The most noticeable part of being vegan is the diet, but that’s not the end of it. Animal products are also found everywhere else in our lives, such as leather, wool, silk, bone, and fur, and there are many things that are tested on animals.
My rule for non-food animal products is the same as my food rule: I don’t buy anything that I know has come from the mistreatment of animals. One additional rule is that I would consider buying animal products used, because using something that already exists does not financially support the mistreatment of animals. It does send a message when you use it, though, just like making food choices in public sends a message.
If I buy a pair of Allen Edmonds shoes from a Goodwill store, for example, my money goes to Goodwill, and Allen Edmonds is never going to see any of it. Allen Edmonds will never get the “please make more leather shoes” message that my money sends. Goodwill has no control over what kinds of shoes people donate to them, so the message “please have more leather shoes in stock” doesn’t apply. The message Goodwill gets is something more like “keep up the good work”. Spending money on used animal products doesn’t directly support the industries that use animals.
On the other hand, when I wear my new-to-me Allen Edmonds shoes, everyone who sees me will get the message “look at how attractive I am in leather shoes – go buy some”. (Unless they know I’m vegan. Then they will probably get the message “look at what a giant hypocrite I am – stop being friends with me”.) I don’t want to send this kind of message, so I try not to bring more animal products into my life than I’ve already got.
I will continue using animal products I’ve already got, because wastefulness is no good either. I’m going to keep on using my messenger bag from before I became vegan, for example, even though it has leather accents. If this bag gets completely worn out and is no longer useful, I’ll get a new bag that doesn’t have any animal products in it.
It is highly likely that if I need a bag, I will buy a new one from a company that I like rather than go to a thrift store and find a used one, even though a used bag would be the more environmentally-friendly choice. There is a lot of stuff out there that we’ve already created; we could probably stop creating new things right now and we’d still be able to support ourselves for quite a while (if we could move the things around the world to those who need them), but I don’t believe that we should do that. I think it’s important for people to keep on creating, as long as it’s done mindfully. So I do my best to give my money to mindful creators. Here are some of my favorite examples:
- I got my belts from Couch. These folks collect recycled and deadstock upholstery from vintage cars and make awesome things out of it, all by hand. Their focus is guitar straps, but they also have belts, wallets, camera straps, iPad and Kindle cases, etc.
- My two favorite shirts and my corduroy pants are from Patagonia. They are an outdoor gear company with a heavy focus on environmental sustainability, and I bought things from them because they use organic cotton. Not everything from Patagonia is vegan, but the materials are clearly listed so you can always make an informed choice.
- You might have noticed that I like Lush. Everything they make is vegetarian, but some things have milk or honey, so I always look for the V symbol to make sure I’m getting something vegan.
- My everyday shoes are from Vegetarian Shoes, a UK-based company that makes all different styles of animal-free shoes, with lots of cool fake leather materials. My own shoes are fake suede desert boots. I got them from Sudo, a vegan shoe store in Boston, but you can get them from MooShoes as well.
- My dress shoes are from Novacas. They make, er, fashionable shoes, I guess? They’re all kind of fancy and they’re all vegan. Mine are made of fake leather and waxed canvas. I got them from MooShoes.
- My sandals are from Invisible Shoes. They’re just a thin piece of rubber sole material with a string to hold it on your foot. I found this company because I have a secret love affair with the idea of minimalist running. Despite the fact that I am pretty sure I couldn’t run for a full minute without collapsing. Anyway.
Then there are gifts
Not everyone knows that I’m vegan, and people who aren’t committed to this way of life themselves usually don’t pay much attention to what contains animal products, so I expect that at some point I will receive a gift that has animal products in it. My partner, who’s also vegan, got a set of leather watch bands as a gift, so she has already dealt with this.
The purist thing to do is probably give the gift back and explain why, but I just don’t have the courage to do that. One might also accept the gift and use it, but ask the gift-giver to avoid animal products in the future. Another option is to donate the gift to avoid sending the wrong messages by using it, as long as donating it won’t cause drama with the gift-giver. I’m no fan of drama.
When the animal is already dead, the economic vote already cast, the most important thing to focus on is educating people so that it’s less likely to happen again. Just like with food, whether the product gets used or goes to waste isn’t going to make a lot of difference to the animal. It seems more respectful to use it rather than let it go to waste.