Vegan vs eco-friendly fashion: what’s the difference?

There’s so much terminology used around fashion these days – from vegan and eco-friendly, to ethical, and fair.

Some people use these terms interchangeably, assuming they mean the same thing and have the same goal. But that’s not the case. In fact, they are all different in their concepts and outlook. Many aspects of these philosophies do overlap, but they have different purposes and are not interchangeable. 

Vegan fundamentally stands against any practice that is cruel to animals. So vegan fashion involves clothing and accessories that are produced without harming animals and excludes materials obtained from animals, such as fur, silk, and leather. On the other hand, eco-friendly and sustainable fashion brands such as focus more on preserving and protecting the environment and rely on production practices that don’t negatively impact on nature.

In this way, eco-friendly fashion considers nature as a whole, and there is no specific focus on animal life. Therefore, both vegan and eco-friendly fashion promote ethical practices, though not all practices and principles are the same. Let’s examine how these two concepts are different, and where they stand as far as ethics are concerned.

Animal welfare vs environment protection

Vegan products focus more on animal welfare, while eco-friendly fashion is concerned with the well-being of the environment and nature. In other words, vegan clothing is more concerned about cruelty to animals in production processes, as well as how raw materials are obtained. However, there is no guarantee that vegan products don’t cause damage to the environment when using alternative means to save animals from harm and cruelty.

For example, PVC is a vegan material that is a toxic substance and contributes to global warming. Almost half of all PVC produced results from by-products of the petroleum industry. On the other hand, eco-friendly fashion focuses on causing no harm to the environment throughout production processes. Though it has no special concern to protect animals, as such, by protecting the environment these processes also general protect animal welfare.

Synthetic vs natural materials

Vegan clothing and accessories could use synthetic materials, while eco-friendly fashion mostly prefers natural fibres and biodegradable materials. Vegan fashion sometimes leans towards synthetics so that it doesn’t harm any animals to produce fabrics. On the other hand, the eco-friendly fashion industry prefers natural materials because they involve fewer chemicals and less impact on the environment in the production process. 

Eco-friendly fashion has also seen the trend for ‘slow fashion’ in recent years which means designs that don’t become outdated too quickly. Rapidly changing trends boost consumerism, triggering more production, which translates into a higher environmental impact.


Not all vegan products are as durable as traditional clothing or sustainable materials. For example, everyone knows that traditional leather lasts forever and stays in good shape. On the other hand, many plant-based leather alternatives, such as pineapple leather are not as robust as animal leather. However, that’s a compromise vegans have to make to save animals. 

Vegan products could even harm animals

Although vegan products aim to cause no harm to animals, they can sometimes indirectly adversely impact on animal life. For instance, the production of synthetic clothing fibres and materials such as polyester or PVC involve a lot of water pollution, which can significantly harm aquatic life. On the other hand, eco-friendly clothing strives to maintain a balance in the ecosystem as much as possible.

The extent of thought

Eco-friendly fashion is exclusively focused on clothing and accessories, and has less to do with wider concepts. Of course, the word ‘eco-friendly’ is also used in other areas apart from fashion. However, an eco-friendly fashion consumer doesn’t always strive to follow this in all aspects of their life.

On the other hand, veganism represents a philosophy that encompasses all aspects of your life, which means you cannot call yourself vegan if you wear vegan clothing but eat non-vegan food.

Eco-friendly fashion tries to prevent a negative impact on the environment by using biodegradable materials, recycled substances, and non-polluting production practices. On the other hand, veganism is mainly concerned with avoiding cruelty to animals and applying production methods that do not harm the life or wellbeing of animals. However, this philosophy can sometimes overlook the negative side effects that these processes can have on the environment.

What about fair trade fashion?

Veganism and eco-friendly fashion both are ethical concepts. However, there is another factor that should also be considered when it comes to ethical fashion – fairness. Fair treatment to workers is a crucial aspect the both vegan and eco-friendly fashion should prioritise in order to call themselves ethical. 

Unfair treatment of workers – from low wages and terrible working conditions to child labour – is a huge problem across all parts of the fashion industry. Such matters also need to be discussed and addressed by an ethically-conscious community, because the saving of animals and nature must include humans too – after all, people are a part of nature too!

Photo by todd kent