How to Tell if Clothing Is Vegan & Where Animal Materials Might Be Hiding in Your Closet

How to tell if clothing is vegan & Where animal materials might be hiding in your closet

What is Vegan Fashion?

Firstly, what is vegan fashion and how can a closet be vegan? Vegan fashion simply refers to all clothing and accessories that are free of any materials of animal origin. The most common items people think of coming from animals are leather, wool, and fur. In addition to these, the other items a vegan closet eliminates are silk, mohair, Angora, shearling, cashmere, mother-of-pearl (nacre), pearls, horn, down, and feathers. These animal products can be found in both clothing and accessories but this post focuses exclusively on garments and tips to help you ensure the clothes you’re buying are vegan.

I’m not going to lie, it can require a little extra effort to confirm the garments you purchase don’t contain any animal materials and unfortunately, it’s not always as simple as checking the label. Even as someone who lives and breathes vegan fashion, I mistakenly thrifted something that contained animal materials. Here are my tips to make sure this doesn’t happen to you.

1. Check the fabric content label for animal materials such as leather, silk, wool, mohair, angora, fur, cashmere, shearling, or down

While this is the most obvious tip, it does help to eliminate the majority of potential animal materials from a garment because the bulk of the material(s) must be on the label. The things you’re looking for are leather, silk, wool, mohair, Angora, fur, cashmere, shearling, and down. If any of these items are present then the garment isn’t vegan.

Research any unknown material names | Is Polyamide Vegan?

After scrutinizing the label, are there any material names you’re not actually sure what they’re made of or have never heard of? If there are any fabrics you don’t recognize, you can do a quick internet search to find out what they are made of and to confirm that they are free of animal materials.

Above are two fabric labels listing some fibers you might be unfamiliar with. While I had heard of most of the materials, I couldn’t tell you for sure what each fabric originated from. To be 100% sure I looked each one of them up.

The garment on the left contains lyocell, polyester, and nylon. Most people are familiar with polyester and nylon and know these are manmade materials (and thus vegan). The lesser-known fiber on this label, lyocell, is a newer material made out of wood pulp (so also vegan). All three of these fibers are vegan so this item gets the green light.

The label on the right lists meryl, polyamide, and lycra. Having never heard of meryl I did a little research, which revealed it is a patented nylon fabric (synthetic and thus vegan). Continuing, lycra is a patented synthetic elastic fabric. Both vegan-approved, so far so good.

Things got a bit trickier when researching the final material: polyamide. There’s a bit of conflicting information as to whether or not polyamide is vegan and an initial search might leave you thinking this fiber isn’t vegan.

The confusion stems from the scientific definition of polyamide, which states it can be both natural or synthetic. Scientifically speaking, wool and silk are both polyamides. However, when polyamide is listed as a fabric component of a garment, it’s referring to the synthetic nylon fiber. This means when you see polyamide on a fabric content label it is vegan.

While not blatantly obvious at first glance, my research confirmed both of these garments are vegan (at least according to the materials listed on the label). Keep reading to see what other areas of a garment you need to scrutinize to guarantee it’s free from animal materials.

What to do when the label is missing

When buying second-hand it can get really tricky when the label is missing or so faded from wear that it’s unreadable. This can often be the case for vintage pieces. 

There are a couple of solutions to address this; however, neither is ideal. There are ways to test fabric for its contents (most commonly a burn test), which (for obvious reasons) isn’t a feasible option when thrifting and isn’t always so straightforward when dealing with blended fabrics. Another possibility is bringing an item to a tailor to be identified as they are usually very familiar with the look and feel of fabrics.

Of course, both of these options require you to purchase the item, which may or may not be vegan. Unless you’re a fabric expert or are convinced that the item is vegan, the safest bet is to leave the article for someone else to cherish. 

How to shop for vegan fashion in other countries

When shopping or thrifting in other countries, it’s also helpful to know what leather, wool, silk, etc. are in the native language. That way you’re able to recognize if these items are listed on the label. Often labels are printed only in the national language, which could cause you to mistake a non-vegan material for a vegan one.

One potential area for confusion is when you’re shopping in German-speaking countries. In German, cotton is Baumwolle (seen in the left-hand photo above) and is not to be confused with wool, which is Wolle in German. The photo on the right shows a label written in German, French, and Italian (interestingly Made in China, which is partially obstructed by the extra button, is in English) 🤔. While the garment on the left is vegan (containing cotton, polyester, and nylon), the item on the right is not vegan as it’s mainly comprised of silk.

Reread the label in case you overlooked anything

Some garments contain a very small percentage of wool, silk, or cashmere and thus that material is listed last on the label. This can be especially true for winter coats, which may only contain a few percent worth of wool or cashmere. If you’re looking over the fabric list too quickly you could potentially miss something, so it’s best to double-check 🧐. 

2. Inspect the trimming, ornamentation, & findings of the garment (buttons, patches, zipper pulls, undercollar, etc.) for hidden or unlabeled animal materials

Trim ItemAnimal Material
Buttonsmother-of-pearl, pearls, or horn
Patchesleather or animal hide
Undercollarwool felt or leather
Zipper Pullsleather or suede

The trimmings of a garment are where it gets extremely challenging. The common places you might find hidden animal materials are on trim items such as buttons (they might be made of mother-of-pearl, pearls, or horn); patches (often made of leather or animal hide and are used on the back waistband or other areas of a garment as decoration); undercollar (the collar of most blazers and some jackets are reinforced with wool felt or leather); and zipper pulls (this can be a leather strip). 

Above are some examples of trim items to watch out for. On the left is a pair of cotton jeans with a cardboard (vegan) patch in place of the common leather patch.

The image on the right shows the undercollar on a men’s blazer. As I mentioned, this area of a blazer is often reinforced with wool and the one pictured is made of wool felt and viscose (I only know this after writing to the brand).

As this portion of the blazer is most commonly wool, I pass on any blazers that have a felt undercollar. I’ve also noticed felt undercollars are much more prevalent on men’s blazers as the undercollar of women’s blazers tends to be free of this reinforcement material.

Depending on which country an item will be sold in, these trim items may or may not be required to be on the label, which I go into detail about in the next tip.

3. Understand your country’s labeling requirements to know what is and what isn’t required to be listed on the fabric content label

Labeling requirements can vary greatly between countries and trying to understand the regulations can often make you feel like you’re attempting to decipher a foreign language. I read through the textile labeling regulations for a number of countries and what I found might surprise you.

Labeling Requirements for Trimming, Ornamentation, & Findings Around the World

Australia & New ZealandUnited States & CanadaEuropean Union
Labeling Requirements for Trim ItemsUnclear. Regulations are not made freely availableUnder most circumstances no labeling is requiredTrim containing ‘non-textile parts of animal origin’ must be labeled

Labeling requirements for trim in Australia & New Zealand

The labeling requirements for Australia and New Zealand seem to be the vaguest of the countries I’ve researched. There are a few fact sheets and snippets of the requirements floating around but to read the entire document, you need to purchase it.

According to this fact sheet, you can either label the main contents of an item with a breakdown of the specific percentages (60% cotton, 40% polyester) or just list the materials from highest to lowest quantity (cotton, polyester).

I wasn’t able to find any specific mention of how trim items are to be treated in these countries and judging by the somewhat loose fiber content regulations I could imagine trim items have rather liberal requirements, if any at all. This is of course speculation as I didn’t buy the regulation document.

Labeling requirements for trim in the United States & Canada

In the United States and Canada, the trimming, ornamentation, and findings are either straight out excluded from labeling requirements or their declaration is dependent upon the percentage of an article’s surface area the trim encompasses.

In the United States, most trim is explicitly exempt from labeling. The only exception is for decorative trim that exceeds 15% of the surface area of the item. Ornamentation is also excluded from fiber content disclosure as long as it’s not more than 5% of the product’s fiber weight. This means for garments manufactured for sale within the United States, mother-of-pearl or horn buttons, wool felt undercollars, leather patches, etc. won’t be disclosed on the contents label.

In Canada, the rules are virtually identical. Trimming only needs to be labeled when it makes up more than 15% of the article’s surface area and ornamentation must be disclosed if it accounts for 5% or more of a garment. Findings (which include such items as buttons, zippers, interfacing, shoulder pads, etc.) do not need to be declared.

Neither country mentions non-textile parts of animal origin, which you’ll soon see is a required label within the European Union.

Labeling requirements for trim in the European Union

The European Union (EU) has stricter rules, as they have the “requirement to indicate the presence of non-textile parts of animal origin.” And further define

“‘[n]on-textile parts of animal origin’ [to mean] any parts made of materials such as down, feather, bone, leather, pearl or horn. Textile products containing such materials — even in small quantities — must be labelled or marked with the phrase ‘Contains non-textile parts of animal origin’.”

Source

What does “non-textile parts of animal origin” mean?

I wrote to the Europe Direct Contact Centre in hopes of obtaining an explicit list of animal products considered to be “non-textile parts of animal origin.” 

The emailed response I received stated 

“that the term “non-textile parts of animal origin” covers any material of animal origin which is non-textile, e.g. leather, down/feather, bones, pearls, beads, horn, ivory and also fur.” 

However, they also confirmed 

“that there is not an exhaustive list of all animal products that are considered to be “non-textile parts of animal origin.”

They continued by saying 

“material of animal origin, which comply with the definitions of Article 3 of Regulation (EU) No 1007/2011, such as “textile fibre” and “textile product”, shall be considered as textile. You indicated as examples wool or silk. In this regard, these materials are consider as textile and they are listed as textile fibres under Annex I of Regulation (EU) No 1007/2011.”

This means that wool or silk that is used in trim items is excluded from the additional ‘contains non-textile parts of animal origin’ labeling because they are classified as textiles. 

To better understand how this label applies in practice, let’s look at a couple of examples. Say we have a 100% cotton jean jacket to be sold within the EU that has a leather patch. A label stating ‘contains non-textile parts of animal origin’ is required because the patch is made of leather.

As a second example, a cotton blazer with plastic buttons and a wool undercollar will have no such label because wool is classified as a textile fiber rather than as a non-textile. It’s cases such as this that are especially troublesome when shopping for vegan fashion, which is why it’s so important to understand the labeling requirements within your country.

What does a ‘contains non-textile parts of animal origin’ label look like?

While the ‘contains non-textile parts of animal origin’ designation is required on all qualifying garments, it can appear in a variety of ways. The photos above show an entirely separate label was used for the disclaimer and there was even a second label explicitly stating what the non-textile item was and that it was made from bovine leather.

Another possibility is that the phrase is intermingled with other labeling. The left-hand photo above is especially interesting because it almost hides this required disclaimer in with the care instructions. If you only looked at the material composition label before purchasing this item you might not realize this garment also contained animal materials.

The label on the right grouped the various labeling elements by language and is highly descriptive as it even states the fabric composition of the pocket lining and that the label is made of cow grain leather.

The last example of this labeling states, in tiny font, the fabric contents and that the garment contains non-textile parts of animal origin (seen in the photo above on the left). On a separate label in this pair of jeans (in Portuguese and in a huge font) it says the same thing. If you speak Portuguese there’s no problem; if not, you might need to bring a magnifying glass to determine the fabric composition 🔍.

What does the ‘contains non-textile parts of animal origin’ labeling mean for vegans trying to navigate clothing stores and second-hand shops?

I see this additional labeling requirement as a big win, especially when shopping for new items that have patches, buttons, or trim that you believe to be of animal origin. It can also prove valuable when buying second-hand; however, it’s always possible that this label was present and has been cut out so unfortunately, you can’t always take its absence as an indication that the item is vegan. Still, if it is present that’s a clear indication that the garment isn’t vegan.

As the above examples proved, there’s no hard and fast rule as to how this phrase will appear so it’s even more important to thoroughly scrutinize every garment you intend to buy to make sure you don’t inadvertently end up with animal materials.

As far as I can tell the only place where this additional label isn’t helpful is in determining whether wool or silk are present in trim items. To determine that, the best option is to reach out to the brand and I cover that in my next tip.

4. Write to the brand if you’re still unsure whether their garments are 100% vegan

This tip requires the most effort on your part (in addition to patience while you’re waiting for a response that may or may not ever come). Despite these drawbacks, it’s also the most concrete way to guarantee your clothing is free from animal materials. 

I wrote to a few brands to try and determine what material they used to reinforce the blazer undercollar of some specific models. One (a German brand) was able to tell me the exact material breakdown of an old blazer and while it did end up containing wool, I was thoroughly impressed with their detailed response and knowledge of their garments.

fabric-material-composition-response-from-german-brand

Another (American brand) had no data for a blazer I had thrifted and couldn’t even tell me the material used for the undercollar of a blazer from their current collection. 

I only contacted a few brands (the third I never received a response from) so it’s impossible to speculate on the percentage of brands that would be able to answer these in depth material composition questions. As my experience showed, there’s a chance the brand will have comprehensive data so I feel it is worth the extra effort; however, it’s not something that can be counted on.

Is it Vegan Fashion? Conclusion & Further Inspiration

Similar to trying to navigate the vegan food scene, it can sometimes be a minefield when you’re trying to eliminate items of animal origin from your closet. I covered some ways of more easily identifying vegan fashion including scrutinizing the fabric contents label, thoroughly inspecting trim items, understanding the labeling requirements in your country, and writing to brands for the fiber content of their garments. I hope this post sheds some light on where animal materials might be hiding in your wardrobe and how to make sure you don’t accidentally purchase garments that aren’t vegan.

As always, you can refer to any of my other posts for vegan fashion inspiration and styling tips. And, while I didn’t address vegan footwear in this post, I do have a number of blogs featuring some great vegan shoe options including 3 White Vegan Sneakers, Vegan Arizona Birkenstocks, Hottest Chunky White Vegan Boots of the Season, and Coolest Vegan Leather Combat Boots You’ve Probably Never Heard Of.

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Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to leave a kind comment! 💛


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Michelle Rothenburger

Michelle Rothenburger is a vegan fashion blogger whose work has been featured in such publications as Marie Claire, InStyle, Woman & Home, and Vilda. Find out more by reading Michelle’s full story (from bullied to fashion influencer) and feel free to send her a personal message.




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