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Thursday, June 7, 2012

Vegan Party Wear


There has been a lot of emphasis on silk and leather in our culture and many new and prospective vegans among us wonder about the vegan options available to us while planning our party wear. You would be surprised that after a little research we were able to find a range of ethical fabrics and materials in the market with regard to clothes, shoes, and jewelry. What’s more, most are light on the pocket without compromising on quality or style as well! Sounds good? Read on….
  
We have presented our findings below in tabular format for your reference. A lot of us may already be using many of these fabrics and materials – polyester-made art silk and cotton silk; synthetic georgette, chiffon, and leather; and so on. However, perhaps we have never thought of them as “ethical, cruelty-free” materials. The awareness of this fact may inspire more among us to explore the potential of these ethical options consciously.

After all, wouldn’t we all like to be dressed in cruelty-free garb and accessories while enjoying our moments of joy, laughter, and togetherness?


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We also explored the idea of vegan party wear with some of our vegan friends and requested them to share how they had planned or plan their clothes and accessories on special occasions.

Rithika, the founder of The Green Stove vegan bakery in Mumbai provides lovely insights from her wedding shopping spree where the entire family shopped consciously to ensure they make ethical choices for the big day – not only for the bride and groom but for themselves as well! The pure silk Kanjeevarams and Pattus that are traditionally worn in South Indian weddings were bypassed to be easily replaced by high-quality cotton and cotton-silk sarees made from polyester. Together, the family discovered the many beautiful designs available in polyester-made silk cotton and found themselves spoiled for choices! Not only this, the family had no problem finding dhotis for the men in high quality cotton either.

Photo courtesy: Marin George Photography and Rithika
I was very clear about what I had to avoid. I always told them (the attendants at the stores) what I did not want and they still had so much to offer. The shop keepers thought I was Jain, so they knew exactly what I was looking for. They also let me in on the fact that most 'silk-cotton' sarees are actually made using polyester. It was so nice to see my mother, sister, grandmothers, and aunts in lovely cotton sarees. Even my nine-yard saree was made from polyester and I got the most compliments for that saree. In no way it felt like I was going to look any less grand on my wedding day.” ~Rithika~

The jewelry Rithika adorned on her wedding belonged to her mother and was made of faux pearls, silver, and semi precious stones. As is evident from the glow on her face, Rithika’s happiness on her wedding day multiplied many times over because she was able to adhere to her convictions on an important day in her life. A beautiful story that we are sure would become a part of family folklore and inspire others.

Photo courtesy: Marin George Photography and Rithika

The next account is from a fantastic and fashionable couple, Kawaljit and Jasmine, silent crusaders who have set many examples in their quest to veganize almost anything you find in a household. The couple strictly denounce wearing on their person any fabric or material whose origins are not cruelty-free. Finding vegan clothes and accessories has never been a problem for them when, they reiterate, there is a wide range of formal and party clothing, and accessories available in cotton in various forms, jute cotton, synthetic silk or art silk, net fabrics, acrylic fibers, polyurethane or fake leather, and semi precious stones and metals. They also emphasize that with designers trying to do better than the other with amazing styles both for party and casual wear, the consumer is no longer starved for designs. According to Jasmine who keeps up with the latest trends in the world of fashion, polki sets look amazing on the Indian bride and there is amazing enameled jewelry to choose from too! 

Photo courtesy: Kawaljit, Jasmine, and Punita









It is a shame to flaunt torture and pain in the name of fashion but I guess as more and more awareness is spreading regarding substitutes without compromising on style, inhumanity can be overcome to some extent.” ~Jasmine~





Leather in shoes and belts can be easily substituted with vegan varieties available these days. I recently bought Italian footwear made out of PU (polyurethane). It is a type of plastic often used as fake leather in both casual and formal wear. The price of vegan shoes are far reasonable than non-vegan shoes. For women I think there is no end to vegan shoes as I learnt from a couple of shops that they are mostly non-leather. As humans have no right to be wearing the skin of any other animal in the name of fashion, animal leather is downright appalling.” ~Kawaljit~


Dr. Varadarangan and Mrs. Veena are a shining beacon among Indian vegans. Their children Abhay, aged 15 and Varidhi, aged 12 are among the youngest vegans we have personally met and quite passionate ones at that! Ask the children anything on the subject and they will sure provide you an intelligent answer. Two years ago, Abhay and Varidhi stopped wearing animal leather shoes to school substituting them with shoes made from polymer. Their action has inspired many other children to follow suit.

As party wear, Mrs. Veena loves her cotton sarees with zari borders, which add the “glitter”—that extra zing—to the piece of party clothing. She finds them “simple yet elegant”, a characteristic that suits her outlook towards party wear.
Photo courtesy: Dr. Varadarangan and Mrs. Veena
There are synthetic materials which give the glitter for party wear. My wife likes to wear cotton sarees with "zari" borders. People have always admired her and enquire from where she bought those sarees. Cotton sarees are elegant and very comfortable. For marriage parties, gold ornaments add their glitter. However, I must admit that we (my wife and I) like simple dresses. ~Dr. Varadarangan~













Bindu and Rajiv, a young, vivacious, and highly inspiring vegan couple, had a consciously planned vegan wedding as well. Everything beginning from food was vegan in their wedding. They cut a huge vegan cake as well! Almost all guests came in animal-free clothing upon their request. The couple did not at all have a problem in finding cruelty-free clothes and accessories for the important day in their lives.

Photo courtesy: Bindu and Rajiv
Most 'fancy' outfits are now accidentally vegan because they mainly use man-made materials. Unless the outfits are expensive (over 15K generally), they don't seem to be made by drowning poor silk-worms by the thousands in piping-hot liquid. Unfortunately, it is hard to get this information from sellers and India does not seem to have a law that requires outfit composition listed in a tag. It is always a good idea to talk to the salesperson to learn more about the material of an outfit in question.” ~Bindu~
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“After adopting the vegan lifestyle, what did you, in general, do with the non-vegan items of clothing, jewelry, and shoes in your wardrobe?” This is a question we asked all our friends – what they they did with those pure silks, pure leather, pure pearls, and pure woolens they had before they embraced the vegan lifestyle. Below is their response – you may find some thought echoing yours, you may have some of your own dilemma resolved, you may gain some ideas – suit yourself!
There is no right or wrong answer.

HM: “For me, vegan lifestyle and spiritual progress went together so I began to reduce my possessions because I wanted less, not because they were not vegan. Most of my clothes were vegan anyway. I had some leather items which I bought through greed from wanting them or ignorance. I gave them to shops that raise money for charity. The other non-vegan items I had were mostly silk or wool. I had no idea how silk was made so I was horrified when I found out! I gave away many sarees to those who needed them for samu weddings in India (where lots of people get married at the same time). This was mostly spurted by my desire to have less. I have some non-vegan clothes which I still wish to use/keep for sentimental reasons. However, when I wear them or look at them I think of the souls that were tortured to make it and the message of NOT buying non vegan products is reinforced. I am now conscious of NOT buying non-vegan shoes and clothes.”

Bindu: “I couldn't conceive of throwing them (non-vegan things) out since I felt it was disrespectful to the animals that suffered for the items to be made. I made the decision to use anything that I could not give away. My old pavades (langas/lehangas) were passed on to my cousin. Woolen sweaters and pearls were also given away. I still have a belt made of shells that my best-friend had bought me years before I went vegan and I wasn't really sure what to do with them because of a dilemma: if I gave them away and people like it, they might go buy one like that; if I don't, it'll just stay un-used. But since I couldn't convince myself that the latter was worse than the former, I never gave them away and still have them buried somewhere deep in my closet.”

Dr. Varadarangan: “I had a number of woolen shawls which had been presented to me during felicitations and performances (I am a musician and a performing artiste). We donated them to an old age home. My wife gave away her silk sarees to a relative of ours who were poor and could not afford to buy silk sarees with the condition that they should never buy any more silk sarees even if they could afford them. We told them that we are getting rid of the silk sarees as they are products of cruelty. We still have a few pearls in our possession, which we want to dispose off to a jeweler and be done with it once and for all.”

Kawaljit and Jasmine: “After being blessed with awareness about the vegan lifestyle, we have started to disengage ourselves from non-vegan possessions. We recently sold the Kanjeevaram sarees and pearl jewelry and are giving away the remaining non-vegan clothes to under privileged people.”

Rithika: “After I went vegan, I gradually got rid of my non-vegan accessories. I still might have a few of them that I am attached to like a two inch Krishna made out of bone that was given to me by my grandma when I was 10 (which was given to her by her grandma). I had a few leather belts, which I just passed on to whoever wanted it. Now, if anyone gifts me anything non-vegan, (sometimes it is hard to explain to them specially when they are people you will not meet very often like distant relatives though by now everyone knows about my vegan lifestyle), I just pass the gifts along to whoever needs them.”

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Resources
We sign off with a list of resources that will help answer the question, why vegans shun silk, leather, wool, and pearls. You can click the titles to learn more.
Awareness about silk from the BWC, India archives
Awareness about leather from the Vegan India! archives
Awareness about wool from the Vegan India! archives
Awareness about pearl from the BWC, India archives

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Acknowledgements: We are grateful to all our vegan friends who have contributed to this story – Bindu, Dr. Varadarangan, HM, Jasmine, Kawaljit, Mrs. Veena, and Rithika. We are also grateful to this link from the vegan “Bikesexual” blog for a comprehensive documentation on vegan fabrics and materials versus those that are not.

5 comments:

  1. An excellent article Amrita! I enjoyed reading this.

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  2. This is inspiring, Vegan India. I'm so happy to know that many weddings have been vegan, and cotton silk is actually synthetic!

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    1. @ Isabel: Thanks!
      @ Arun: We have gathered that cotton-silk may not always be synthetic. Each time we want to buy cotton-silk, we must check the composition with the shopkeepers and ensure that the threads being used are cotton and polyester or any other synthetic thread.

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  3. Thank you so much for this!!

    I am South Indian, I have an engagement and wedding to think about and I really did not want to wear silk. As South Indians are known for their fancy silk sarees! Thank you for providing such a wonderful article!! :)

    When I had visited Chennai the saree store owners mentioned Ahimsa Sarees. What are your views on Ahimsa Silk Sarees?

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    1. @vidyaandvishal: Thank you for your comment, glad that you found the article useful. Great to know about your decision to stay away from silk-worm silk. Also glad that you brought up the topic of "ahimsa" silk, which has been investigated to be not ahimsak after all. Here is a report from the organization, Beauty Without Cruelty - India that explains in detail about the myth of ahimsa silk: http://bwcindia.org/Web/Awareness/LearnAbout/SocalledAhimsaSilk.html. This organization has done extensive research on the various products we use in our daily lives that contain ingredients from animals or have been cruel to them in the manufacturing process. Silk and "ahimsa" silk is one of them.

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