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By Natalie Chow
Veganism is a lifestyle that could change the world, but should it be taken at face value?
The popularity of veganism has exploded in recent years. Google searches for vegan products increased seven-fold between 2014 and 2019 (Vegan Society) , and “vegan leather” products and “vegan cosmetics” subsequently experienced exponential growth.
If the world went vegan, it could save eight billion animals per year, save eight million human lives by 2050, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by two-thirds (Vegan Society). There are numerous benefits from a vegan diet for both environment and health. However as we see an increasing number of brands slapping “vegan” on their labels, do we really know what they are trying to sell us?
What exactly is vegan leather? We know for sure it’s not from animals, but what you may not know is that the majority of vegan leather is made from PVC or poor-quality polyurethane, which releases toxic fumes, dioxins and BPA (Vogue Business).
PVC was dubbed by Greenpeace as the “single most environmentally damaging of all plastics,” taking up to 100 years to decompose. PVC is not a new innovation by any measure, since it’s existed for many years in the form of faux leather. In essence, the vegan leather hype is really just some opportunistic marketing.
However, we have seen some innovative natural plant-based leather products like Pinatex, which uses pineapple leaves to make leather products. Although the durability of this plant-based leather is relatively low, we believe this will rapidly evolve in the next few years, and it embodies the true spirit of veganism.
First, let’s distinguish between ‘vegan’ and ‘cruelty-free’. VEGAN means that a product does not contain any animal products or animal-derived ingredients. It describes the ingredients, rather than the production process. CRUELTY-FREE means no animal testing was involved in the making of the product, but it may contain non-vegan ingredients such as honey and beeswax.
However, both vegan and cruelty-free products may contain harmful ingredients like heavy metals (such as aluminium, lead, chromium), synthetic dyes, and nanoparticles. So what should we look out for?
Natural ingredients are the starting point. Choose products with a shorter ingredient list, making sure to check for any toxic ingredients that stand out. Something may be labelled “vegan”, but it still may not be something you want to put on your face.
Raw vegan desserts often replace refined sugar with natural substitutes like dates and maple syrup, which are undeniably better for you–relatively speaking–but they often give people an excuse to go overboard. Many natural ingredients contain sugar content over 60%, which if not used for energy, will end up being stored as fat.
Ultimately, the bottom line is that it is important to be educated and aware of the many facets of veganism when choosing this as a lifestyle. Without doing so, it’s possible to still cause harm to yourself and the environment. And when it comes to sweets–the key is to eat in moderation, whether they are vegan or not.
About the Author
Natalie Chow is the co-founder and CEO of Lacess, a startup sneaker brand that uses innovative, sustainable materials that minimize impact to the environment. She has had over 10 years of experience working with global beauty and fashion brands before she started her own. She believes every small thing can have a ripple effect to create something extraordinary, and every small step makes a difference.