I have been vegan for almost seven years. During that time, veganism has taught me a huge amount about sustainability when it comes to animals, produce and the planet. Here’s how changing my diet inspired me to think more about where our products come from, and how it bloomed into a dedication to a sustainable fashion.
Before 2016, I never really thought about what was in the food I ate, how it got to the shop, or who farmed the produce. I never considered where my clothes came from, how much the garment worker was paid, or what materials the item was made out of. I would go through my day, buying, eating, consuming, without giving a second thought about what I was funding. This all changed when I became vegan.
How I Became Vegan
It is Spring in 2016 and I am meeting my parents for dinner. We’re eating at a well-known Italian restaurant and I’m having the steak—a favorite of mine. Yet, as I chew through the meal, I’m not thinking about how much I’m enjoying the food, or concentrating on the conversation. Instead, I’m acutely aware of my teeth gnawing through flesh and muscle. It’s an unpleasant feeling and it unnerves me.
Two weeks earlier I had spoken to two long-term friends and asked them why they were vegan. One had been vegan his whole life, and the other had just made the change. I had curiously peppered them with questions, and their answers shocked me. At the time, despite eating meat every day, and being a self-professed animal lover, I had never truly considered the life of an animal before it was on my plate.
Changing My Habits
Soon after that meal, I became vegan. Suddenly I was thrust into a world of alternative food swaps, checking food labels and learning about sustainability. At the time, there were barely any alternative options in restaurants, and a complete lack of education around the morality and reasonings of veganism. There was a lot of learning to do, but I knew it was right for me.
Over time I felt the benefits of veganism for my personal health, as well as furthered my education on the impact of the meat industry. I soon understood that veganism wasn’t just food, but it included avoiding animal skins like leather, snakeskin, wool and obscure products like honey and carmine-containing red nail polish. From then on, I wasn’t just changing my food diet, I was changing the clothing and accessories I bought. Checking labels became big part of my shopping routine and I began to consider what was in everything I bought, wore and ate.
Every so often my mind opened up a bit more. I had never before questioned or thought about where things came from, but the more I learnt about the production of products, the more I was changing my habits.
What is Sustainable Fashion?
Years later sustainability and morality had become incredibly important to me. It’s impossible to avoid things completely, but I felt I had done a good job at making changes where I could. I was avoiding animal products in every sense and I was supporting sustainable companies. Yet in 2020, after seeing a video on social media, I was surprised to find that there was a big area of my life where I was still funding something sinister.
Fast fashion. While I was checking whether there were traces of an animal in the clothes I bought, I had never really thought about where the clothes themselves came from, what they were made of, or who had made them. Despite being vocal about my love for sustainability, I was very often supporting something that was quite the opposite.
I learnt about facts that shocked me. According to Earth.Org, 92 million tonnes of textile waste is produced every year. America contributes to this amount by producing 11.3 million tonnes yearly. Whereas in the UK, according to Clothes Aid, around £140 million worth of used but still wearable clothing goes to landfill every year. And it’s not just the planet that is impacted, the people who are making clothes are often exploited and underpaid.
At the start of the pandemic in 2020, a global campaign was started because brands had refused to pay their workers. According to the campaign, named #PayUp, dozens of global brands refused to pay for an estimated $40 billion worth of finished goods. Millions of garment workers were laid off without pay, causing an economic crisis.
I spent a lot of time learning about clothing waste, the exploitation of garment workers and the unsustainable materials used in clothes. Just like with animal products, fast fashion was impacting people, animals and the planet. And so yet again I was taking another step to making a big change in my life. I started thrifting, discovering sustainable clothing companies and buying more when I needed to, rather than just when I felt like it.
Shifting My Perspective
When people ask me ‘what have you learned from being vegan?‘ they sometimes get an answer that they’re not expecting. While I have learned a huge amount about the meat industry, and the exploitation of animals and the planet, there has been another core takeaway.
Veganism has helped me develop the ability to be more open-minded, question where things have come from and be more open to shifting my perspective. Without veganism I never would have considered where my food comes from, and what happens to get it into my hands. Nor would I have had the desire to find out more about where my clothes came from, and how they are created. It has helped me to make more active decisions in my life.
Sustainable fashion is the latest subject that I have learned about, and I know that it would have been easier to forget about fast fashion had I not already experienced that huge shift in perspective with veganism. Two years on I am dedicated to sustainable fashion the same way I am with veganism. I try to thrift locally, learn about and support more sustainable clothing companies, and use what I already own. Now that I know about the impact of fast fashion, I could never go back to buying blindly.
Veganism has taught me not only about the impact we have on the planet through our production of animals and clothes, but how to think more openly and make changes in my life for the better. I’m sure something else will come along that will make me shift my perspective again, but I now know I’ll be open to making the change.
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Photo: Farol 106 via Unsplash