-vegan are multiple and hard to spot. (As L’Oreal found out to its cost a couple of years ago, when it slapped an uncertified vegan symbol on to some of its products.)
Did you know that most red lipsticks get their colour from carmine, which is made with crushed beetles? Or that many moisturisers and lipsticks contain lanolin, a grease secreted from sheep glands? You don’t even want to know what lactoferrin is, an ingredient found in some antioxidant hair and skin products (Google it… if you dare).
Until recently, vegan beauty shoppers would rely on independent retailers and marketplaces, like Carma, a website that curates vegan lifestyle products. But vegan beauty is no longer the remit of niche brands alone…
Premium make-up brands Kat Von D and Cover FX have gone completely vegan, Charlotte Tilbury has a dedicated vegan range and on the cheap and cheerful side, 97% of Barry M’s products are vegan, and Superdrug has its own vegan brand, B.
As people become more aware of what exactly goes into their beauty products, more brands will have to offer vegan options – once you know your lipstick contains secreted sheep grease, it’s kind of hard not to think about it.
What’s next for veganism?
Far from ostracising vegans, we’re evolving into a society that expects vegans – whether they’re full-time, part-time, or every-so-often vegans – to be catered for. Who knows? Maybe one day non-vegan lifestyles will go the way of smoking – fine to enjoy behind closed doors or round the back of the pub, but not something to shout about. Watch this space.